A Champion’s Perspective: Gage Smith’s Letter to SlamBall Fans
To our amazing SlamBall fans,
This is Gage Smith of the Series 6 SlamBall Champion Mob. I wanted to write this message to extend my deepest thanks to each and every one of you for your outstanding support throughout this SlamBall season, with a special acknowledgment of the incredible Mob fans. Y’all brought the electrifying energy to every game this year, which made the SlamBall atmosphere unmatched to any sport I have ever experienced or been a part of. You guys make this sport thrive and here’s to many more thrilling moments and hopefully more championships for the Mob! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the SlamBall nation!
If you would’ve told me five years ago that I would have been SlamBall MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Season 6 champion, I would’ve said, “Well, I play JV at an NAIA school, so the chances are unlikely.” Deep down though, man, I always believed that my hard work was going to pay off somehow throughout high school and then through college, but I never would’ve thought God would have put SlamBall in my life.
The goal was always to pursue overseas basketball, but by the time I was a senior at Concordia University, I felt burned out in the sport and knew that something was constantly missing. SlamBall became the missing piece because I had a strong belief in my abilities across various sports and hoped for a sport where I could harness and combine all those talents. By the end of my fifth year in college, it was a confusing time trying to find my new purpose and identity, but I believe if you trust in God and follow His path in this life, He will find your path for you.
What I find interesting about this sport is it truly one where all other athletic talents combined are needed to play. In my opinion, the best gunners are either football receivers, track athletes, or basketball players with insane vertical jumps. The best handlers were the best point guards in basketball and probably averaged the most assists on their teams.
Then the interesting one is the stopper, where I believe the best ones were baseball players or tight ends with high basketball IQs. Just look at the GOAT among stoppers, Kevin Cassidy, who was an all-American baseball player. I was a pitcher in high school with a basketball background. Then there is “Fessy” Shafaat, the Lava’s stopper who was an All-American tight end, and Gryphs stopper Connor Hollenbeck, who played pro football.
Coming from a small NAIA school, everyone overlooked me, so I came to training camp to make a name for myself with this one in a lifetime opportunity I was given. Funny story, when it came down to evaluation day where we had our last chance to prove we belong in the league, I was approached by Mob Coach Brendan Kirsch, who asked me if I was interested in playing stopper. Throughout camp, I was a gunner and honestly playing stopper made me nervous because you must fly 15 feet in the air while facing athletic guys who are determined to score on you without regard for your wellbeing; that’s just the job. Now, I just needed any opportunity to join a team, so I told Coach Kirsch with fake confidence that I was fully capable of playing stopper, all the while hoping that my outstanding play at gunner would eventually persuade him to change his mind. Next thing you know I went in the third round to the Mob in the SlamBall draft.
Preparing for the season was no joke. Question for you: Have you ever jumped on a tramp for two and a half hours before in a single day? My body had never hurt so bad in my life those first two weeks of camp. To give you an image, the pain that occurs after a SlamBall practice usually is in the area of the legs for sure, but the lower back and the abdominals will hurt more than from any sport you participate in.
Coach Kirsch would put us through the most strategic, conditioned practice every day to prepare us to be the best SlamBall team out there. This man had every second of what we were going to do written down before our practice began so we wouldn’t waste any time.
Here’s a good story … At the beginning of practice one day, four of our guys were not on the court when practice started. For punishment, we just ran around the court for 45 minutes with Coach (Noah) Ballou yelling at us to sprint faster and motivating us with the prospect of doing it for the entire two-and-a-half-hour practice if we didn’t go hard. We finally convinced both coaches we were ready for practice after those 45 minutes and then had to go full live the rest of the session. A few of us didn’t feel too great after that day.
Coach Kirsch sent a clear message early on that he is here for business and wanted the best SlamBall team. Looking back on the season though, I am so fortunate to have had Coach Kirsch and Coach Ballou in my corner because they knew that if we did more strategic planning than other teams and executed our offense better than every other team during training camp, then we were going to be the best during the season.
When the season began, as a member of the Mob, every single one of us had a chip on our shoulders, knowing we were better prepared than every other team in the league. To add to the fire, we would hear trash talk from other teams that we were either too small, didn’t have the athletic background other teams had, or that we were number 1 in the preseason polls.
I wasn’t a stranger to others thinking I had no potential. I truly thrive on this! I didn’t care if Lebron James was on the Rumble, this is now my sport, and I was going to prove to myself and everyone that I had put the work in to be the best. Throughout the season as we kept having win margins around 30-plus points, I would hear it from officials and other coaches to try to get in my head to either not drift, swipe down or kill bounce illegally. You can look at the film, my technique is just like how I studied Kevin Cassidy’s, just flawless and it’s hard to get in my head.
One of my favorite moments of the season has got to be when I hit a 360 Eastbay on one of the best stoppers in the league to get a triple double without knowing I was getting a triple double. But the best moments occurred on August 17th when the Mob completed the perfect season and I shook the hand of one of my idols growing up, Marshawn Lynch, and then we celebrated the win at Circa Resort & Casino, where I got the chance to smoke a cigar with Dez Bryant.
I love this quote from current Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent, who was once just a Division II quarterback who everyone doubted could make it in the NFL. He said it best: “You need to resort to the work that needs to be done, don’t ever stop working, don’t let others’ opinions stop you from chasing what you want, and great things can be a result of that.”
It is now present-day here in my small-town home in Nebraska, with everyone I respect showing me love for what I accomplished this summer. Even though I am grateful, I am still not satisfied. I believe God has given me a chance to make an impact through this sport and blessed me with this air in my lungs to continue to do the work for Him, and great things will be the result of that.
For those who heard the Mob talk about the “Mob Mentality” and are confused about what that is, well here’s the backstory. Every member of the Mob has a combined mentor growing up, and that man is Kobe Bryant. Kobe always referred to his work ethic as the “Mamba Mentality.” He once said in an interview that he is always chasing perfection and excellence, and even though he probably could never catch it, the fact that he was willing to chase it, he would defeat most of his opponents. The Mob mentality is about respecting that man’s legacy; he took it to the game of basketball, and we want to bring the same mindset to the game of SlamBall.
What is the Mob bringing to SlamBall next season? You will find out soon.