There are always reasons not to do something. Not ready, not enough time, not knowing where to begin — the rationale to stop before you start, especially something new or daunting, can be the most convincing.
For Jacobi Sebock, a huge fan of sports growing up in the Midwest City suburb of Oklahoma City, running track and playing baseball, football and basketball in a short, still chubby body was challenging enough. On top of the regular tests a changing body brings, Sebock was born with asthma, a first-degree heart block, and without sweat glands, a symptom of a condition called hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (HED). For an athlete like Sebock who couldn’t stay away from sports if he tried, the biggest impact of his condition was the inability to naturally cool his body down by sweating.
He and his parents learned to adapt. Lugging coolers filled with ice and ice water to games and practices, and managing his condition with cooling vests he’d swap out every 20-minutes during play, plus wristbands and neck coolers.
“It was really hard,” Sebock recalls over the phone, “I would get subbed out, have to switch out my cooling vest, put on a different wristband, wet down my whole body just so I could stay cool.”
HED makes any kind of sustained physical exertion not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. Overheating can be fatal. Still, the hardest thing for Sebock was having to be taken out of the game, to stop playing.
Between his sophomore and junior year of high school he shot up nine inches to 6′ 5″, he also shed 50 pounds, but some of the weight loss was tied to yet another diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. His mother, Franki Sebock, recalls thinking to herself, Can’t he catch a break?
For most of Sebock’s life coaches had been wary of playing him too much, and trainers the family approached to help turned them away. His dad, Anthony Gilliam, stepped in. The two used Sebock’s new height and frame to their advantage, as well as the added time early COVID lockdowns brought, and trained intensely. Sebock had already learned to manage his breathing and body temperature as he got older to make sure he didn’t overheat but the training helped. He wasn’t using his cooling gear and found he could “control my body temperate with breathing while I play the game.”
Whether it was the universe listening or the more likely work of Sebock continuing to push, the break his mom wanted for him finally came in his junior year. That season, Midwest City Bombers coach, Corky McMullen, started giving Sebock more minutes — time that he devoured.
“Getting that green light in my junior year, it boosted my confidence a lot,” Sebock says.
Knowing that he had to make up for lost time lit a fire under Sebock, and he’d join AAU team Oklahoma City Elite in the summer after his junior year wrapped. It was there, getting more encouragement and minutes from coach Deangelo Anderson, that he heard about another opportunity involving the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and a tournament called UNDERRATED.
“In a 5-star world, I was a 3-star player to the decision makers on all different levels,” Curry says of the impetus behind the initiative. “The UNDERRATED Championships Tournament provides a platform for high school basketball athletes who are often overlooked in the sport, to show their true potential and to be seen by key figures in the industry.”
Curry launched UNDERRATED in 2019 as a basketball camp, tournament and showcase for high school players who felt they’d been overlooked in the tough, occasionally demoralizing recruiting rankings process.
“It’s my way of encouraging any young player with big dreams to keep believing in themselves even when it seems like the odds are stacked against them,” Curry adds. “I’ve been in those shoes, but being the underdog is also what got me where I am today.”
Sebock wrote an entry essay and applied to the camp, which was making regional stops in summer 2021 through D.C., Dallas, Chicago and L.A.. Each city would see the field narrowed from 75 to just 16 — eight boys and eight girls — in two days, with the final 64 participants being flown to Oakland for the Championships in March 2022. Sebock soon heard that he’d made it into the Dallas camp.
It was a whirlwind.
“It was like, this might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go prove myself and show the people what I can do on the court,” Sebock recalls.
At the end of the first day he was selected in the top 30 and asked to return the following day, and at the end of the second day he found out he was going to Oakland to compete, and to meet Curry. All he had to do was wait six months.
Back with the Bombers, Sebock focused on his team’s state title run and developing his game. Asked to describe his playing style and Sebock’s voice instantly shifts from shy to assured.
“I’m a role-player,” he says firmly. “I get rebounds, I yell out on defense what they need to do, or I need to do, I help them out by moving the ball quicker. When they get up a shot I try to box out for them and get a rebound and go back up. I try to do all the little things to help my team as much as I can.”
Because of the control Sebock’s learned to best manage his condition, his game is precise by default. There are no extra steps or unplanned movements, his timing is tied to his breathing and the ball becomes an extension of his body. He calls Kyrie Irving his favorite player because of his ability to distract defenders with his handles and get his teammates involved, and Sebock is similarly watchful in his role on the wing. He has a knack for explosive dunks that feel fated, and having to pick up the movements of every other player on the floor has leant to an early-honed I.Q.
When March finally rolled around Sebock admitted he was nervous, half to be on the stage that the UNDERRATED Championship represented to him, and half because he would be going up against players whose games he didn’t know.
“After the first game I calmed down a lot,” Sebock says, noting the same thing all of the pros do, that the act of playing and putting muscle memory to work has a way of snapping nerves to focus. “Then I started playing my game that I know how to play. I started being a team player, getting everybody involved. And we just took off from there.”
Sebock’s South division team blazed through the tournament, beating out East and West within the first two days thanks in part to Sebock’s rebounding, decisive second-chance points, and springy finishes. While his team would fall in a close game to the North division team in the finals, Sebock says it was “one of the biggest times” in his life.
“Meeting my teammates, becoming friends with them over the whole weekend. We’re going to stay friends, hopefully, throughout the rest of our lives,” he says happily, recounting the weekend’s highlights, adding a little dreamily, “meeting Steph Curry the first day that we get there. He talks to us, and he even practices with us on that first day.”
This is what dreams and hard work are made of!!! I am so proud of @JSebock. He’s ready to represent Oklahoma & the South Region. Time to work. Thanks @underrated and @StephenCurry30 for this opportunity. @MWC_Beacon @MWC_Hoops @Cam_Jourdan @oksportsnet @OKCCBSSPORTS105 pic.twitter.com/ubCBBSXYQ6
— sebock family (@Franki14) April 2, 2022
For Sebock, who had a later start in the fast-paced, closely competitive world of amateur athletes working to turn pro, the UNDERRATED weekend gave him a spotlight to showcase his skills, and a chance to make meaningful connections with other athletes and their families. He’s also getting comfortable as a role model for younger athletes with health conditions that have kept them out of competition, or had them developing on a less linear timeline.
“I definitely want to go to the NBA, but most importantly I want to go through college first,” Sebock, who has already committed to Northern Oklahoma College and was just named MVP in the Big 8 Conference, says.
From there, he wants to improve with the aim of being picked up by a Division 1 school. “Work hard there, try to improve even more, get better every day, then hopefully get drafted into the NBA,” he adds, steps clear as a checklist.
His matter-of-factness has a lot in common with his game: studying the best way forward and getting there directly as he can. All there is to do now is what he’s already familiar with, to keep pushing. Excuses, or reasons not to, just make for extra steps.