New assistant basketball coach learns lessons from Katrina

By Mari Pothier |
Photo by Gorge Gallardo

Assistant coach Andrew Garcia of the Flagler College men’s basketball team said Hurricane Katrina has made him a better person.

In August 2005 Garcia was a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. when Katrina hit. He said he evacuated his apartment the day before the storm arrived and did not return until December.

“I didn’t know what happened to my things, my house and everything,” Garcia said.

Tulane University closed for the fall semester and Garcia explained how all over the United States there was a policy where if you were a student at Tulane, you could attend any school in your home state for free for that semester. When Tulane opened back up in the spring the credits from the different schools were transferred over.

However, Garcia did not return to his home state of Pennsylvania to attend school there. Instead he chose to stick with basketball and ended up at Texas A & M University with his teammates and coaches for the entire fall semester.

“The people at Texas A & M were unbelievable hospitality-wise,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know what had become of my things and all my teammates were in the same situation where there was just so much uncertainty. We didn’t know if the school was going to close, if we were going to have a basketball team or sports program anymore because of funding, and we were just kind of in limbo.”

Garcia said he and his team did not start practicing for their season until October. They won their first game in front of a crowd of around 10 people in the Texas A & M arena against the University of New Orleans.

“But then we lost our next five games,” Garcia said. “We ended up probably 11-17 that year. It’s not awful; considering the circumstances we did fine.”

He also credits his coaches for helping keep the team together and positive during this difficult situation.

While at Texas A & M, Garcia said he found out in October that his apartment had been flooded and he lost everything. When he originally evacuated he only brought a week’s worth of clothes, not knowing he would not be able to return until December. He said his parents supplied him with some money, though he did not qualify for the checks the Federal Emergency Management Agency was providing because he was not a resident of Louisiana.

But Texas A & M gave Garcia financial aid.

“It’s just re-buying everything you ever owned… you can’t really do that,” Garcia said.

When the team returned to New Orleans in December, Garcia saw his apartment for the first time. He said there was mold everywhere and some of his old possessions were scattered on the floor. He said the streets were filled with garbage and debris like refrigerators, doors and roof shingles. He was able to move back into the Tulane dorms.

“It was like living in a Third World country,” Garcia said.

For their first game back at Tulane, Garcia and his teammates played in front of a crowd of 100 people and won by 26 points. He said the game’s attendees were New Orleans residents.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a basketball game just because we were back in a place where you knew,” Garcia said.

Garcia said Katrina taught him to value relationships and his teammates instead of his possessions. It was also during this time he realized he wanted to be a basketball coach.

Garcia said he was put on scholarship for basketball after the disaster happened. He was a walk-on player when the storm hit. Two of his teammates who were ahead of him and were both point guards ended up transferring, allowing Garcia to start.

“I’m not going to sit here and act like it was great, but it really made me a better person,” He said. “I’m actually grateful for it now.”

Before coming to Flagler, Garcia was a graduate assistant at Marshall University in West Virginia. He did video editing and other managerial duties for their basketball team for two years.

Currently, Garcia is the assistant coach of the Flagler College men’s basketball team.

Head coach Bo Clark of the men’s basketball team said Garcia has done a great job and because of his humble personality, he gets along real well with the players.

Garcia said he aspires to be a head coach and would love to coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

“He’s a hard worker,” Clark said. “He’s very dedicated. He wants us to get better as a team and I think someday he is going to be a very good head coach because of his character, because of his humility and because of his work ethic.”

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