As far back as he can remember, Kyle Goldcamp has wanted to play professional basketball. After graduating from Gannon University in 2008, he was able to live his dream. The 6-foot-10 Pittsburgh native played professionally for four years, mostly with the Erie Bayhawks, then a Development League affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even though he enjoyed his job, which included playing on the same court with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, Goldcamp decided in 2012 that he would leave pro ball behind. Because he was only 26 at the time, many of his friends thought he was making a bad decision by letting go of an opportunity most others his age would jump at.
Goldcamp’s unexpected retirement from basketball would open up the opportunity for youth leadership, first at his home parish of St. Bede and now at his alma mater, Central Catholic High School, both in Pittsburgh. With the title of director of Lasallian Ministry (named after the school’s patron, St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle), he deeply values his interaction with the students.
Goldcamp spoke of his current work, basketball career and the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers, which start Thursday.
Do you still follow professional basketball?
I do. Sometimes when players retire from the game, they aren’t interested in what happens in their former pro leagues, but I still follow basketball closely, along with quite a few of my friends in the same boat. They don’t play professionally anymore, but they have been keeping watch on what has been happening in the playoffs.
The NBA Finals have a great matchup this year. Golden State has an outstanding record, and Cleveland is very good. I’m pulling for Cleveland because I played for them in the NBA’s Development League. I got to compete with and against some of the best players, not only in the league at the time, but of all times, in LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. They were both awesome to be around.
In 2009, I was sent out to guard Shaq in practice, so when I first took the floor, he introduced himself to me, as if I wouldn’t know who he was. That was really funny, but it also showed his character — how humble he was. Here I was, this “nothing player” that Shaq didn’t even have to say hello to, and he takes the time to introduce himself. That was one of my great experiences with the team.
Because of those things, because the Cavaliers are the closest NBA team to Pittsburgh geographically, and because I still know some people who work for the team in various capacities, I’m in their corner.
We really do. I think we even take it for granted sometimes. I’ve gotten to meet with Father Joe Freedy, and I’ve been able to listen to Alejandro Villanueva speak a couple of times. The Church in Pittsburgh has some really good things going generally, and the sports department is no exception.
Sports are very helpful in getting the Gospel across to high-school boys. Sports are something they naturally gravitate toward and understand, so basketball, football, baseball, tennis or whatever else they might be interested in, can be a great starting point for getting Catholic messages across. I’m blessed to have had a pro background in basketball, because that gives me immediate credibility with the boys.
What are the biggest challenges toward getting the Gospel across to young people?
Probably the biggest one overall for any type of youth ministry is just getting the attention of the kids. There are so many loud and flashy things clamoring for their attention today that there’s a temptation to think we have to be loud and flashy, too — that we always need a festive, active atmosphere. Really valuable things like silent Eucharistic adoration can be seen as lacking a catchy aspect that is believed to be so necessary.
In my own work, the biggest challenge might be that teenage boys are not naturally open to sharing their personal relationship with God. There’s a trust factor there that needs to be in play before they take a risk by sharing something like that. On the other hand, I think being in an all-boys school is an advantage because there’s no need to impress the girls. We can just get down to business without distractions.
How did you get into campus ministry to begin with?
Throughout my youth I thought of Catholicism as a private thing that wasn’t supposed to be shared. In college, I learned through a trying experience that being Catholic is supposed to be personal, but not private. I was a senior at Gannon University and had a freak accident at a basketball tournament right before New Year’s Day. It was an abdominal injury that left me losing my lunch. I couldn’t keep anything down, so I had to be hospitalized and fed intravenously for a month.
That was not what I had in mind for my senior year, but a big chunk of the basketball season was taken away. I had time to think and pray more and also to see that so many people cared about me. People from Gannon visited or sent cards, and kids from my mom’s class — she’s a grade-school teacher — made a bunch of cards, too. I was really surprised that so many people cared about me.
I realized that basketball was a gift from God and that he could take it away whenever he wanted to. I kind of knew that before the hospitalization, but it was really underlined in a big way through that experience. I came to know that all the praise, honor and glory should go to God and that there was no need to be quiet about it.
That’s what made youth ministry possible?
I didn’t want to get into youth ministry at that moment, but the path was being opened. I still wanted to play basketball professionally, which I was able to do for four years before retiring at the age of 26. I wasn’t injured or disappointed with the game; I just discerned with my wife, Jessica, whom I married the last year of my pro career, that there were other things to be done. Lots of friends thought I was crazy, because at 26 there’s still plenty of time left to play a sport at a high level, but we were both at peace with the decision.
After leaving basketball and moving back to Pittsburgh, I got a call from my mom out of the blue. She said there was an open youth leader position at St. Bede, my home parish. I didn’t have a theology degree and didn’t know the Bible cover to cover, so I didn’t think I was qualified. Truth be told, I thought the idea of applying was laughable, but she encouraged me to do it anyhow, so I begrudgingly did.
The pastor of St. Bede, Father Edward Bryce, hired me, and I worked there for a year. I learned a lot and hopefully led some souls closer to God. Then Brother Robert Schaefer asked me if I wanted to work in campus ministry at Central Catholic High School, my alma mater. I had thought one day I might teach biology there, since biology was my major at Gannon, but campus ministry was another story.
How have things worked out?
Great. I’ve been at Central since 2013, and I’ve been impressed with the response of the boys when I challenge them with something. They go above and beyond my expectations. It’s a real privilege to be a part of their lives as they grow in their knowledge and love of God.
Biology is interesting; otherwise, I wouldn’t have majored in it. And education in general is important to me; otherwise, I wouldn’t have earned a master’s degree in it as I was playing pro basketball. Yet it’s most fulfilling to teach religious faith, because that’s supposed to permeate every other subject.
Do you have a patron saint?
I admire our school’s patron, St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, who is known for his commitment to Christian education. I also admire St. Luke. He was a physician, so I can relate to his interest in physiology, but more importantly, I like the universality of his Gospel — how Jesus is meant for all people, not just a specific group of people.
One of my favorite verses from Luke is 9:23, which says if anyone wants to be a follower of Jesus, they need to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow him. I remind myself of that every morning with my wife, and then on the way to work I pray the Rosary in order for Mary to send me the grace to live it.
The immature way of seeing happiness is that it will come with self-indulgence. Anyone who has tried this, however, will find out that it does not work.
Every day will have some kind of cross, but the counterintuitive thing is that if we accept it, then it is not nearly as painful, and it can even become a joy. Carrying a cross and denying oneself for the love of God — and for one’s own greater good — is a faith-filled, supernatural way of life that should be a central part of Catholic education.
I’ve always been Catholic, but it used to be a private thing for me. I didn’t share my faith experiences, and I certainly wouldn’t ask someone else if they had thought of becoming Catholic. Now, I see more clearly that, like Luke shows, the Gospel is for everyone, so in order to get it to everyone, sharing needs to take place. My son, who is one and a half, is a living reminder of that, since we named him Luke.
I always wanted to play basketball professionally, and God gave me the opportunity to do that. I probably wanted to share the Gospel with others for quite a while, too, but that was a hidden desire of my heart. Now, it’s something I do every day, and it’s more satisfying than making a basket or blocking an opponent’s shot. Those things don’t last, but our relationship with God will last forever, and we have the opportunity to introduce or solidify that relationship with God in others.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.