A member of two championship football teams â€“ one collegiate and one pro â€“ Jermichael Finley has been a winner at every level. But despite boasting countless pigskin achievements on his rÃ©sumÃ©, the Green Bay Packers tight end still attributes his success on the football field to the fundamentals he picked up on the hardwood with his Houston Hoops AAU team.
“I really think Houston Hoops helped me get to the next level,” says Finley. “Playing against the top players helped me to be the best tight end in many ways. Hand-eye coordination, speed, jumping ability and mostly just outplaying the other guys is what made me better.”
It all started at a prep school in Diboll, Texas, a small town with just over 5000 people. That’s when Jermichael exploded on to the scene in a big way.
“No one had ever heard of Diboll, so no one really thought this kid was going to be any good,” says Austin Pastner, son of legendary Houston Hoops founder Hal Pastner, who played ball with Jermichael back in the day. “In Diboll though, he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
It seemed like for every football honor he received at Diboll High School, a basketball accolade would follow suit. He would be named District Offensive Player of the Year in football, and then follow with a District MVP in basketball. Along with being an All-State football selection as a tight end/receiver, he was also an All-State small forward. As a senior at Diboll, he averaged an awe-inspiring 24 points and 20 rebounds while leading the Lumberjacks to an 18-4 record, even amassing 48 points on one memorable night. But it wasn’t until he started playing against stiff competition at Houston Hoops his sophomore year, that people realized what kind of multi-talented athlete he truly was.
“J-Mike was an athletic freak,” says Pastner. “He was so strong, but he had legit basketball skills and could jump out of the gym. Playing for the Hoops, he played against the top competition at the time, and given his size and strength, he would always guard the opponents’ best player â€“ whether it was Louis Williams, Julian Wright, Martell Webster, Brandon Rush or Calvin Miles.”
Finley was so good in fact, that he was recruited by top college football and basketball programs. At one point, he was offered â€“ and verbally committed â€“ to play basketball at the University of Arizona, but had a change of heart. Two days before signing day, he de-committed and decided to accept a scholarship to play football for the Texas Longhorns instead.
“In the NBA, I’d be average sized,” says the 6-5, 247-pound Finley. “At my size, I’m supposed to be a point guard in the NBA, whereas with Houston Hoops I’d play the three, sometimes the four. I wouldn’t fit my true position.”
Football was probably the better option with respect to long-term career goals for him. While redshirting in 2005, he developed a thirst for winning as Texas won the National Championship over USC. In 2006, he appeared in all 13 games, finishing with 31 receptions for 372 yards and three TDs â€“ totals that rank first on UT’s all-time freshman tight ends list. He went on to start all 13 games for the Longhorns his sophomore year, catching 45 passes for 575 yards before announcing that he was leaving school for a chance to play in the NFL. But he always made time to ball.
“I used to shoot around with [Kevin] Durant,” says Finley. “We couldn’t play too hard against each other because of commitments to our teams, but I can out-hoop him though â€“ I’m a ball player! I still talk to him once in a while. I try to watch him every Tuesday or whenever he’s on TV â€“ gotta support fellow Texas alumni.”
Drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Packers, Finley didn’t take long to adjust to Cheesehead Nation. In just his second year as a pro, he eclipsed 800 yards receiving and five touchdowns, contributing to Green Bay’s playoff push down the stretch of the season. Getting the starting nod in the 2010-11 season over veteran tight end Donald Lee, Finley posted two 100-plus yard performances in his first four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury early into his Week 5 matchup against the Redskins. Though the Pack went on to win Super Bowl XLV without Jermichael, he isn’t one to sulk in the corner.
“Winning the Super Bowl’s been great,” says Finley. “All the parades and everything. I gotta practice right and get my offseason right so I can come back to the Super Bowl again. Next year I gotta show the world that I am the best tight end.”
Ironically, competing against Jermichael to be the best tight end in the NFL this upcoming season are two of his former AAU teammates, Martellus Bennett (Cowboys) and Fendi Onobun (Rams). How many AAU basketball teams can boast three future NFL tight ends from the same roster? The answer is none.
When asked which NBA player would be able to hold their own in the NFL, Jermichael didn’t hesitate to give his opinion.
“I think Ron Artest and LeBron James would be able to play football with their size and ability,” says Finley. “The best suited player though is Blake [Griffin]. He’s an animal. That’s another guy that can be a tight end. I’m watching Clippers games now and he’s phenomenal. I love watching him play.”
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