At my introductory press conference, I made a point of thanking my parents for rolling me out of bed every single morning at 5 a.m. to get on my knees and say my prayers along with the rest of my family. I truly believe it’s that foundation of faith, and the lessons my parents taught me about integrity and treating people right, that has led me to Vanderbilt.
I wasn’t kidding about what I said. It was every day. Every. Single. Day. I’d be half asleep and hear, “Jerry! Jerry!” Time to wake up. I’d get up and crawl out of my bedroom. After a while, I even started sleeping on the sofa because we always came to the living room to pray. I felt like I had a little advantage – and an extra minute of sleep – just by rolling off the couch.
That’s just what my mom and dad believed in. My mom started teaching Sunday School when she was 16 or 17 years old. My dad was a deacon of the church. Every Sunday, we went to church somewhere. On the second and fourth Sunday of the month, we’d go to our home church. On the first and third Sunday, we’d visit other churches. And lo and behold, if there was a fifth Sunday in a month, we’d have a reunion. We never got a Sunday off. I used to joke, “Man, if I never went to church ever again, I’ve gone enough that I should be good!”
But again, I think that’s why I’m here, those principles I learned early in life, the faith my parents had in me and their prayers for me. I think all that is just as important a reason I’m now at Vanderbilt as anything I’ve done in my life. I haven’t been so great where I feel like I deserve all the blessings and opportunities that I’ve had. But that foundation of treating people right and doing things the right way, it comes full circle. The more you give, the more you receive. That was a common theme I always heard from my mom.
My faith has helped me through some tough times. When I was dealing with injuries during my pro basketball career, I couldn’t seem to get over some knee issues. Just being able to pray about some things, and my mom praying for me, I was able to come out of it. I started to look at things differently as I got older. Adversity can be a good thing.
I’ve had a blessed life. I’ve been able to play basketball for a living, and now I’m still able to make a living and provide for my family teaching and coaching the game. I have been extremely blessed to really never work a day in my life. People will look at all the hours that go into coaching and say, “That’s work,” but whenever I’m teaching the game, it doesn’t feel like work to me.
My mom always said that the family that prays together, stays together, and that’s so true. I’m the youngest of eight boys and three girls. We lost a couple of siblings due to complications from diabetes, but for the most part, our whole family is still intact. There’s nobody on the outs because of relationship issues. We’re as close-knit as we’ve ever been. We look forward to our family reunions, to the Fourth of July, getting together for other holidays. That’s still a big part of who we are.
I want our Vanderbilt team to feel that same togetherness and to know they’ve got someone who is supporting them. That’s how I want our whole staff to be. The parents who send their kids here will know that their sons will be supported and know we’ll take care of them while they’re here. We’ll do what’s best for them, just like my parents always did for me.