I'm Just Saying...With Tom O'Connor

Tom O’Connor, a 2009 Crystal Lake South graduate, is in his fifth and final year of working as a team manager for the Iowa men’s basketball team. O’Connor, who played golf, basketball and baseball at South, has witnessed a turnaround with the Hawkeyes program, changing his perspective of the team he grew up cheering for and of college athletics in general.

You see how much time these guys put in. I don’t know about the whole union thing and the whole thing about paying athletes. I don’t know what to think about that. At the end of the day, these guys are taking the same amount of classes as normal students plus they’re traveling, they’re missing class. They’re putting in almost full-time hours (between academics and basketball) along with anything they want to do on their own and the tutoring hours they go through. It’s almost like a full-time job. But these guys are also choosing to do this and that’s why it gets tough when you get into that whole thing at Northwestern. But after seeing it first hand, you do gain more of a respect and understanding for the kind of stuff these guys go through.

My first couple of years, I think we won 11 games each year and it’s just tough. You really change your whole attitude. Back then, we were going into games in the Big Ten season and, when you’re on the road, you don’t really have any hope of winning a game when you’re a manager. It’s like, ‘Let’s just get in here and make sure we get our stuff done’ and make sure coaches are happy. It’s not going to be a fun trip home. You’re almost kind of anticipating that kind of stuff. But as you start winning some more games, your attitude changes. When you’re winning, everybody is happier and it makes the support staff’s job a lot easier. We always get pizza after road games and, when you lose, the pizza is normally terrible. When you win, nobody cares.

As I’ve gone on, I’ve understood that I can’t allow my emotions to get the best of me. There were times last year when it’s a big game, I’ve gotten a little bit too much into the game. (Tuesday night’s overtime loss to Michigan State) was probably the worst I’ve been all year because it was such a great atmosphere, So that’s still going to happen a little bit. A couple of our younger (managers), I see them at the other end of the bench and they get into it and I tell them that they have to understand their role. But it definitely is hard when it’s a sellout crowd, an ESPN game and two ranked teams because you want the team to win because you are a student and you are a fan. I think all of us managers have been Iowa fans our whole lives and we’ve always been fans first and so it’s hard to keep your emotions in check. So you have to be careful because if you get a (technical foul) or something, that could end your career as a manager.

This job has been the big mark of my college life. I’ve still done fine in the classroom but, for me, it has just been such a big responsibility and such a big role that I take a lot of pride in. I can’t really imagine being in college without it because it’s just been a huge part of my life and something I’m really proud of. All the time I’ve put in, I can’t imagine not doing it – that would be tough.

• I’m Just Saying is a regular Sunday feature. If there’s someone you would like to see featured, write to me at jarnold@shawmedia.com or send me a message on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.