Not your average college athlete

DES MOINES – Collegiate athletes have full plates.

Whether it’s practice, games, film study or classes and academics, many student-athletes have a hard time balancing a busy schedule into their every day lives.

Throw in a few add-ons to former MCC Tiger and current Drake Bulldog Chris Caird’s plate and you get a five-course meal.

Caird not only has to deal with the strict academic standards that Drake University possesses, but he also has to balance his time in the gym, at practice and in the film room around a wife and young child at home.

That makes Caird much different than an average college athlete.

“I couldn’t even imagine being in his shoes,” said Caird’s teammate Gary Ricks Jr. earlier this month at Drake’s annual men’s basketball media day. “We have practice, weights and things to do on the court all the time. And then we have study hall and I just want to go take a nap afterwards. That is something he can’t do with a wife and child at home.”

Ricks Jr. came to Drake by way of Indian Hills. So he played against Caird during the former Tigers freshman season in Marshalltown.

There is a friendly rivalry between the two because of the junior college connections, but Ricks Jr. admits there is no way he could do what Caird has to do on a daily basis.

“His wife is really nice and Ben is a cute kid, and he brings him around a lot,” said Ricks Jr. “I couldn’t imagine dealing with what’s on Chris’ plate. I don’t know if I would be able to do that right now. I commend Chris and have the utmost respect for him for what he has to deal with. He has handled it really well so far.”

Ricks Jr. and the rest of Caird’s teammates all said they have his back and will help him out any way they can. That should make the entire process that much easier on Drake’s family man.

“Chris is an unbelievable guy,” said starting point guard Richard Carter. “We have told him that we have his back. If he needs anything, the rest of the guys are here to help him out. It’s not like he is here by himself with his family. He knows we are here for him, too.”

One way Caird’s teammates help out is by watching Ben in the gym while Caird attempts to get up extra shots on his free time.

That is a big part of being a collegiate athlete and Caird’s teammate are more than happy to play the role of babysitter while dad tries to better his game.

“There are times when Chris has to watch Ben but still wants to get shots up,” Ricks Jr. said. “That is when we watch Ben in the gym so Chris can get extra shots up.

“Chris is a great shooter, he is big and can play the 4 because he is bigger but can also stretch the floor with his shot and pick and pop type stuff.”

Drake coach Ray Giacoletti likes Caird’s game and, despite some bumps and bruises in the preseason, still feels he was a steal for the Bulldog program.

“He does have more on his plate then a normal college kid, there’s no doubt about that,” Giacoletti said. “He is a real academic guy and has handled things really good. It seems like it has been a seamless transition.”

Giacoletti said at media day that Caird had missed some practice time, but Caird assured the T-R that he was fine and was just a little bit sore from workouts in the weight room.

“There is a role for him on this team, but we just have to get him healthy,” Giacoletti said. “It’s in there. He averaged 20 points per game in a very tough junior college league. He is capable, there is no doubt.”

Caird described his injury situation as “a little banged up” but doesn’t anticipate missing a lot of time.

“It has been exciting playing here and practices have been intense,” said Caird. “Everyone on this team is talented and it has been fun so far.”

When asked about his wife and son, Caird’s eyes lit up. You could tell he is extremely happy – and maybe even a little grateful – to have them there with him on his new journey.

“It has been huge for me,” Caird said. “Coming home to them every day has been great. It makes it worth it if you had a bad day at practice or school. They make everything easier.

“The transition has been easy. Everyone in Des Moines is nice. My wife walks around campus with Ben and gets stopped three or four times each time. They have both settled in here really well.”

There is no doubt Caird has the ability to help the Bulldogs right away. Whether it’s draining triples from outside or going into the paint to grab a key rebound, the former Tiger has done it all so far in his career.

“He is always in the gym getting shots up,” said starting center Seth Van Deest. “He is a great communicator on the floor, and I think he will be a big help for us.

“It’s a unique situation. It’s hard enough dealing with school and the basketball side of things. He’s done a great job balancing things. And from what I’ve seen, Chris is a great dad. It is actually kind of fun to have him and his family around.”

The Bulldogs will begin the season on the road against the University of Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 9. The first home game will be Nov. 12 against Iowa Wesleyan and the Bulldogs also will play Nebraska-Omaha at the Knapp Center on Nov. 23.

The Hy-Vee Big Four Classic will pit Drake against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Dec. 7. Tip-off for that game has been set for 7:30 p.m.