(NOTE: Today’s and tomorrow’s blog posts are built around a familiar theme with a twist that’s unique to the sports world. Akeem Miskdeen, who played basketball at Queens, and Emily Paffrath, an outstanding player for the women’s team at Wingate, both came home — or at least back to their alma maters — last week as assistant coaches for the opposing team. I’ve never quite believed the premise of the title of Thomas Wolfe’s book “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and I wanted to see if it was true in their cases.)
Basketball has taken Akeem Miskdeen from his hometown of Chicago to Wyoming to Charlotte to the Tidewater region of Virginia and now back to North Carolina.
“You’ve heard the old saying about paying your dues?” said Miskdeen, a first-year assistant coach at Mount Olive College, talking with me before the Trojans’ game at Queens last Wednesday. “Well, I’ve paid a lot of dues already.”
It’s hard to argue with that. And Akeem’s story is actually a great lesson to any young person interested in any career — network like crazy, be persistent and be willing to start under conditions that might be less than ideal.
That description fit Miskdeen’s previous position, a graduate assistant men’s basketball coach at Hampton University, where he lived in a rented room and worked part-time in a sandwich shop located on a shipyard to help make ends meet.
“I don’t like Philly cheesesteaks anymore,” he said.
But it’s all part of getting experience and he says he enjoyed the season working with Hampton head coach Kevin Nickleberry, a former Clemson assistant. (He made the connection after Queens graduation in 2008 with the help of Wes Long, then an assistant coach on the Royals staff and now their head coach. Long was a player and manager at Clemson in the early 2000s.)
When Nickelberry was fired at the end of last season, the rest of the staff was once again in the job market, too. Mount Olive coach Joey Higginbotham, who knew Misdeen from his playing days, was looking for an assistant and Higginbotham talked with former Queens coach Brian Good, now at Wingate, before making a job offer.
“It was nice to be able to land on my feet,” Miskdeen said. “It’s worked out pretty well.” (The Trojans won the regular season Conference Carolinas championship and have a 22-5 record going into tonight’s quarterfinal conference tournament game with Coker.
But then Miskdeen, a tenacious competitor at point guard for two seasons for the Royals, has always moved quickly and been able to take advantage of openings.
He grew up in Chicago, where he says he “always wanted to play in the NBA, or if I couldn’t do that, I wanted to coach.” Miskdeen played in high school at St. Joseph of Westchester, Ill., made famous by the Academy Award-nominated 1994 documentary film “Hoop Dreams.” In more recent years it has produced numerous Division I players.
In another fortunate connection, the former coach of a rival school had moved on to a job at Laramie Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and offered him a scholarship. And after two years of playing experience — and just a bit of culture shock — on to Queens.
So what was it like to come back to Queens as a member of the “other side”? (The interview was conducted before the game, an impressive 90-68 victory over the Royals.)
“It’s been great, because this was a home for me for a couple of years,” he said. “But it’s been strange, too, especially to see some of the guys I played with, like Dre (senior guard Andre Lockhart). I want them to succeed, just not today.”