Jan. 10, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - When you evaluate a college basketball player, you typically look at their statistics. How many points do they score? What about rebounds, assists, shooting percentage and the like?
With Southern Illinois walk-on guard Colby Long, you can throw out all his basketball numbers. They don't mean much in the context of what he brings to the team. All you need to know are the letters "S" and "E".
Those are the marks he received last summer at the Leadership Development and Assessment Course at Ft. Lewis in Washington. LDAC is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. Precious few cadets receive the cherished grade of "E" during the month of training and testing at what's commonly referred to as "Warrior Forge." Those who do are considered the best of the best in terms of their advanced leadership ability, and Long received an "E" score in multiple individual assessments.
"They throw a lot of random stuff at you and see how you respond," he explained. "I had to get my squad through a mission, such as an ambush on an objective, or doing recon on a certain area. You're in charge of the tactics and movements for the mission. They see how you handle whatever stressors they throw at you. You learn a lot about yourself."
At the end of LDAC, Long was awarded active duty in the Army as a second lieutenant.
"It was hard to get active duty this year because the military is really drawing down," Long said. "A lot of my peers didn't get active duty."
Long carries a 3.5 GPA and will graduate from SIU in May, and then spend five months of training at Fort Benning before being deployed. He knows he could end up anywhere from Korea to Afghanistan.
"I'm going to take my four years and evaluate how I enjoy it and see where I'm at," he said, concerning a possible lifelong career in the military. "Maybe if I have family I might want to be in a place where I'm more secure and not moving all the time."
Caleb convinced Colby to join ROTC during his sophomore year, and along with the training, there are financial benefits that come in handy for a player who is not on scholarship.
After playing 23 games his junior year on a guard-depleted SIU team, Long has only seen action in three games so far this season. He's still an important voice on the team, though.
"If I see something that might help Desmar (Jackson) or Anthony (Beane), I can tell them you should try this, and they listen to me, which is awesome," he said. "Also, I try to lead with how I conduct myself when we go through rough times by staying positive and hopeful."
There will always be a special place in Long's heart for Saluki Basketball.
"We used to come to games with my sister when we were little kids," he recalled. "I was actually here the night we beat Kyle Korver and Creighton to clinch the Valley title. To even be on the team is beyond my wildest dreams. I'm trying to get across to our team that Saluki Basketball is a big deal."
Soon, he'll be a long way from home in some distant land, but his motivation is to preserve and protect the way of life for his family and friends.
"If I have to suffer a little bit so my family and friends can have a good time, then it's all good," he said.