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Coach Kropp reminisces about life as a pro
Drew Hoselton
Antelope Staff
Courtesy Photo
Mens basketball co-head coach Tom Kropp coaches his team with great enthusiasm during a timeout. Under Kropp the Lopers mens basketball team has culminated an overall record of 400-177.

It's the spring of 1975, and Tom Kropp has just finished up his collegiate basketball career at Kearney State College. Kropp was a two-sport standout in basketball and football at KSC, garnering many awards including All-American honors.

Preparing to graduate with a four-year degree at the age of 22, Kropp was waiting for a childhood dream to come true; getting drafted by a professional sports team. His hard work and dedication would finally pay off when he learned first that he had been selected by the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round and then by both the ABA's Denver Nuggets and the NBA's Washington Bullets. The dream of a 13-year-old kid who essentially came from nothing was coming true.

What was going through your mind when the ABA, NBA and NFL drafted you?
It wasn't that big of a surprise to me. It was a culmination of a goal I had growing up. I saw getting drafted as an opportunity to do what I wanted to do since I was 13 years old. Coming out of high school rated as one of the top 36 basketball players in the nation, I figured if I kept going at the same pace as in high school that I would have a pretty good chance at getting drafted. I was very excited to hear that my dream came true.

How did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the NBA?
I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round of the 1975 NFL draft, and they offered me a guaranteed $10,000 signing bonus and a $40,000 contract only if I made the team. Then the Washington Bullets of the NBA countered that offer by offering me a $20,000 signing bonus and an $80,000 guaranteed contract, so my decision was made very easy for me when I looked at the differences in the contracts.

What was the hardest thing about being a professional athlete?
The hardest part would have to be fighting to keep your job everyday and knowing that every time you step onto the court you are trying to keep your job. When you get to the professional level, sports become a business, not just a game.
Are there differences between the coaches now, than when you played?
This is the sign of the times, but coaches were a lot more demanding of their players than they are today. Our culture has had an amazing effect on the way we coach today. Some of the actions of coaches back when I played would get them fired in today's game.

Was playing in the NBA all you thought it would be?
It was, it was great. I wish I could have lasted longer. As far as the way you're treated, you always stayed in the nicest hotels and always flew first class. Everything was first class; it was everything I imagined it would be. Coming from the background that I have, it was definitely all I thought it would be.

What were the temptations if any that came with being an NBA basketball player?

There were people with a lot of money and not a lot of time demands, so temptations were always there. Whether it be drugs, alcohol or groupies, there were temptations all around. Everybody let their income dictate their lifestyles.

What was the best part of playing a professional sport?
The relationships I made are the No. 1 thing I took away from my time as a pro athlete. I played one season with the Washington Bullets. I was probably the worst player on the team, and when I was inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame, five out of the 11 guys I played with showed up. Relationships are so important because they last forever, and when your career is over no one is going to care how many points you scored or rebounds you had, just the relationships with each other.
What are some differences you have seen in professional basketball today than when you played?
Players today are physically more superior then when I played. Don't get me wrong, there were some great athletes, but not nearly what they are today mainly because of weight training and nutrition. The athletes today are bigger, stronger and quicker. I can verify this; players today are not as skilled as they were when I played.

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