By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Senior Night for the Saint Louis University Billikens will be more subdued than most in recent history. The battle on the court will undoubtedly be fiery, but the pregame ceremonies will feature just two players being recognized.
Tay Weaver is in just his first year as a Billiken after transferring from Eastern Kentucky. But Jack Raboin will be celebrating three years of service to the Saint Louis University Billikens, all of which he played as a walk-on.
Jack came to SLU with no promises. The Mattoon, Illinois native has been grinding out a basketball career for his entire adult life. After spending two seasons at his hometown’s community college, Lake Land Community College, where he played sparing minutes, Jack was willing to work at any opportunity he was provided to have the Division 1 experience.
How he ended up at Saint Louis University plays like it was taken out of a Disney Channel Original Movie. After finishing his time playing JUCO ball, Raboin was on a trip to the Final Four in Phoenix, looking to make connections with college coaches at a coaching convention that takes place every year. While sitting in Lambert Airport, Raboin came across a man drenched in Billiken blue and asked him, “you going to the final four?”
That man was Saint Louis assistant coach Corey Tate.
The question led to a prolonged conversation about college ball as a whole, and that connection led to the opportunity to walk-on for the Billikens. Before boarding the plane, Tate was on the phone with Travis Ford, and 10 days later, Jack Raboin was committed to SLU. No scholarship. No promises. Just an opportunity.
The role Jack plays in the program requires him to be far more prepared for what other teams are doing than what his team prepares for. As a leader on the scout team, he is responsible for learning opposing playing styles and schemes and replicating them for his team to practice against.
Raboin and his scout team companions have been responsible for showing the Billikens game-plans of each and every opponent over the last three seasons. Regardless of position or play style, Jack has to learn what their opponents do and reflect that to prepare the stars of Team Blue.
To underline how different being a scout team player can be, last season, the 6’5″ walk served as the primary center for the scout team because that’s all SLU had to work with. So for the first 2/3rds of the season, it was Jacks’ job to go against Hasahn French in the post and try to replicate the A-10’s best centers.
When asked about what it is like to be a center, he admits, “Its been really nice to have Madani (a freshmen center this season) because he can actually go out there and show the looks…I can’t really help Hasahn show what going against a 7 footer looks like.”
He is not the most skilled player on the floor, nor the most athletic, but coaches describe him as a “block a clay.” He picks up information fast and will do anything you ask him. A vital skill for a scout team player, who often only has 24 to 48 hours to thoroughly learn an opponent’s game plan, then can execute it effectively.
“Yesterday, we walked through their offense for the first time,” Jack explained before team practice less than 24 hours before their final regular-season game against St. Bonaventure. “We will go into the film a day before and watch sets during a film session, and that’s the first time you really get to know what they’re doing as a team.”
“You have to know what they’re going to do and do it, even if that’s not something that you would normally do. Like, if you had a guy who shoots it on the break, and you get it, even if there are 26 seconds left (on the shot clock), you gotta put it up even if that’s not what you would do.”
The detail that most appeals Raboin to the coaching staff is his attention to every member of the lineup. Jack has made himself known for being knowledgeable against not just the stars of opposing teams, but the role players deep on the bench who can surprise you.
“I worry more about the unknown guys,” Jack explains in a more serious and professional tone, “Guys toward the end of the scouting report is who I worry about… because those guys might only play five minutes, but if they come in and bang a pair of three’s that can completely change the game.”
“Thats who I focus on, I don’t worry about the starters too much because I know everyone is locked into those guys and knows what they do.”
Jack hopes to get the chance to get some recognition Saturday night. Traditionally, all seniors would start regardless of impact or previous playing time. But it will be unclear if that will be the case for Raboin.
With a post-season bid on the line, having Jack come in now and get any amount of time could jeopardize that possibility for the team. Something he is very clear about understanding and not wanting.
“I know the situation, so I’m not worried about it. I don’t want to screw it up for everyone else.” Raboin confessed, “I want us to be a top-four team. The last thing I want is to have us go down 6-0 in the first minute because they keep pounding it in on me.”
“I don’t even want to necessarily get a shot up, just playing a possession of offense would be nice. Getting a ‘game ball touch’ is what we always talk about at the end of the bench.”
If Jack does get the start, his plan would be simple. Win the tip, get a touch on offense, then immediately foul and get whoever needs to go in back in the game.
What happens if they don’t win the tip? “Well, then you gotta play two possessions of defense.” He says with a laugh and a nervous smile.
Last season, Jack got the opportunity to play minutes int the NCAA tournament. While that time came because of a Billiken loss, that taste of the big stage has him hungry for more saying, “I desperately want to get back to the tournament.” Jack is very aware of where the Billikens sit in regard to the bubble and an at-large bid. He knows where they are in the NET and tracks the brackets on twitter most days.
But he doesn’t want that experience again for himself, “I want it for the young guys. I had my March experience, I want them to have it now going forward. This team is going to be so going forward, having that taste of the big dance will be fantastic for them.”
The senior is currently living the college athlete dream in his final few months of being an undergraduate student. After graduating in December with a sociology degree, he immediately enrolled in a graduate program so he could remain a full-time student. Joining the Organizational Leadership program fellow graduate student/senior Tay Weaver is enrolled in, Jack will receive a certificate that he can turn into a master’s degree should he desire to at a later time. The significant benefit of the program is that it doesn’t start until the Monday after the A-10 tournament.
“I’ve just been working out, hanging out, enjoying basketball for the last month.” Jack explained, “I talked to the advisors and was like ‘hey is this going to be legal?’ and they looked into were like ‘yup you’re good to go.'”
“It’s the dream. Wake up, work out, come to practice at 2:30, eat, hang out, and do it all again the next day.”
The future is unknown for the Illinois native. Jack has expressed interest in catching on somewhere as a Graduate Assistant or coach somewhere, citing strong positive relationships with the University of Illinois’ Head Coach Brad Underwood as a potential landing spot to continue his education. However, he is also interested in pursuing a career in the front office of the NBA and MLB. With familial ties to the New York Knicks and to agents representing professional athletes in a variety of pro sports, Jack has already started networking to get himself a front-office opportunity.
The value of players like Jack is often overlooked. His name doesn’t appear on the scoresheet, he doesn’t have highlight-reel plays or brand name recognition. He does own the school’s all-time shooting percentage record, shooting 100% from the field, but that’s only on two attempts. Jack has been there to take a beating in practice day in and day out.
He will not go down as one of the Billiken greats, but at a time in which the SLU Men’s Basketball program seems to be having a sort of renaissance, Jack Raboin has been undoubtedly influential and vital to their success.
In the Jack Raboin story, his chapter at SLU is coming to an end, but the book is not over. He has served faithfully and has earned his chance at success, however, and wherever that happens.