Xavier’s best defender didn’t appear in the box score in Wednesday night’s loss to Providence. Except for time-outs, he won’t leave his seat on the bench. But make no mistake — David Fluker, Xavier’s head athletic trainer, is the Musketeers' best chance to stop COVID-19 from affecting the team.
“It’s been a wild ride this year,” Fluker said. “Just trying to keep everyone as healthy as we can. It’s chaotic, but you just keep moving forward.”
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Fluker and the Musketeers. Seven games, including a month-long stretch where Xavier only played one game, have been postponed.
As the head athletic trainer, Fluker coordinates all the medical staffing for Xavier athletics. For men’s basketball, he administers three weekly COVID-19 tests for players and staff while also enforcing social distancing and masking guidelines. When an issue arises, he’s the one who makes the phone calls to head coach Travis Steele.
“I’m reluctant to answer his calls late at night because I know what that means,” Steele said. “He’s not calling at midnight (for nothing), usually means there’s an issue. It’s put a lot on his plate. People don’t understand just how much. We respect him for that.”
If anyone can handle it, it’s Fluker. He first became interested in athletic training at Sycamore High School. After a knee injury playing football at Wilmington, he decided to stay in the training room permanently.
“After a while, being in the training room so much, observing what they were doing, I just said to myself, 'Maybe this is something I’d be interested in,'” Fluker said.
From Wilmington, he worked as a grad assistant with the football program at Michigan State, where he primarily cared for the Spartans defensive backs. You may have heard of the MSU defensive backs coach in the years since. His name? Nick Saban.
After the two-year stint in East Lansing, Fluker returned home to Cincinnati. He worked at Xavier beginning in 1996, then later took a job at the University Cincinnati working with Bob Huggins.
“I feel blessed to be able to have been a part of both locker rooms,” Fluker said. “Not many people can say that.”
And not many Black people can claim to be head athletic trainers at the NCAA’s Division 1 level. According to a 2019 NCAA survey, of the 359 positions at non-HBCUs, only 11 are held by Black trainers. Meanwhile, 53% of D1 basketball players are Black.
“That was the first time in my life having a Black medical person,” Xavier All-American David West said of his time with the Musketeers.
West, who played 18 years in the NBA, wouldn’t see another Black athletic trainer until his ninth season in the NBA.
“You always got the sense that he wanted was best for you,” West said. “I found a level with Fluke because (he is Black). His role was a bit beyond just the guy that made sure we weren’t hurt or taped our ankles.”
“He’s like your father,” Steele said. "He’s got that aura. Players know they can talk to him about anything. Our guys trust and love him. He’s going to give them reality and try to help them. He’s there to keep them mentally healthy as well.”
Fluker says he’s seen the number of Black faces grow and grow while attending athletic trainer conventions.
“When I watch the NBA or NFL, I see these young folks doing their thing, I’m so proud,” Fluker said. "Bright, energetic young people that look like me working at the top levels. Makes me proud to be part of the profession."