APP: When and how did you begin playing pickleball?
Long: I started playing pickleball about 16 years ago, when I was in high school. My mom knew about it and introduced it to my friends and I – a lot of us played tennis. There was enough room in my parents’ driveway to set up pickleball court, so we just chalked off some lines, my mom bought us a set with some wooden paddles, and we went out there and played. We used to play two points if you hit the other person, so we came out hot and were just firing away.
APP: At what point did you decide that this was something you would do professionally?
Long: About two years ago. During the pandemic, a place nearby needed some help teaching pickleball and they asked me to do it. Previously I was playing poker for a living, so there was no reason for me to really teach anything. So I said, “All right, I can do that on the side.” They ended up needing more and more help, so I transitioned from poker to just teaching pickleball. From there, I was around it all the time, so that made me want to play it more. I started playing more and felt like I was playing well, so I decided to take tournaments more seriously, travel around, and keep playing.
APP: How did you become a professional poker player?
Long: My dad plays poker professionally, so I was just around it a lot. I used to play with my friends in high school, and I always won. I would go online and study, reading books and learning more strategy. I kept playing and I kept winning. It was fun, and so I kept studying more and learning more about poker and that led me to just keep winning more. Obviously winning is fun, so I kept transitioning that way to a full-time professional poker player.
APP: What was your career highlight in poker?
Long: I got third in a WPT tour stop in St. Pete. It’s a combination career highlight and career lowlight because getting that close and not winning sucks, but also I did really well, so it’s hard to not be happy about it.
APP: What’s been your career highlight in pickleball to this point?
Long: Getting gold with Bobbi Oshiro in Daytona. That was incredible.
APP: What are your goals for this season?
Long: My number one goal is to just play better, and I’m also looking to win more – what makes me the happiest is just knowing that I’ve gotten better and played better. If I can do that, the wins will come.
APP: How are you looking to improve?
Long: I need to be more consistent and also improve my two-handed backhand. I’ve been grinding for the past three to four months working on my two-handed backhand, getting the speed up with my two handed backhand dinks, to have a new weapon.
APP: There’s more than 48 million Americans who have played pickleball in the past year. How far do you think the sport can go?
Long: I think pickleball’s going to go pretty far. It’s just so fun, and there’s so few people that play it and don’t enjoy it. It’s just going to keep spreading because everybody loves it as soon as they play.
APP: Has there been anyone that’s been super helpful in your pickleball journey that you don’t think you could’ve done it without?
Long: Definitely – a lot of people. My mom for introducing me to the sport and my parents for just telling me to always keep playing. There’s a lot of local Naples people that I played with, like Simone Jardim, Kyle Yates, Becky Ryan – who I trained with and taught with a lot. There’s so many local people that I’ve just hit so many balls with and had so many reps with, and without them I wouldn’t be as good as I am today.
APP: What does it mean having that community of people around in pickleball?
Long: It’s just good to get legitimate practice that you’ll see in a tournament, but also being able to talk strategy, getting other people’s perspectives, and just having someone that you can hit with and to just talk for a few minutes about why you’re not winning and just getting their thoughts – it really helps.
APP: What do people think or say when you say you’re a professional pickleball player?
Long: When I say I play pickleball, it used to be that people would have no idea what that was, but everybody seems to know it now. I’ll be in an Uber and they’ll ask, “why are you here?”, and I’ll say “pickleball”, and they won’t even say, “what is that?” They’ll just say, “Oh yeah, I love pickleball!”
APP: How did you first get involved with the APP?
Long: APP tournaments are how I got started professionally. The first one I played was in Punta Gorda in 2022. It was close to me – only a 40-minute drive away. I started there and really enjoyed playing the tournaments there. APP tournaments are very player-centric, so I always have fun at them.
APP: How would you describe the APP in one word?
Long: With one word, I’d say fun. It just is. It’s fun to be part of the APP.
APP: What does pickleball mean to you?
Long: I just try and do things that I enjoy in life. I really am enjoying pickleball – playing and teaching. It’s good for my mental and physical health to just go out there and just do something that I enjoy.
APP: What’s been your biggest challenge to this point?
Long: Scheduling. Trying to plan out tournaments and plan out partners, and get flights and figure out all the travel ahead of time, and making sure that it all gets done. Setting my schedule with so much traveling has been an issue.
APP: What advice would you have for a young athlete who’s trying to become a professional?
Long: I think the best advice is just practice and be honest with yourself. If you’re honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses and what you need to work on, then you’ll know what you need to practice when you get on the court. Hitting balls and being very deliberate in what you practice because you’re honest with yourself about what you need to improve on is the best way to get better.
APP: Switching gears a bit to some rapid-fire questions. Who outside of the world of pickleball would be your dream to have as a partner?
Long: Professional disk golfer Paul McBeth. I’m a big disc golf fan, so playing with him would be fun.
APP: Do you have any favorite athletes?
Long: I’m a big fan of Casey Patterson. I really enjoy beach volleyball and I’ve been a fan of him. I got to meet him and realize that he’s as fun in person as he is playing the tournaments. I’d probably pick him.
APP: Any pre-match song or music that gets you in the right headspace before a match?
Long: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys, or, there’s a metal cover by Jonathan Young of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan. That one pumps me up.
APP: Favorite pre-match snack?
Long: I generally have a lot of trail mix because I find it hard to eat a full meal when I’m playing.
APP: Any hidden talents?
Long: I don’t know if it’s hidden, but poker.
APP: Favorite TV show?
Long: My favorite show is probably Community. Or Adventure Time – I like that.
APP: What’s something that you love to do when you’re not playing pickleball?
Long: I really enjoy playing video games and board games.
APP: Lastly, what motivates you?
Long: Having fun. That that’s really what it is. I just like to do things that I enjoy. Luckily I enjoy pickleball, so I’m going to keep doing that.
Long and the rest of the APP pros return to action at the 2023 APP Sunmed Sacramento Open, April 26-30 at Johnson Ranch Pickleball Complex in Roseville, California. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Player Spotlight series.