Sage Beemer making mark on fledgling hoops team

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By John Bernhardt
He attacks his new role with the passion of a startup business entrepreneur. In some ways he is. This spring Sage Beemer completed his freshman year at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). Beemer also finished a freshman season of basketball for the Mighty Oaks in their first season as an official college varsity sport.

In many ways ESF men’s basketball coach Scott Blair hired the perfect employee when he brought
Beemer on board as part of his basketball startup. Beemer shares Blair’s vision regarding Mighty Oak basketball. “I just want to try and help the team establish itself as a serious and legitimate basketball program,” Beemer answered when asked what his four-year basketball goal at ESF might be.

The right fit
Hiring the right employees for your team is a critical success factor for a business startup. Finding the right people to bring on your team helps your business grow better, faster, and with more efficiency. Great startups seek workers with a high capacity to learn, people passionate to chip in and help, employees who communicate and collaborate well, are flexible and adaptable, and are open to receiving feedback about their performance. Blair got all that and more in Beemer.
Team morale is a critical ingredient in the success of a new startup. South Kortright boys’ basketball coach Bob Van Valkenburgh wondered aloud if it would be possible to have a better teammate than Sage Beemer when he addressed the Andes Central School crowd at the ACS sports’ banquet during Beemer’s senior year. And, Beemer continually directed interview questions about his original year of college basketball for a program that had never fielded a team before back to his teammates.

The transition from high school to college wasn’t an easy one for Beemer. Like any freshman in college, Beemer was hit by rapid change. A Sustainable Construction Management major, Beemer’s course load was mathematics and science heavy. His world turned upside down from the small, self-contained environment at ACS, to the far more complex milieu of Syracuse University. Although ESF has only 1,600 or so students, the campus adjoins Syracuse University and the schools share a reciprocal working arrangement. ESF students eat meals at SU cafeterias and students from both schools can take courses at the neighboring campus.

The changes for Beemer were not immune to the basketball court. At the start, Beemer was a bit overwhelmed with stepping up to the college hoops game.

Tougher task
“It was a lot harder to get used to, to ‘play up,” Beemer recounted. “The college game is much more physical and played at a much faster pace. I needed time to learn the unwritten rules of this game, to figure out what you could do and what you couldn’t do and just kind of step it up.”

At the onset, Beemer saw very little time on the floor during ESF’s first basketball games. In fact, if you graphed Beemer’s playing time, the line segments connecting the points on the graph would resemble the upward slope of an inclined plane. With just two minutes on the floor, it was hard to impress his coaches that he deserved more time. The good impression had to come at practices.
“It was tough at first. I just kept pushing myself harder and harder to reach that next level of my mental status. That seemed to work for me.”

Beemer’s likeability and ease with people helped, too, as his teammates rallied around him during his initial struggles, passing along encouragement and playing tips and pushing Beemer to play more physically.

The ESF coaches used Beemer around the basket. He had never previously played with his back to the hoop and that was all new, too. Beemer’s game started to take off and his playing time picked up when he narrowed his focus and concentrated first and foremost on grabbing rebounds.
“I was not the biggest guy on the court anymore and for the most part that was every game. I had to learn to get down low, put a body into them, and go get the ball.”

Loves the sport
A passion for the game, the willingness to take risks and learn new things, and his eagerness to assist teammates paid dividends. Beemer’s time on the floor grew, until eventually he cracked the starting lineup, and the unassuming ESF freshman was a double-figure scorer in the Mighty Oaks’ final five games.

All startups are launched with extreme joy, excitement and optimism. Everyone tends to view his or her new world through rose-colored glasses. But, the startup journey for most new endeavors follows an up-and-down curve littered with unforeseen challenges and taxing obstacles. That was the case at ESF, too.

The Mighty Oaks don’t have a home gymnasium on campus. They practice at SU’s Archibald Gym and their home gymnasium is located at Christian Brothers Academy, a Catholic high school in the city, although Beemer is hoping to play some home games this year at Onondaga Community College.

In their first year, the ESF guys were road warriors, playing 12 of their 14 games away from home. Once again, Beemer was upbeat.

“Sometimes it was hard to balance getting all your work done and then going on the road for games. But, for the most part I really enjoyed traveling with the guys on the team.”
This winter and spring, Coach Blair was recruiting new faces to add to his startup basketball operation. One local star getting a look is Mitch Hull, a first team Delaware League All-Star from Margaretville. Beemer and Hull will be doing workouts together to get ready for the 2013 campaign.
The Mighty Oaks’ basketball fortunes should be looking brighter. Their initial roster was young and four of the five starters, plus several players off the bench, are returning.

Yet for Beemer, it’s not just about wins and losses. That’s an important part of the equation, yes, but even more telling is pursuing a passion you love and after four years being able to look back and say, “Hey, I had a hand in making that happen.”