The season could end tonight for American River College’s men’s basketball team as it heads for the playoffs, but whether it ends tonight or in the state championship in three weeks at Cerritos College, the special bond between sophomore player Eugene Crockett and ARC head coach Mark Giorgi will continue.
Crockett, 27, is in his second stint with the team, playing his freshman season several years ago under coach Giorgi.
For Crockett, his journey to even meeting Giorgi was unlikely.
“Giorgi never recruited me,” said Crockett. “When I came here, I came here by word of mouth.
When I met Giorgi, it was weird (because) I had never spoken to the man,” he continued.
Since their first meeting, player and coach have maintained a relationship despite Crockett’s fiery personality in his younger years.
Giorgi, now in his 17th season as head coach, has watched Crockett grow from a young, sometimes immature adult, into a more refined and humbled man as he prepares to transfer from ARC.
“If you compared the two seasons that he played for me, he’s come a long way,” Giorgi said of Crockett. “He’s more coachable.”
Giorgi feels the difference when the two get into disagreements now as compared to the past.
“He pushed the line a lot six, seven years ago,” said Giorgi. “Now, just a look from me or a look from him to me and we kind of understand each other.”
In addition to his relationship with Giorgi, Crockett now operates as the “elder statesman” on the team, as he describes it, and tries to motivate and teach his teammates as well as be a player himself.
Giorgi typically lets Crockett have his pull in that regard, allowing Crockett the freedom to be more open and vocal with his teammates even in the middle of the game.
“I’m like the grandfather,” said Crockett of his role on the team. “I’m that guy that knows how to speak to the coach but also (to) the players.”
“He feels good in my words and my judgement,” he said.
Crockett said that even as a boy, he was taught to study the game as well as play it, watching old film of former Boston Celtic center Bill Russell, learning the ins and outs, and the small details of how to play the game.
Crockett is also very family-oriented, and said that is a reason his natural instinct is to be the helper, the guide for the team.
“My talent isn’t anything special at this point. It’s more my knowledge and ability to relate to the coach and players,” said Crockett.
Crockett even compared himself to a Camaro.
“A Camaro’s a Camaro, but it’s nothing without the V8. It’s just a body frame.”
For Crockett, his relationship with Giorgi has grown beyond basketball and even their one-on-one interaction. He also has become close with Giorgi’s children, and even his parents.
“I think that’s what changed him,” Giorgi said of Crockett’s personal growth. “He’s got two little ones (of his own) now, and it changes you man. And for the better, so that’s helped him a lot.”
Crockett will be ready to transfer following this semester, and while he hasn’t yet made a final decision, he has looked at schools including Simpson University, William Jessup University, San Diego Christian College, and even a school in Illinois.
Through it all, however, both Crockett and Giorgi are forever intertwined.
“I love coach,” said Crockett. “We’re the same people, but from different areas.”
Crockett was lost in how to properly describe the relationship between the two.
“(Giorgi will) be like, ‘mothereffer!’ and then five minutes later he’s kissing me. And then some days I’ll be like, ‘mothereffer!’ and five minutes later I’m kissing him back.
“There’ll never be a Giorgi and Crockett, ever. There just won’t. You can’t duplicate it.”
For Giorgi, Crockett is irreplaceable as a player, a leader, and as a friend.
“Well, you rarely get a like that also,” said Giorgi. “We’ve had two guys like that in the 17 years I’ve been here, so you don’t really replace him. Just having him around, hearing his voice.
“I don’t know how much I’m going to miss Eugene the basketball player, but I know I’m going to miss Eugene the person.”
Crockett said Giorgi forever has his respect, as both a coach and a man.
“He’s not perfect, but he’s still a father figure, and a damn good one.
“I’ve never seen oil and water mix,” Crockett said. “He’s oil and I’m water, but we mix.”