Abernethy Featured in FCA Magazine
Dec. 19, 2005
By Janet Goreham in the December 2005 issue of Share the Victory
When Todd Abernethy first got the phone call from Rod Barnes, head basketball coach at the University of Mississippi, neither he nor the coach knew just how much God's hand was at work. Abernethy didn't know that as the head coach had searched for a point guard who could guide his team with maturity and integrity, that the Lord had given Barnes his name.
As player and coach talked over the phone, it became obvious that they had something in common: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And although Abernethy knew nothing about Ole' Miss, and Coach Barnes had never seen him play, they both knew they had found something special.
"We hit it off in the first conversation because there were certain things he was looking for in a program and certain things I was looking for in a player, and we just happened to hook up at the right time," said Barnes. "I had to have a great kid who could be a role model--someone I could depend on who was going to work hard. He had to be someone who was going to be consistent, solid, know how to run a team and know how to play."
In Abernethy, Barnes saw what he wanted. And over the next few seasons, the choice to recruit him would prove to be the right one. Much to the delight of the coach, Abernethy would not only meet the standards he had set for him as a player, but would also exceed the expectations Barnes had for him as a person.
Abernethy, a native of Carmel, Ind., finished his career at Heritage Christian High School as the all-time leading scorer and was named to the Associated Press All-State second team. And although he grew up surrounded by basketball--his father was a member of the undefeated 1976 Hoosier basketball squad, and both of his brothers played at the NAIA level--the game, to Abernethy, was still second to his faith.
What was important to Abernethy was not only how well he could develop his skills on the basketball court, but how well the basketball program at Ole' Miss would help him develop his relationship with Christ.
So when Abernethy was introduced to Wes Yeary, who was, at the time, the FCA campus rep at Ole' Miss and chaplain for the basketball team, and was able to attend a Huddle meeting during his recruiting trip, it "sold the deal" for his choice of school.
"I met a lot of strong Christian people down here, and I realized that Ole' Miss would be the place I could grow the most spiritually," said Abernethy.
He was right. When he first got to campus he immediately sought out Yeary and asked how he could get involved in the FCA Huddle. At that time, the Huddle was in need of a worship leader and, having played guitar throughout high school, he willingly offered to step in.
"Todd is very gifted musically," said Yeary. "But he just served in any way that he could, whether it was through music or just setting up the room. He just wanted to be a part of it all."
Like most freshmen, Abernethy quickly began to feel the pressures of college. But rather than giving in to temptation, he threw himself even further into the FCA Huddle by becoming part of the leadership team and joining a Bible study.
"The biggest reason it's so important to be involved is because we can't do it alone. The Christian life isn't supposed to be solo," said Abernethy. "It's important that I hang out with other believers who are going to encourage me to stay strong and stay away from temptation."
Now a junior, Abernethy not only participates in FCA because of the spiritual guidance and fellowship with other Christians, he also involves himself so that he will have the chance to serve others.
"In Philippians 2 it talks about thinking about others--not thinking about your own interests, but also the interests of others," said Abernethy. "So many times I do things out of selfish ambition to please myself. But I think a big way to serve like Christ is to help others."
And Abernethy's desire to reach out and serve others isn't relegated only to the other Christians around him in his Bible study and in the Huddle. He also makes an effort to serve his teammates in any way that he can. According to Yeary, Abernethy, being an upperclassman, has taken it upon himself to reach out to those less familiar with the system, taking the incoming freshmen to Huddle meetings, to church, to dinner and other fellowship gatherings through FCA.
Through serving, Abernethy is able to show God's love to his teammates. "The example I want people to see is humility in serving," he said. "I realize that it's not about me. This life is not about my self."
For Abernethy, however, serving his teammates has not always been easy. Throughout his time at Ole' Miss, God has challenged his humility and tested his character.
During his freshman year, he started all 28 games--the only Rebel to start every game. At the end of the season he was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team by league coaches.
But, things changed his sophomore year. Instead of starting, Abernethy became the sixth man, the first substitution off the bench. The change was difficult for Abernethy, as he thought he could serve his team well by being on the court. But Abernethy chose to make the best of the situation.
"I know without question that because of his faith, because of his belief in God and because of his trust in me, he accepted the role," said Barnes. "And not only did he accept it, he flourished in it."
Added Yeary, "He played with all his heart and didn't worry about whether or not he started. He helped the team and brought glory to Christ."
And even from the bench Abernethy found a way to be a servant to his teammates. "I was the biggest cheerleader on the bench when I wasn't in at the beginning of the game," said Abernethy. "I tried to get the guys pumped up by cheering and encouraging my other teammates."
Any feelings of rejection that Abernethy might have felt standing on the sideline were suppressed by the fact that he knew that his worth was not wrapped up in basketball, but in Christ. "The biggest thing was keeping a good attitude and staying consistent, realizing that no matter how basketball's going, I'm great because of what the Lord has done for me," he said.
And at the end of the season, Abernethy was rewarded for his role, as he was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year.
"The award was really great because it wasn't like that was his goal," said Yeary. "His goal had really been just to glorify Christ."
The 2005-06 season will be Abernethy's third at Ole' Miss. And whether he is strumming his guitar at FCA Huddle meetings or dribbling a basketball down the court at practice or during games, he will continue to serve the Lord by serving others.
"I've gotten wiser and my beliefs have solidified," said Abernethy. "I've realized how temporary basketball is and how up and down it is. It will eventually fade, but the Lord is all I need."
Coaching is more than just a job for Ole' Miss head coach, Rod Barnes--it's a ministry. Whether it's on the court, in his office or in his home, Barnes tries to display Christ to his players by loving them the way the Lord does and hopes to teach them lessons that extend beyond the court.
"From the time I start recruiting them, it's my goal to coach the whole and complete person," said Barnes. "If I just teach them basketball, then one day they're not going to play basketball, and then what has happened? It's good to play ball. It's good to be in school. But, man, where are we going to be 15 years from now?"
But even though Barnes is a Christian and believes that there is more to life than basketball, don't expect him to be a softy. He is a firm disciplinarian who demands the best from each of his players.
"Coach Barnes is a tough coach," said Abernethy. "He works us. We're one of the hardest working teams, I would say, without being biased. But he's really encouraging, and he cares for each of us."
Adds Yeary, "He's the kind of man that I would want to play for or would want someone I loved to play for. He's integrity through and through, and his goal is to bring honor and glory to Christ in coaching."
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