Much like Walker posted earlier, in the first blog, I cannot believe that I am already a junior in college. If you think time flies by in high school, it definitely flies by even faster in college. This may sound cheesy but, one of my favorite quotes is from the poem “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. In the poem he says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” This quote seems to sum up my life perfectly. The road I took to get where I am today is a bit of an unnatural one filled with plenty of obstacles to say the least; however I believe that if my road had been any different, I would not be the person that I am today. I know most of these blog posts focus on our experiences in college, after high school and AAU, but in my case I feel that it is important to start my story from the very beginning.
I began my high school career as a student athlete at my local public high school in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. My goal was to play basketball as well as excel academically, with a future goal of earning a scholarship to play basketball in college. My parents divorced when I was 13 and every chance my father got he would threaten that I was going to have student loans after college. My father told my 10-year-old brother that too, and he did not even have a clue at that age as to what student loans were. Meanwhile my father has 4 college/professional degrees. Consequently, I was determined to prove him wrong.
The first obstacle that I encountered at Cedar Grove High School was a change of coaches two weeks before the start of my freshman year. The other coach was familiar with all of the incoming freshmen, as he had watched us develop in middle school travel basketball. The new coach came in with a very different attitude and approach, which at times was not positive or productive for the entire team, let alone me. I attended all of the preseason workouts, while a lot of my teammates chose to blow them off. I showed up early for practice and was the last one to leave. I would go to extra private workouts after or before high school practice. I was determined to excel at this game. In spite of all my efforts my high school coach discouraged me and kept telling me that I was not athletic enough to play the game, let alone have any aspirations of playing in college. Yet, another person to prove wrong.
During this journey, I learned that sometimes out of bad comes good. Serendipitously, I learned to channel my frustration with the basketball program during one of my elective classes in art. Cedar Grove High School is one of the few schools in New Jersey that offers ceramics as an elective. Whatever free time that I had, I found myself in the ceramics room; lunch breaks, free periods, and after school. I had developed a love for art. The art teachers recognized my innate talent (though like everything else, much of art is the hard work that you put into it) and passion for creating ceramic pieces as well as for helping other students with their pieces. To my amazement I received the Art Award at the end of my sophomore year of high school.
At the start of my junior year I transferred to a new private high school, twenty miles from home, which offered a more rigorous academic program as well as a better basketball program. My first major hurdle was that as a transfer student, I would have to sit out thirty days from the start of my first game. Translation, I would miss more than half of the season. When I finally was eligible to play I woke up in terrible pain and was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. I had no sooner recovered from that ordeal when I sprained, tore, and dislocated my ankle, which was a season ending injury. Since my junior year was a bust basketball wise, I would have to make up for it in my senior year, which I did. (And for those of you who are not aware I did not find Coach Stone’s team until the middle of July the summer before my senior year…pretty much missing most of the most important season of AAU) I emerged from my senior year, as one of the toughest match-ups in the county, earning First Team All County/Conference, the H.C.I.A.L Scholar Athlete Award, the Bayonne Chapter of UNICO 2012 Brian Piccolo Award, and the Marist High School Student Athlete of the Year Award.
Throughout the college application and recruitment process my senior year of high school all that I cared about was basketball. I chose basketball over my major and choice of school. That landed me at Monroe College on a full athletic scholarship. Monroe is a 4-year school, but a 2-year junior college athletic program in New Rochelle, New York. In most cases athletes attend JUCO because their grades are not sufficient enough to get into a NCAA school. That was not the case for me. I chose Monroe because of the scholarship as well as the possibility of getting more looks from NCAA DII and DI schools than I did in high school. I felt that if I had gained back that year of recruitment that I lost in high school, it would give me a better shot. In retrospect this was not the best decision making process. I was stuck in the mindset that I had to have a scholarship to prove my father wrong and it had to be through basketball to prove that coach wrong.
My freshman year at Monroe would prove to have more obstacles than I could ever imagine. My first roommate was not the most courteous person in the world, but that is college. My next roommate was found dead on a side street. Lastly, the basketball program was not as structured and organized as I was led to believe, nor were my teammates as disciplined as I had been trained to be. A few of my teammates wound up in skirmishes with the law numerous times. This was definitely something that I had not expected.
At the end of my freshman year of college, with a 4.0 GPA (with little effort in a major that I could have cared less about), I was so disillusioned that I wanted to call it quits and literally go work at Burger King for the rest of my life. I did not want to go back to college or even pick up a basketball again. That year I had learned that people do not necessarily “walk-the-talk.” All of the values, hard work, and self-discipline that I thought basketball once represented had been bashed that freshman year at Monroe. Not only were my values challenged on the court, they were also challenged in the classroom. Students that were on full financial aid scholarships were constantly complaining that they did not even want to be in class. They made no effort to even attempt to learn. Not willing to let me give up, my mother suggested that I look for a school that had the major that I would want to pursue, and then look into the basketball program. This was the beginning of my road to UMass Dartmouth.
My sophomore year at UMass Dartmouth was a bit of an adjustment for me. Academically I changed my major from criminal justice to a dual art major in graphic design and sculpture. All of my credits from Monroe transferred, but because I changed majors I basically had to start over as a freshman in the art program.
Athletically I was still trying to get back my love and respect for the game of basketball. All of the hard work that I had put in to finish as strong as I did in high school had in effect been lost during that year at Monroe. At that point it was obvious to everyone that the game that I used to love to play was now more of a chore. I had to force myself to go workout or go to summer league. I wasn’t quite ready to give it up yet because I had worked so hard in high school to play in college, but my experiences at Monroe really challenged my love for the game. When I arrived at UMass Dartmouth in September I could already see that I was going to have a much different experience with this team than with my team at Monroe. The season started and I was on the path to getting it back. I felt like I was finally in the right spot. Going into the break at Christmas, I led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage; however over the break I let my personal life affect my basketball life and struggled the rest of the season.
Between the end of my senior year of high school and the end of my sophomore year in college I had lost 20lbs. I am like a stick to begin with so that was not a good thing. After the season ended last year, I was on a mission to get my life back together. This past summer I worked extremely hard to get back on track. I got rid of the baggage that was dragging me down and focused on the things that would stand me in good stead going into my junior year. I took two online classes, as well as worked two jobs, a paid internship for a magazine and CVS. Since I worked 7 full days a week the majority of the summer, it did not leave much room for working out. So, in not losing sight of being stronger and bigger, going into junior year, I lifted at 6am on Tuesdays, 7am on Saturdays, and played summer league on Thursdays.
The summer flew by and here I am at the end of the first semester in my junior year. This year I am encountering yet another obstacle. While I am stronger and bigger for basketball this year, my schoolwork has become increasingly more time consuming. I now have 30 hours of class per week because I am taking all studio classes instead of a mix of studio and lectures. On an average day I have class from 9am-3pm with a 10min break in between and then I have to go straight to practice. On Thursdays I usually miss practice or just catch the end because I have class from 9am-7pm straight through with only an hour break at 11am. The homework for an art student is incredible. If I am not at class or in practice I am in the studio working on my projects. I am finding difficulty with there not being enough hours in the day to do my work, let alone play basketball, sleep, and eat. Since I am a perfectionist this balance of school and basketball is something that I have struggled with this semester. I am starting to realize that between majoring in graphic design and sculpture, and playing basketball, something is going to have to take the back seat.
While I have always excelled in the classroom, going into college all that I wanted to do was play basketball. On my senior night in high school they announced that I wanted to coach and teach in the future. The summer after my high school graduation, I worked 2 basketball camps, 1 overnight and 1 day camp, as well as continued to play with Coach Stone. Every summer up until the last two, were consumed by basketball. That was all that I focused on, no job, no school just basketball. Almost 3 years later, I have a totally different outlook on basketball, life, and my future. While it was hard to come to terms with this, for me, right now, I am starting to realize that it is okay to focus more on school and working over the summer than playing basketball. Basketball does not define who I am as a person, which is something that I did not quite understand going into college.
In retrospect, I was hoping to obtain a scholarship through basketball to pay for my education; however my ego and desire to attend a D2/D1 school as well as to prove my father and that coach wrong got in the way of my decision-making. I now realize that I should have just accepted an academic scholarship to a D3 school. Instead I wasted a few years just to end up back at square one, in worse shape physically and financially. I have always been the type of kid who needs to learn their lessons the hard way. Though on the other hand, had I not attempted JUCO I would have constantly looked back and wondered “what if…” In my immaturity I would have also blamed those around me for forcing me into going D3. I do regret not having started at UMass Dartmouth fresh out of high school. However I truly do believe that taking this road less traveled has shaped me into who I am today; a more mature, less emotional decision-maker who tries to see the bigger picture and be more open minded to advice from others.