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Friday, February 15, 2013
How good was Jason Sudeikis at hoops?

By Charles Curtis
ESPN The Magazine

Scottie Pippen, Jason Sudeikis
Jason Sudeikis, right, was a solid HS point guard -- and later hit Scottie Pippen for a 3.
In eight years on "Saturday Night Live," Jason Sudeikis donned a red track suit to do the running man on "What Up With That?", played focused play-by-play man Pete Twinkle to clueless Will Forte's Greg Stink, and transformed into Joe Biden -- a take so spot-on that it received compliments from the VP himself.

Before comedy became a full-time career, Sudeikis was a rising point guard in his home state of Kansas, playing alongside future NBA and college hoopsters. When he reached the collegiate level, he eventually caught the sketch comedy bug, though he'd have a few more brushes with basketball later.

Hear from Sudeikis himself, Sudeikis' friends -- who were also his teammates -- and one of his former coaches about the actor's days on the court:

Jason Sudeikis: I started playing organized [basketball] in fourth grade and I was decent. When I transferred schools -- this will be a common theme, by the way -- because a Catholic school opened in our parish, we went to Holy Cross and won the CYO championship in fifth grade.

There was a guy named Tom Grant who was like a big booster and was involved with Children's Mercy Hospital. I was on his team. It was all really, really good basketball players from Kansas City -- the Rush brothers [Brandon, JaRon and Kareem] were in there, my brother-in-law played on their team. I was playing JV and these guys were the sophomores and freshmen. The guys that were on my team, that played D-I. Anthony Peeler's dad was one of our coaches -- Peeler would come and work out with us.

In between sixth and seventh grade, I got a lot better. I'm pretty sure it had to do with getting those Pete Maravich basketball video tapes that used to be at the back of Street and Smith's.

Ryan Darst, former teammate at Shawnee Mission West: I was a senior when he transferred in. We played pickup ball together. He played on the sophomore team that year, but he was always cracking jokes, not being the serious one at that point. He was a really good player. He was left-handed, could shoot it pretty well, was more athletic and quick, was a slasher who could get to the basket pretty well.

Jason Sudeikis playing at the Celebrity All-Star Game in 2011
Surprise: Sudeikis was a tad theatrical on the court.
Sudeikis: Knowing what I know now ... I was being overtly theatrical. I responded very much to that element of the Pistol Pete philosophy and the Lakers of that time. ... I was a gym rat. I wasn't eight-hours-a-day, dribbling in gloves like Jason Williams. It's the same thing with acting and improv, I got really blessed with great people and I just gave a damn about it. It was my favorite thing to do. So I would do these drills over and over. I did the Mikan drill like you wouldn't believe. It's for big men to teach coordination. Reverse layups were my thing.

Brendan Curran, former teammate at Shawnee Mission West: His career now as a performer, it was pretty similar as a basketball player. When we were in eighth grade, he was doing all the Pistol Pete stuff. He could do different tricks. He was very fond of making no-look passes and was pretty good at them. He's a performer now -- he was a performer then, too.

Jason missed a reverse layup in practice and Coach [Donnie Campbell] just jumped on him. He didn't want him shooting reverse layups. He would probably make 95 out of 100 of them, but he happened to miss. Coach Campbell tells him, "If you make five in a row, we'll let you shoot that." So we're all smirking, "Oh awesome, he'll get to shoot those." He makes the first four, misses the fifth one. It was disappointing. It was deflating for us. I think I can remember quite a smirk on that coach's face.

Campbell, former coach for Shawnee Mission West: Knowing Jason, he was probably going to do whatever he could to prove me wrong and that's probably a lot of people thinking he wasn't going to be where he is right now. You kind of have that attitude where somebody tells you that you can't do it, I think he's the kind of person that's going to say, "I'm going to prove those people wrong." He's that kind of kid. Jason was a joy to coach, he was a good basketball player. He was a left-handed kid, he could shoot it a little bit, he could handle the ball. We were at a large [Class] 6A school, he had to be a pretty good basketball player to make it on that level.

Sudeikis: [I played with future University of Kansas guard] Greg Gurley, Kevin Rabbitt who played at Rice and Chad Alston who played at North Texas. [Former NBA player] Tyronn Lue, I played against him when he was a sophomore and I was a senior. And that was a metaphor that comes up time and time again in life.

Tyronn Lue of the Orlando Magic
Tyronn Lue: Former NBA player, forever Jason Sudeikis inspirer.
We were in summer league at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. It was the slightest battle in the sense that I didn't have to score on him. He could score on me whenever he wanted to, but I was a standard-issue point guard of the fancy, hot-shot variety. I wasn't breaking people's ankles.

People always ask me about auditions and getting nervous. I always remember this moment where I'm playing against Tyronn Lue. I come down and throw some no-look pass. We score a bucket, he comes down and breaks me down. I get the ball from the inbounds and he's guarding me at full court. I think I even made the joke, "Oh, you watched a lot of the 'NBA Superstars' videos too." I believe the girl I was dating was in the crowd at that point. [I think about it] all the time. Even to the point to where I auditioned for "SNL" the very first time. My uncle, George Wendt, Norm on "Cheers," gave me a phone call: "Remember Tyronn Lue."

Curran: I just remember there's an athletic club in town where ... Jason used to play with Gurley a lot. I don't know if playground legend would be the term. Around here, he was a very good basketball player.

Chris Sines, former teammate at Shawnee Mission West and Fort Scott Community College: I don't think it's there anymore, but in Kansas City, there's a gymnasium that's affiliated with the University of Kansas, even though it's in Kansas City. And that's where all the great Kansas City basketball players would go play. Former Jayhawks, former [Missouri] Tigers. He would go over there and seek that out. He wanted to be that type of talent.

Sudeikis: Senior year, I started to get letters from community colleges. Maybe a letter from Creighton or the typical schools in the area. Nothing that good. Ability-wise, I guess I was Division II or III. I certainly wasn't a D-I point guard.

Darst: He went to Fort Scott. To go to a junior college in Kansas, you've got to be pretty athletic.

Sudeikis: At that point I had been performing with ComedySportz (an improv show in Kansas City). Junior year, second semester of high school, I walked into the class, I saw them playing improv games you would know from "Whose Line is It Anyway?" And I said, "Oh, I have to take that class." ComedySportz was the perfect mix between sports and comedy, obviously. There were fake competitions, there were two teams, there was a ref, there was a whole world around it that made it seem cooler.

Sines: We would go down to ComedySportz after Friday night football. He had that interest then. I'm sure it came up [because] his uncle is George Wendt. He had that experience where he'd been on set in his younger days and exposure to that kind of stuff. Even later, senior year, we'd have our Friday night game and some of us would go to the after party. He'd go to ComedySportz.

Sudeikis: I ended up being ineligible to community college. I went to get my hours up on a quick little summer thing and it wasn't enough. I was ineligible the whole second semester. I ended up doing a play. That went well, relatively speaking. So then at this point, I'm a liability. An in-state, smart kid, but a liability. That's my word, not theirs.

On my birthday, Sept. 18, I get brought in. "We're going to redshirt you." That was a weird moment. It was like a loss of identity. I auditioned for a musical, "The Fantasticks," got the lead in that. So I ended up doing that [and] riding out the semester.

Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis
Jason Sudeikis: Once a KU fan, always a KU fan.
At that point, it's like having someone you've dated all those years break up with you, but you're in love with someone else. You don't know if they love you back, but at least there's that opportunity. I would say the discontent within my athletic life led to a powerful appreciation of what was ahead of me in this artistic [career] I fell into.

Sines: He started his second year, it was in the cards at that point that his attention was being diverted toward other things. You get into the college game and machinations and politics and would we have liked to gone to KU and played for Coach [Roy] Williams at the time? Sure. But you're talking about [a] top college program in the country. I think we all start to have that revelation that everything isn't always pie in the sky.

Campbell: Watching him now and working with him, I knew when he was in high school, where he's at now is where he should be. You could tell he was going to be good at that type of thing. He joked around a lot. He had that great personality with people. I'm sure he mimicked me a few times.

Curran: We did a lot of laughing. There's a video floating around somewhere -- and who knows where it is? -- of him and a Christmas tree lot. He grabbed an apron and walked around the lot as an employee. At some point, he went through the netting where they put the tree through it. He had climbed into that. I believe there was some reenacting "It's A Wonderful Life," when James Stewart was running down the street wishing people merry Christmas. I believe that episode turned into something like that.

Campbell: There was a skit [on "SNL"] he did one time with LeBron James. One of the things he said as he's playing LeBron one-on-one, was [something like] "You’re not messing with me. I played point guard at Shawnee Mission West high school."

Sudeikis: LeBron did a great job. In rehearsal, if it gets picked, then you go down on Thursdays and Fridays to rehearse the sketch. It's about a 9-foot goal, I guess. I have him at the top of the key, because I challenge him to one-on-one and at the very end when I get the ball back after he bloodies my face, in rehearsal we'd play through that point. I had him on the left side of the lane, I gave him a pump fake, he doesn't go for it, obviously. I go by him on the left side, come up, go under, reverse layup and nailed it. The crew goes crazy. And literally, [we said] "Wait a minute, go look at the replay," because we record all the rehearsals. Because it's the end of the sketch, just like how you see it on the show, it fades out as I'm going to the basket. You don't see it or hear it, there's no video. It merely lives in my brain.

I got to play at the NBA All-Star [Celebrity Game in 2011]. I'm thinking, Bill Walton's my coach, I'm like, "This guy's going to love me." I have the Pyramid of Success on my [office] door. I am a huge fan of John Wooden. I played about five minutes. I did get to feed Scottie Pippen, kicking it to the top of the 3-point arc and he hit it. I just felt awful afterwards, was super bummed out. As I'm leaving, the first person I see is LeBron's buddy Maverick Carter. I see LeBron James, he comes in, he's like, "Look at you! Looking like a baller." He comes in gives me a pound. I was just like, "Well how about that?"