After getting cut from the men’s basketball team for the second time in two years, it appeared Idan Itskovich’s basketball career was coming to an abrupt end.
However, while head coach Steph Barrie told Itskovich the team’s plans didn’t include him as a player, they saw potential in him for a new role — working alongside the team as a managerial assistant. In the role, he began by working out with game film and day-to-day work at practices and games.
Currently, he travels alongside the team on extended road trips and is present at every team event. Itskovich’s many hours of commitment to the program each week rivals only that of varsity athletes and coaches.
But when he was offered a similar role after his first-year cut, Itskovich declined, as he believed he could make the squad on his second try.
After he failed to make the 2014-15 team, Itskovich took a week to consider his options and finally accepted the role.
“I got out of my own delusions,” he said. “I told [Barrie] I love basketball and wanted to be a part of it for as long as I possibly can.”
Now in his second year on the job and his third year at Queen’s, Itskovich is the Director of Basketball Operations and an official part of the coaching staff — a rarity for undergraduate students.
Itskovich’s position with the Gaels keeps his relationship with basketball growing.
“Of everything in my life, it’s the thing I enjoy the most,” he said.
A high-level player for much of his youth, Itskovich believes that the basketball IQ he’s developed over the years has helped him transition into the position he has today.
Once head coach Barrie gave him a week to mull over the position, Itskovich looked for guidance from friend and Queen’s basketball player Mike Shoveller.
“I asked him … what guys would think,” he said of him joining the coaching staff.
Often times, when athletes and coaches are the same age, a divide can grow. For Itskovich, he feared potential resentment from the players would hinder him from being a part of the team.
Teammates since they were 13, Itskovich knew Shoveller would be honest.
“[He said] ‘it’s going to be different, but you’re still the same guy,’” Itskovich said. “I’m really glad … because it’s given me the opportunity I have today.”
Shoveller echoed these feelings, as he said sharing the experiences of the program with a close friend — and current housemate — is something they both value.
For Barrie, Itskovich has helped to alleviate stress off himself.
“The number of jobs he has done I can’t really keep track of because there is too many,” he said. “It just kind of goes day-to-day. Whatever we need, he’s the guy we go to for it.”
Because of this, Itskovich has become sort of a jack-of-all-trades for the basketball team. Whether he’s helping in practice, taking down stats during a game, taking general observations for the scouting report or with game film, Itskovich has made himself fully available to the program.
While most people would be itching to get back onto the court, it’s the road trips, the thrill of winning and the trials and tribulations of a basketball season that keeps Itskovich going.
“Just having a chance to be a part of a high level basketball team is my favourite part of the experience, no matter what I’m doing.”
And his work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the basketball team.
“They’ve made me feel like one of the guys,” he said. “They’ve been the most accepting, friendly bunch … I’ve developed relationships I’ll have for life.”
For most, switching between the role of peer and coach would be difficult. But after feeling out the process, Itskovich believes he’s found the right balance.
Itskovich (left) at the 2013 varsity tryouts. Journal File Photo
“Everything I say to the coaching staff is separate from the players,” he said. “These guys are my friends, but at the same time we need to do what’s best for the basketball team.”
One of the members of the team Itskovich talks with on a daily basis is assistant coach Jermaine Small. During games, Itskovich notices certain moments that they’ve talked previously about help the Gaels on the court.
But when most would take the credit, Itskovich believes that the team comes first.
“It’s not about getting credit … it’s just about the team overall,” he said. “Often times I feel like less of a coach and more of a guy on the bench getting excited when things are going right.”
Although his position on the team will end next year, Itskovich will continue to look for jobs in the basketball community. Looking ahead to a master’s degree, he’s already begun to look at graduate positions on basketball teams.
“I want to stay involved and ride this thing out as long as I can or until there is no possibility for me to get a job out of this.”
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