Final exams to Final Four

Courtsey / Zak Spryszak

Courtsey / Zak Spryszak

Brady McAtamney

The Final Four is no joke.

In 2019, Virginia, Texas Tech, Michigan State and Auburn were all well-represented in Minneapolis, Minn. to participate in the ultimate college basketball weekend of each year – but Grand Valley State was represented, too.

The newly-acquired tradition of the Final Four weekend is the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship where NCAA Division I senior players are invited from across all conferences to show up in the host city and play three-on-three half-court basketball for a cash prize. This year, the event was held right in the middle of the Mall of America.

Now, where does GVSU come in?

“Our coach at Grand Valley State, JR Wallace, sent me a direct message on Twitter of this opportunity to email some guy,” said Zak Spryszak. “Our other assistant coach knew him so I talked to him, sent my information over and in less than 24 hours later they sent me a contract and I was ready to go. A couple months later, I was flying out to Minneapolis.”

Spryszak, who served as the head student manager for the GVSU men’s basketball team from 2015 to 2019, became the Director of Basketball Operations for the American East Conference and the Big South Conference.

During the weekend, he was responsible for managing players – where they should be and when, what times the games were, when they’re scheduled for practice – as well as helping strategize for the game that differs further from traditional hoops more than one might think. The game is fast paced, as no “check-ups” are required, letting teams fire away as soon as the ball crosses the three-point arc, even after the opponents make shots.

Despite the lofty title, Spryszak made it a priority to remain connected with his players and never strayed from his experiences doing the dirty work in Allendale.

“Zak is a cool dude,” said David Eyianayi of Gardner-Webb in the Big South Conference. “During the practice times, he was helping me rebound and stuff like that and he was texting us in the group chat all week to make sure that we’re on time with everything. He’s just a cool dude.”

His willingness to contribute and dedication toward his teams allowed himself to stay on an even plane with the guys he worked with. While many people could have taken the “director” title and use it to feed their own ego, Spryszak did the exact opposite and stayed humble through the new experience.

“He was really good,” said Ernie Duncan of Vermont in the American East Conference. “I’m glad he was our ‘coach’ for our team and looked over our team and I thought he did a really good job and, not just myself, but the other guys really enjoyed him. He was excellent.”

The tournament was mutually beneficial for the players and directors alike, as the Final Four, unsurprisingly, is a gold mine for young, aspiring coaches to connect with established names from across the country in the industry and collect reputable contacts for their careers ahead. He’ll continue to stay in touch with the coaches and higher-ups.

“They’re not going to be connections or people who are going to help you out unless you keep talking to them, getting to know them and putting in that work on the side which was part of my process.” Spryszak said. “The week after, I texted all them, had a little conversation with all them and that’s just the start.”

The soon-to-be Laker alumnus will now focus on locking in a graduate assistant program with a Division I program, solidifying his place in the college basketball universe.