Think you have seen a gym rat before? You haven’t seen until you’ve met Mike Slonina, a senior at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, Mass. Even Larry Legend would do a double take at this kid. Slonina, however, never played one game of high school basketball. After a misdiagnosed ankle injury, his career was cut short and he never got to play. Instead, he was the team manager. His life took another hard turn when his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Slonina decided he would take matters into his own hands and raise money for the cause. This was no usual fundraiser though. Slonina decided to shoot a basketball for 24 hours straight. He is not sure how much he raised, but there’s no doubt that he has been catching eyes in Boston. We had the opportunity to talk about his fundraiser and hoops with the basketball junkie himself. Here is what he had to say:
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Dime: What influenced you to shoot around in a gym for 24 hours?
Mike Slonina: Basketball has always been my outlet to frustration in life. When my mom got sick, I went to the YMCA and shot around for four hours. That is usually how I deal with things. One day when I was shooting, I was thinking about the pain that I had and how life is for my mother, who is a single mother. I wanted to see how I could help other people in my situation.
Dime: You mentioned frustration. We heard that you could not play basketball in high school due to a misdiagnosed ankle injury. Is that frustration something that has kept you around basketball?
MS: Well basketball is my passion. Ever since I was three years old that is all I could talk about. When I was in kindergarten, I had this book about the Chicago Bulls and knew everything about them. I was calling Luc Longley a bum even at that young age. (laughs) Ever since I was a little kid, basketball has been my passion. I could not imagine being away from this game. That would be the worst thing in the world.
Dime: At the “A Shot For Life” event itself, you shot about 70 percent from the floor. How did you train to shoot such a high percentage?
MS: Not to correct you, but I shot 72.3 percent exactly. When I could not play basketball anymore, I never stopped shooting. When I played, I wasn’t really a shooter. I was more of a scorer. I kept shooting and shooting and shooting all of the time. I would shoot before, during, and after school. During summer, I would come into school every day to shoot around. Shooting is my drug. I work on it religiously. It’s really the only thing I care about. So when I trained for this, I would get up at about 5:30 a.m. everyday, get to school at 6:45 and shoot for an hour. I would then go lift during lunch and ride the bike for half an hour. Once the basketball season started, I would sit through practice and watch. Afterwards, I would go shoot around after practice. On weekends or vacations, I tired to get up 1,000 shots a day to prepare myself. But there is nothing that could prepare anyone for shooting around for 24 hours straight. It all depends on how hard you want to work and push yourself. As you saw, there was nothing that was going to stop me.
Dime: During the 24 hours, was there ever a point when you ever thought about stopping?
MS: Oh, hell no. There were points when I would have been happy that it was over, but the thought of quitting never entered my mind. You have to understand, I went through not being able to play basketball, which is like asking a dolphin not to swim. It was just not natural. I dropped a lot of tears during those six years in which I couldn’t play. It was painful for me. When I got tired, I thought of all of the pain that I went through and how badly I wanted to do this. When that final buzzer went off, it felt great. Cancer patients don’t get to take days off from being sick. That’s not an option for them so I didn’t want to give myself that option either. I’m a very competitive person and quitting never even entered my mind.
Dime: During the 24 hours, how did your body feel?
MS: I had a lot of little problems. I cut my finger in the second hour, which was a really big problem because obviously it hurt every time I would shoot. And then seeing that there were 22 hours year hours left, I kept thinking about how I was going to pull it off. Then after the fourth hour, my wrist was gone. I originally planned to shoot 10,000 shots but I only ended up taking 8,101 because my wrist was in horrible shape. I don’t know if it was because a bunch of girls came in the gym but after the fifth hour, I caught a second wind. In the fifth or sixth hour, I shot very well. Then around one o’clock in the morning, I hit a wall and was fighting to get shots up. At seven o’clock, I regained some energy but I was in a battle with myself. I kept telling myself to keep going. It was very difficult. I had something to prove and fought throughout those late hours. It took a lot of physical and mental strength to push through. Nothing was stopping me though. If a fire alarm went off in the building and the building was going to burn down, someone was going to have to tear me off of that court get me to stop shooting. I was not leaving until the 24 hours was done.
Dime: I heard that you took you first shot out by the close volleyball line, which some people might of thought of as crazy. Did you have a strategy going into the day about where and when you were going to take shots?
MS: My strategy was to pace myself, but that was thrown out of the window extremely early on in the process. I mean, I shoot around all of the time and there aren’t usually so many people around to watch me, so I wanted to show my range off a little bit. I was taking 40-footers because I wanted to show people that I could legitimately shoot from there. I reached the 1,000th shot an hour into it, so I was way ahead of the pace I had originally set. I intended to go much slower, but I was too excited to hold back. I had been looking forward to this for about a year so I couldn’t help myself. I ended up shooting way too fast and it ended up hurting me, but no matter what happened, I kept shooting bombs.
Dime: What did you feel like after the 24 hours was over? What did you do when you first got home?
MS: When that final buzzer went off, I had a feeling that words cannot even describe. So many people didn’t think I could do it. I knew I could do it, but so many people doubted me. I had been talking to my mom for months about how I could do it, so a lot was on the line. After it was over, we posed for some pictures on the floor and then I wen to the back room and in all honesty I broke down in tears. It is such a mental, emotional and physical battle that I broke down. They were happy tears though. Then I came out and did a few interviews. When I went home and watched the Bulls play the Magic. I’m a huge Bulls fan.
Dime: Interesting, so then what is your take on the MVP race?
MS: It’s Derrick Rose. There’s no question about it. We had Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah out for about 59 games combine and they are still in first place. They beat Miami three times and in each of those games Rose came on strong at the end of the game. Rose killed Boston twice. He has hit big shot after big shot. His three-point percentage may be a bit low, but that statistic is messed up. You have to realize that after every quarter, he hucks up a 75-foot shot. That ruins his numbers. Some guys won’t do that because they know it will hurt their stats. I respect him a lot for that. Another thing that I respect him for is his work ethic. I admire that because I have a good work ethic as well. . Since he missed the game-tying free-throw against the Clippers before Christmas, he has shot 89 percent from the line. Obviously he worked very hard at it. I don’t think there is any question that he will get MVP.
Dime: Since you are from Boston, what was your take on the Kendrick Perkins trade?
MS: I think they did the Bulls a huge favor. For every other contender in the Eastern Conference, they did a huge favor. I truly think that if Perkins hadn’t gone down in the NBA Finals last year, the Celtics would have won. I’m a Celtics fan too, but the Bulls are my main team. I think they shot themselves in the foot. I heard that Perkins was asking for too much money and all that, but the reality is the NBA is a business. I don’t think people understand. Yes, it is a business, but these guys were together all of the time. To break that chemistry was a huge mistake.
Dime: Obviously, your future will have something to do with basketball. What do you envision yourself doing in the future?
MS: My ultimate dream is to work with the Chicago Bulls. I saw that Rose was on the cover of Dime by the way. Anything I could do with that organization would be great. I have a plan though. I’m going to major in psychology. As a shooter, psychology is almost everything. If you step in on a shot and don’t think it’s going in, it won’t. I’m a firm believer that if you step into a shot with full confidence, it will go in. Shooters go through slumps and I want to be the psychologist for a team that can work with the shooters. Say six years from now when I’m out of college and Kyle Korver is still with the Bulls. Say he also went through a huge slump. I think it would be great if I could have a position where I would be designated to talk people throughout that slump. I know coaches do that, but I think a team would benefit from a sports psychologist that can talk to the general manager about the personalities on the team and determine how the chemistry is working. I also love coaching in general though. I coach our high school’s team in their summer league and it is really fun. My future has to be something involving basketball.
Dime: That’s some pretty crazy stuff you just mentioned. Speaking of psychology, do you think you’d have the strength to shoots for another 24 hours?
MS: I could do it again, but I won’t. Now, I know I can do it, so what would be the point? I like challenges so now it is on to the next thing. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I won’t do that again. I’m very stubborn though. I don’t like it when people tell me I can’t do things. If someone ever came to me and said that I couldn’t do it again, I would not hesitate to do it again and laugh at them. I think it would cool to take this on nationally. Maybe kids around the country would want to take on this challenge to raise money. It could be for different types of cancers too. I will say though, it takes a special person to do this. I think there are people like me out there that would be willing to do it and maybe in the future, I can give them the opportunity to do so.
To donate to the cause, visit http://give.massgeneral.org/ashotforlife.
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