Last summer, Brooklyn's Yannis Pappas was one of 12 comedians chosen to audition for a spot on "Saturday Night Live." Pappas was not chosen; Rob Riggle was. But Pappas, a former commentator on VH1's "Best Week Ever," has been equipped to handle rejection since he was cut from the American University basketball team a little more than a decade ago. Yes, Virginia [and Maryland], some basketball dreams do not come true.
How'd you wind up trying out for the American basketball team?
When I was in high school, I figured it would be a great way to meet people. I was a power forward in my soft New York City prep league, so I figured I'd try out for the team. It was hard, very hard. I was like a buck forty, 140 pounds. I couldn't even really play defense on a lot of the guys. If you got an elbow on the drive, you were winded for like two scrimmages, and it was hard for me to even get in a lot of the games.
Did you play well?
Yeah, I played well. I did play well. It's just my body wasn't ready. Division I athletes, they work out. I was literally 140 pounds and I just could not keep up with them physically. I got beat out by this guy, Jon Wolff, who had leukemia. I guess he just wanted it more than I did. It was like a dream for him; for me, I just wanted to keep that cool high school status I enjoyed and get girls. We just had two different reasons. He went to bed at night and he had one goal on his mind, and he was determined. He just did better. He legitimately beat me out. When the practices started, I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't remember any plays. There was this one drill; all I had to do was stop at the foul line and make a bounce pass to the wing, and I just could not stop at the foul line. I kept running over the defender. He did all the little things to beat me out. But for the record, he wasn't a better player than I was.
Did [then-coach] Chris Knoche say anything to you?
Not really. He just said, 'You're cut.'
How many guys tried out?
There were, like, five guys, and two guys just couldn't make it through the preseason running, which was just brutal, so there were three of us. And Jon Wolff made it.
Did you have any highlights?
I think almost dying. Those preseason drills were crazy. I came from a private school team, we didn't do anything like that. I used to smoke cigarettes in high school, and my lungs just could not handle that. There were a few times I thought, ok, I'm going to die. There was one time I just couldn't finish the suicides in time. I just couldn't do it. And a few of the bigger guys were throwing threats at my back, because if I didn't finish on time the whole team would have to run again. So I was caught between that [and] the pressure of having to finish the suicides on time without really being able to feel anything or see. Finally I think the coaches took mercy on me. I was running like a jellyfish.
Did you think about it a lot afterward? Any regrets?
I tried out again my sophomore year and my sophomore year I was actually a lot better. One of the graduating seniors, we became friends and then roommates over the summer, and I used to work out with him and play one-on-one. So I got kind of motivated, but the second year they didn't really have any spots to fill, so they didn't take anybody. There were like four of us that tried out for no reason.
What's your basketball career like nowadays?