In the SC8 Diary we invite guest writers to share their unique perspectives of sports in our state. In this edition, NC State player Cam Gottfried (who is ineligible to play this season for the Pack as a transfer from Sienna) talks about the unique experience of growing up with, and eventually playing for, his father, Coach Mark Gottfried.
Growing up with a major college basketball coach as my father is a blessing I’ll never take for granted. It provided countless benefits and opportunities for me and my siblings that most kids in America would only dream of having. Traveling across the country for games, experiencing the NCAA tournament with a near front row seat, and trips to the Final Four and the Bahamas are just some of these relatively rare opportunities that my siblings and I had the pleasure of experiencing as children and young teenagers. However, like with most good things in life, there were drawbacks to my father being a coach in the SEC. For example, when I was growing up playing basketball, I sensed that I was not only assumed to be good at the sport, but expected to be really good. “He’s a coach’s son, he’s supposed to be good!” or after a mistake: “Hey Gottfried, I know your dad didn’t teach you to do that.”
Playing with expectations on your mind from a young age sometimes made it seem like a burden to play. And I was never able to fully shrug those assumptions aside and just play basketball the way I wanted to play, until this year. And ironically, this is the first year my father has been my coach. Believe it or not he was never my coach growing up, which I personally liked. It gave me the chance to get familiar and comfortable with other coaches as I grew as a player, while also having the helpful tips, advice and encouragements when I was at home.
When I joined the Wolfpack this fall, at first I felt slightly out of place on the roster for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious was that, yes, my father is the head coach. Yes, my father is the one in charge of running our asses off in the preseason, the one that decides if we have 6am practices, and the one who will chew your tail off in front of the team when you make a boneheaded mistake. So having that elephant in the locker room was strange at times. Another reason the whole situation felt different than any other year for me was that I was not yet used to my father coaching me. Never had I spent time on the court with him, treating me just like one of his players. That dynamic was all new and unfamiliar in the beginning and, honestly? I didn’t like it at first. Not only was it odd to have him yell at me, but I could tell right away I was going to be held to a higher standard than the other guys. It took time for me to adjust, just like with any new situation that has complexities.
As I began to get used to the on-court aspects of playing for my father, I still had not figured out exactly what role I would play in the locker room, when the team is away from the coach. See, with any team, there are always certain players that simply do not get along with the staff, specifically the head coach. And there will always be bad days when practice is a grind and tempers are high. So when the grumbling and complaining began, it was weird for me to sit there and listen to guys say stuff about my pops. Nothing was ever disrespectful towards him, so I never let it get to me. I figured the easiest way for me to not cause something would be to let it go. After all, I remember moments when I did the same thing in high school and at Siena.
One of the more challenging parts of being in the unique position I’m in is I felt I always had to do things the right way. I needed to be an example for the players. I took it upon myself, as the head coach’s son, to be someone that showed the other guys how to do things the right way. I felt I always had to be early to practice, touch every line, hustle in every drill, be on time for the bus, and stand up from the bench when we score etc. mainly because if I wasn’t doing these things, how could I possibly expect them to do those things. I was never an energy guy to begin with either, so having to bring energy and enthusiasm was not always easy, but I knew it was the right thing to do and it helped the team.
As this season concludes, I can honestly say that I have never had more fun playing basketball then I have had this year. After pushing myself to do all the small things the right way, it not only helped improve my game in dramatic fashion, but I felt that I did everything I could to make the team I was on better. However, the more important reason I enjoyed this season so much is because I shared every moment of it with my dad. From big wins at Duke, to crushing losses at Wake. From the Virgin Islands all the way to Boston. We were together. There was a certain level of comfort for me as I sat at the end of the bench for games, knowing that my pops was the captain of the ship and that he was going to do everything he could to win those games.
I love NC State. I love playing the game of basketball. And although the chance never came for him to look down the bench and put me in the game here, I loved every minute of playing for my dad.