November 30, 2011

Goins perseveres to success

Kevin McCarthy

Sometimes, people will read or hear about a calamitous event or circumstance and silently or aloud offer "there but for the grace of God go I." That's about as close as anyone wishes to encounter adversity. Brian Goins knows hardship, up close and personal.

photo of Brian Goins

Goins, a sophomore basketball player at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, knows all about difficult times. Life for him was the blues personified, focused on finding a place to sleep that night and how he could manage getting food that day. Like in the film "Groundhog Day," such was his repetitive existence.

His decline began snowballing back in 2007 when Goins, at age 16, dropped out of his continuation school in Concord. His mother, a long term member of the military, had moved to Alabama. Goins began staying with a friend but under the condition that he get a job.

Work never materialized.

Goins admits his employment seeking wasn't his best effort.

Thus began a long period of couchsurfing with friends, combined with living outdoors.

As Goins put it, his existence became "worrying about how to get a roof over my head, where can I get my next meal and my next shower" plus questions like "do I smell? Will other people notice it?"

It was this way for a couple of years.

Goins credits a now ex-girlfriend for "helping in keeping me mentally strong because there were times I wanted to give up."

But residing alongside the ongoing appearances and absences of food and shelter, was playing basketball -- a positive constant, sometimes the only one in his favor.

"Basketball was my outlet," he explained, "when I would play, it would feel so good, so natural. There were no negatives, just me having fun."

If there was an open gym, Goins was there. He also played in various city recreational leagues and was friends and familiar with a lot of ballers in Contra Costa County.

One time, he found himself playing with a bunch of former Diablo Valley College (DVC) players. They were impressed with his talents on the court and began cajoling Goins to get himself over to DVC.

Goins declined, telling them "school's not for me."

But the coaxing continued.

Eventually, it worked and Goins went to see longtime DVC Coach Steve Coccimiglio.

The two talked and Coccimiglio invited Goins to play with some of the guys who were trying to make the team.

He kept coming back.

This was in and around May 2010.

Goins then enrolled in a summer class at DVC, the cost covered by his being a member of a military family, but still unsure about school and participating in organized basketball.

Then he became a full-time student and made the team as a 5-foot-10, 160-pound backcourter.

However, all was not champagne and roses off or on the court.

"I had a lot of bad habits because I was out of school for so long," Goins explained. "Sometimes, I would show up late for class or not go at all. I struggled until I got it right."

With basketball, reducing some of the playground influence and beginning the learning process of how to play as a point guard (quarterback is the football equivalent) also provided highs and lows.

As Goins puts it, "I was a dumb basketball player -- I needed to raise my basketball IQ. Me playing like I did early in the season wasn't going to win games. I'm still learning how to be a point, how to run a team."

However, in his initial season Goins came on like gangbusters, being named a California Community College First Team member as well as earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Big 8 Conference.

He appreciates his relationship with Coccimiglio, one of mutual admiration.

"I respect him so much because he is straightforward and honest," Goins offered. "Most coaches want to use players for their talent and that's it but he actually cares about the player and wants us to not only succeed in his program but succeed in life as well. Plus, he's always cracking jokes."

Coccimiglio recalled one wisecrack that hit a little too close to, well, home.

"I asked him ‘what freeway overpass he was living under the first time I saw him because he was so skinny’' and he said ‘Coach, that's not cool’ and told me about his circumstances. We laugh about it now."

Goins is now entering his second season, with DVC rated highly in the pre-season state polls. A teammate, 6-foot-8 Rafael Carter just signed to play at Nevada next season.

With an interest in majoring in psychology at a four-year college, Goins has work to do in order to complete his A.A. "I need to take 5-6 classes next semester and I'm planning on having my degree by August 1."

Recruiting has been an interesting process.

"I'm looking at who shows the most interest about wanting me to be in their program, what kind of coach they are and what system they run."

His mother is now in Afghanistan, working as a contractor after leaving the military.

She has yet to witness her son in person but Goins said, "I send her DVDs of our games."

But maybe, just maybe and obviously depending on his college choice, Goins' games might appear on national television once he transfers.

That would be quite the metamorphosis -- exchanging the daily grind of mere survival for a college degree and the chance to play for pay.