During my junior year of high school, I had a one-on-one sit down with my varsity coach who told me he didn’t think I was ready to play Division I college basketball. He claimed I’d have a much better collegiate career at a Division II or Division III school – especially if I was trying to obtain an athletic scholarship. Who tells their best player that? To be honest though, I’ve always admired the fact that he “kept it real” with me. But for as “real” as he kept it, I recall throwing in the towel.
Looking back now, that’s probably the exact reason he didn’t feel I would be successful. I used to blame it on being a late bloomer, but I’m sure I just didn’t have that degree of work ethic. I was more concerned with getting my license and starting to date. (I mean. I was 16.) Why go to school at 6:00am and work on my handle or jump shot before class? South Park didn’t go off until 10:30pm.
When the games came around, I could outperform my peers on God-given athleticism. John Thompson wasn’t coming to New York’s Hudson Valley for a 6-6 center. If I’m not going to be a Blue Devil or a Tar Heel, I might as well continue enjoying high school and work hard in the classroom to get into a top university, right? I mean, if I couldn’t get an athletic scholarship, then there’s no way I could play professionally, right? D-1 football coaches were still calling, so I had a good little fallback plan; my grades were good enough to earn me acceptances into 11 or 12 schools to which I applied (screw Yale); and it just seemed easy to abandon that childhood dream I used to have. You know, the one where you hit the game-winning shot in the national championship game and are crowned the NCAA Player of the Year? Yeah, that one. Gone with the wind.
It wasn’t long after that meeting ’til I found myself narrowing my choice down to Ivy League Cornell Football, Division III New York University Basketball or playing both sports at Division III Susquehanna. Ithaca winters? No thank you. What the hell is a Susquehanna? Not for me. A Boogie Down Bronx native whose family moved to the suburbs for high school with a chance to go to college in downtown New York City? NYU was the obvious choice, and that was the year (2003) my love for college basketball was born.
Prior to that, it was strictly NBA on NBC. Whether it was the Bulls, Pacers or Rockets, Knicks games with my dad on the couch happened like clockwork. All I knew about college basketball was Fordham University summer camp where I always ended up on UMass. One time my dad took me to Madison Square Garden to see Felipe Lopez and St. John’s go up against Allen Iverson and Georgetown, but I was definitely an NBA kid. However, once my college teammates and I began to watch these NCAA games, more notably March Madness, it was a revolutionary change to the way I’d begin to spend the third month of each year.
The same way I can dredge up images of where I was at during my youth when Jordan went baseline on Ewing, or Reggie made 11 seconds feel like an eternity, is the way I can now call to mind those NCAA moments. I can vividly remember my freshman year when I was going back and forth between this huge term paper and my dorm room TV to watch UConn beat Geogia Tech. I clearly recall the recruit I was hosting during my sophomore year who didn’t have a fake ID so we were forced to “stay in” to watch UNC beat Illinois. My junior year was a hard one to forget, as I drove 12 hours down to Myrtle Beach (real classy, right?) to see a high school buddy of mine and watch the most boring championship game ever between Florida and UCLA. (At least Beef ‘O’ Brady’s had good wings.) And after winning the ECAC’s my senior year – a D-3 version of the NIT – I definitely remember senioritis kicking in and sitting in our favorite West Village dive bar watching Florida go back-to-back beating Greg Oden and Ohio State.