By Mike Phelps
This past March, the Marquette University men's basketball team was one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament, as the 11th-seeded Golden Eagles scored a pair of upsets en route to an appearance in the Sweet 16. While the players were getting the job done on the court, behind the scenes, Athletic Trainer Ernest Eugene, MS, ATC, NASM-PES, CES, was working just as hard to keep them healthy. In this interview, Eugene discusses his career path, the differences between a pro and college setting, and working with coaches.
After completing his master's degree from Ohio State University in 2003, Eugene accepted a position as a season intern with the Washington Redskins. His stint with the Redskins was short-lived, however, as he was presented with an opportunity to take a full-time job as an assistant athletic trainer with the Washington Wizards. After five seasons with the Wizards, Eugene received a phone call from Marquette in May of 2008 to gauge his interest in a position at the school. The rest, as they say, is history.
T&C: Why did you decide to take the position at Marquette?
I really loved being in the NBA and living in Washington D.C., but I also knew it was time for me to grow. That meant I needed to leave my comfort zone to come out to Milwaukee. I didn't have any family out here, but I knew the opportunity to be the athletic trainer for men's basketball and be responsible for only men's basketball was like being a head athletic trainer for an NBA team. And that's exactly what it's been. It's an NBA job in a college setting.
Did you always want to work with basketball players?
I actually always wanted to work in the NFL. That's what I always dreamed of doing and that's what all my clinicals were geared toward.
But this opportunity and the opportunity with the Wizards presented themselves, and I've definitely developed an interest in working with basketball players. I think working in basketball allows you to focus in a little bit more on the 15 or so guys that you're working with.
How have you gone about developing a relationship with the players and coaches?
The coaching staff here, especially Head Coach Buzz Williams, always has the health of the players in their best interests. Coach Williams knows that's what I believe in too. Even if it means a player isn't going to practice today or tomorrow--even though there's an important game coming up--I have the best interest of the players as my number one priority. I don't want to have a player play to help get us through one game but not be able to walk or play with his kids in 20 years.
What's your approach to injury prevention at Marquette?
We have what we call an injury prevention (IP) program. Players go through Gray Cook's functional assessment as part of their physical. In addition to the seven original exercises, I also use an eighth: the single-leg squat.
How a player does on each of the exercises tells me what we need to work on. If a player does a hurdle step and the side he's standing on drops, that indicates glute medius weakness. We take video so we can look at the impairment closely, then we develop an IP program.
That means, in addition to what the player normally does in the weightroom, we're going to work--for 15 to 20 minutes a day, two to three times a week--on his impairments. By working on those, it's going to help reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring.
What was the toughest part of the transition from being an assistant athletic trainer to now being in charge of the men's basketball team?
I have to make decisions. I have to say, "This is what we're going to do." I can't say, "Oh, maybe this will work better. Or maybe that would be better." I have to be certain of what my decision is.
Since I had never been in that situation before, I looked to my past superiors and how they handled it. They would make their decisions based on research, literature, or whatever it took to show why they made that decision. That's the philosophy I follow.
How do you balance your responsibility to the basketball team with that of your family at home?
As I entered year two at Marquette, my wife and I had our first child. My wife understands that from September through March, I'm going to be really busy, so I can't take our kid to daycare every morning or to whatever activities he has. But in the offseason, it becomes my responsibility to give back for the months I've been traveling. Having that understanding is key.
To read about a recent rehab Eugene performed with Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan, click here.
Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at
Training & Conditioning.