Monday, April 18, 2016

Raise the Age Louisiana: SB324

               Do you ever hear something that gets you fired up? I'm talking about fired up emotionally, as in fired up to the point where you feel like you NEED to take action. As a future social worker, advocate for human rights, and a person who cares about the general well being of others, I feel the need to speak up when I feel like people are being treated unfairly. The fact that Louisiana is one of of only nine states who tries all 17 year olds as adults is very concerning to me. This means that if a 17 year old is convicted of any crime they will be sent to adult prison. 18 is the age used to define the beginning of adulthood in this country. You need to be 18 to vote, you need to be 18 to serve in the army, you need to be 18 to take out a credit card, you need to be 18 to have an unrestricted drivers license in most states, you get the picture. Why should Louisiana's youth be tried as adults at 17? This is why I have decided to support the movement to raise the age at which youth can be tried as adults from 17 to 18 years old. By spreading awareness, I hope that I can help ensure that Senator John Morrell's Senate Bill no. 324, will become a law. You can spread the word by using the hashtags #SB324, #RaiseTheAgeLA, and #LYJD. You can also follow the link here to educate yourself, and take action by clicking on the red take action button in the middle of the page:
            The reason this issue became personal to me is because of my internship at the Youth Empowerment Project, and the students that I work with on a daily basis in the Village Program. Part of my role is to help with intake, during which I administer psychosocial assessments. A psychosocial is basically a fancy term for an in depth interview where you learn about another person's background. During one of the psychosocials I heard a story from one of my students that just didn't sit right with me. My client was running down Canal Street trying to catch the bus, when suddenly he was tackled to the ground by a police officer. He was put in handcuffs, read his miranda rights, and told that he fit the description of somebody who had just committed an armed robbery. They brought him over to the victim and asked if they could identify my client as the assailant. After the victim realized he wasn't the man who had robbed him, they decided to let him go. The cops said they would like to take down his information, incase they needed to bring him in for further questioning. The next day the police called my client's mom, and said he needed to turn himself in, because the victim had flipped his story, but my client didn't want to go to jail, so he ran. He was laying low for 4 months, until one day his friend was giving him a ride to work and they were pulled over because the vehicle turned out to be stolen. His friend got out and ran, and before my client could react he was being arrested for accessory to armed robbery of a stolen vehicle, illegal gun possession for the guns that were in the trunk, and possession of marijuana, on top of the warrant he had for armed robbery. When all was said and done he was facing 25 years in prison, mainly for things out of his control. 
           When he went to trial he was ready to plead guilty to the plea agreement that his lawyer had come up with; 10 years in prison. If he pleaded guilty to the armed robbery charge they would drop all other charges. He was 17 years old, and his life was about to change for the worse. By the grace of God his lawyer came through and got all of the charges dropped. It turns out they didn't have sufficient evidence to charge my client with any of the crimes that he was being accused of. Justice won, and he was given his freedom. But that wasn't before he had faced 76 days in jail, it wasn't before he came to accept the reality that he was about to spend the next ten years of his life in prison, it wasn't before he was separated from his family and everything he knows and loves for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
            My client expressed to me that he knew he was living wrong before he got locked up, and he was trying to turn his life around, which is precisely why he was there talking to me as part of his decision to enroll in our Village Program. It might have been good for him to get that wake up call. But most of the time that's what these kids need; a wake up call, not 10 years in prison. Another one of my clients shared a story with me about his own armed robbery charge, a charge that he was actually guilty of, although according to his story he was only peripherally involved, and far from the main aggressor. The difference was he was 16 when he committed his crime, and he faced two years in a juvenile detention center, rather than the potential of 10 years in adult prison. That's the purpose of the juvenile justice system; create a punishment that fits the crime, modify behavior, and rehabilitate them so that they can hopefully learn from their mistakes and live a meaningful life. The juvenile justice system is far from perfect, but it is much better when compared to the world of adult prison. 
            Hopefully after reading this, you too will become a supporter of the movement to "Raise The Age." But if you don't have any sympathy for these kids, maybe this will help you. Try to think back to when you were 17. What were you doing at 17 years old? Did you make all of the right decisions? Did you ever make a mistake that came to define your young adulthood, and perhaps your entire life? If you can't relate, maybe think of a loved one, or even your own kids who are at this age. I know I personally didn't make all of the right decisions when I was 17. I made some decisions that when I look back on now, I can hardly believe that I even considered it as an idea, but that's part of growing up. According to the Center for Disease Control prosecuting youth in the adult system can increase recidivism by 34%. If the goal of prison is rehabilitation, let's really think about what's best for these kids, and give them a chance to learn from their mistakes. Changes are happening. Are you going to be part of it? 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Finding your purpose: My journey back to the classroom

           “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” My brother Anthony shared this quote with me after he saw the movie “The Equalizer.” This quote can originally be credited to the legendary Mark Twain. I think it is a great quote, and to take it a step further I would like to add, once you find your purpose, what are you going to do to chase your dreams and live out your purpose?
            Some people think I was crazy to leave the Spurs. I was 24 years old, succeeding as an employee for one of the top organizations in sports, and had a strong reputation in the company. But I knew what I was doing wasn’t my passion. I knew God had a different plan for me, and that I needed to pursue the passion He had placed on my heart to find my purpose.
            Finding your purpose is a process. For me that process started from my first memories, although I didn’t necessarily know it at the time.  My first role models were my parents, and my older brother Benny. My mom was a physical education teacher (don’t call it a gym teacher, she will correct you), and my dad was a social studies teacher in the Copiague School District. Hauppauge is my hometown, but Copiague is my second home. My parents grew up in Copiague, and they dedicated their lives to making it a better place. My mom shaped the lives of Copiague’s youth for over 30 years, and impacted so many lives that it is impossible to count. After a successful career as a shortstop at Washington and Lee, and a Headmaster at Christchurch in Virginia, my dad returned to Copiague and spent time teaching social studies, and serving as head of the history department, before eventually rising to assistant principal. My dad also coached the Copiague varsity football, wrestling, and baseball teams, and he was successful doing it. The football team still hasn’t recovered since he left, and the baseball team reached unprecedented heights under his watch. But the most important thing I learned from watching my parents was the relationships they built with their students, and their players. My parents supported these students as if they were their own children, and had a genuine love for them. They held them accountable when they acted up, but they were also the first ones to give them praise and be there to congratulate them when they succeeded. They refused to let the sometimes broken neighborhoods, and homes these kids were raised in, define who these students became.
            I didn’t want to be a teacher though. I wanted to blaze my own path. I loved playing sports growing up. My brothers and I would go all year round; baseball in the spring and summer, football in the fall, and wrestling in the winter. Benny was our first hero, and we watched him in football and wrestling through his high school and college career. I knew I wanted to be a college athlete from that point on. Football was my best sport, and after a successful senior year I ended up at Robert Morris University. I wanted to test myself at the highest level, and RMU gave me a chance to do that. I figured I would give it my best shot to make it to the NFL, and if that didn’t work out, I would take advantage of RMU’s Sport Management program and go into scouting, and eventually become a general manager in baseball or football. But when you’re 18 you don’t really have as much figured out as you think you do. I found out pretty quickly that I didn’t have what it took to make it to the NFL, and during my freshman year I had the chance to meet RMU alum, and Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, and former New York Giants General Manager Ernie Accorssi at the Robert Morris Sport Management Conference and I learned I didn’t want to be a General Manager either. The NFL is a business. I learned from talking to Ernie and reading his book, the hard truth of how difficult it is to sit there and tell a man who has worked all his life to achieve a dream of playing in the NFL, that we don’t have room on the roster for him, or that he needs to take a paycut so we can sign somebody else. Evaluating talent sounds great, cutting players, and firing coaches, not so much.
            While I was figuring out that I didn’t want to be a GM, I made a connection that would change my life forever. In my first semester at RMU I had a professor named Dr. Artemisia Apostolopoulou, who changed my life. I got a 34 on Dr. A’s first quiz, and I felt terrible about it. I started to question whether I was cut out for college. I knew I needed to do something differently, so I went to her office hours. I told Dr. A that I thought her quiz was too hard, so she asked me how much I had prepared for it. I told her not much, but I thought I could get by like that. Dr. A was disappointed in my effort, but she offered me some study tips, and challenged me to do better. Most importantly she showed a belief in me, that I didn’t necessarily have in myself at the time. She so genuinely believed in my ability to succeed, that I had no choice but to perform. I owed that to her, and I owed that to myself.
            I made it through my first year at RMU with a 3.7 GPA, and although I wasn’t getting the time on the field that I wanted, my identity was less tied up in who I was as a football player, and more tied up in who I was as a student-athlete, and a brother, and a son. Life was good. That summer I started hearing rumors about some of my teammates leaving.  I found out they weren’t leaving by choice though, they were struggling, and had nobody to lean on in the face of adversity. One of my teammates got arrested and kicked out of school, one had failed multiple drug tests and was suspended from playing football, and decided to leave school, and a third was ruled ineligible for failing to earn enough credits before the start of our sophomore year. Just like that three of my teammates were gone. Now you might be sitting there thinking “they did this to themselves” or “they had their chance.” But these were my teammates, these were my brothers, and I couldn’t just sit by idly and watch them struggle. We were in this struggle together. I did everything I could to help my teammates, from holding study groups, helping them complete assignments, and letting them borrow my laptop, to taking them home for a day so they could see their families. I was just one person though, and I could only do so much as their teammate and friend. I had taken it upon myself to seek out a mentor like Dr. A, but who did the student-athletes that didn’t take that initiative have in their corner when things went wrong?
            The NCAA is a broken system. As the NCAA and its member schools profit off of their athletes, what are they doing to help these athletes graduate and find success once they do? I wanted to be somebody that could help these student-athletes achieves their goals on and off the field, and ultimately become the men and women they are capable of. Now the question was, how to do it. It turns out at schools that have a larger athletic budget than RMU, they offer academic services, and in some cases counseling services, specifically for student-athletes. I think this is really important because the student-athlete experience is very different from that of the general student population, and their schedules don’t always allow them to take advantage of traditional tutoring or counseling services. Along the way Benny showed me a feature they did on Showtime: 60 Minutes Sports, on a man named Greg Harden, who works with the student-athletes at the University of Michigan. Greg helps student-athletes by providing counseling, and offering tough love when needed. I’ve watched that clip at least 20 times, and he is an inspiration for me today.
            RMU’s Sport Management department has a tremendous amount of alums in the sports business world. People like Dr. Dave Synowka, Dr. A, Harry Leckemby, Steve Swetoha, Lisa Quinn, Bill Sutton, Rob Mattina, Russ and Katy Yurk, and Murray Cohn have helped to build it into one of the top sports business programs in the country. The sports business world is where my connections were, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity. I earned an internship with Spurs Sports and Entertainment for the summer before my senior year, and turned that into a full time job offer.
            I loved everything about the Spurs. The organization treated us right. The Spurs call their employees and their customers the Spurs Family, and they really were my family. They took care of us. I developed a strong relationship with my hiring manager Frank Torres, and he helped me adjust to life in a new city. I made some friendships with both my coworkers, and my clients, that I know will last a lifetime.  I had the chance to be a part of an NBA championship winning organization, and meet some of the best players in the world. I have no regrets about the two years I spent there. But I knew that producing revenue for a professional sports franchise wasn’t my passion. I was good at it, and it was fun, but I knew I needed to live out my purpose.
            I applied to be a graduate assistant at Tulane University in February, through a posting I found on NCAA Job Board. I had no connection to Tulane, and I had never even been to New Orleans, but the position was for a graduate assistant role in the Academic Services Center for Student-Athletes, and they had a respected social work program, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  After an on campus interview, and a brief tour of New Orleans, I returned to San Antonio to wait and find out my fate. I felt like I was cheating on the Spurs during that time, but at the same time I feel like they understood. When I got the news that they were offering me the job, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was somewhat shocked, excited beyond belief, and sad to leave at the same time. On May 31st I packed up a U-haul and my car, and made the drive to New Orleans.
            It’s hard to believe I already made it through one semester here. I got involved right away. I helped out with our athlete essentials 101, and 201 classes this summer, helped develop new programming for the student-athletes, served as an educational assistant for some of our freshmen student-athletes, monitored our Academic Excellence Program which functions as an objective based study hall for our freshmen football players, and took seven of my own classes. I met some really awesome people, and integrated myself into my new home city along the way. It’s a grind, and I’m often running low on sleep, but I wouldn’t change anything. I feel so blessed to be where I am, and I thank God every day for leading me here. I’m so thankful for all of the people in my life that have helped to shape me into the man I am today, and hopefully I can help these student-athletes I have the privilege of working with realize their potential. I believe all of us have greatness inside of us, what are you doing to share your greatness with the rest of the world?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

RMCMB climbs their way to the top of the NEC

Besides being great players,
Coron and Treadwell are great friends. 
The Robert Morris Men's Basketball team is by far my favorite basketball team. Shooting guard Coron Williams is one of my best friends, and fan favorite Treadwell Lewis is one of my roommates. All of the players on the team are great guys, and the team represents my school in a positive way which is something I take great pride in. I realize that I am biased and it is tough for me to write about them objectively, but anybody following them this season would have to agree their story is quite compelling. 

To say this season has been a rollercoaster for the Colonials would be an understatement. There isn't much this Robert Morris team hasn't faced. The Colonials ended last season with a heartbreaking loss in the Northeast Conference championship game to LIU in Brooklyn. However despite that loss, the Colonials still had one of the brightest young minds in the game in Head Coach Andy Toole, and a roster that was returning a ton of talent. The only player the Colonials were losing was Lawrence Bridges, and they were adding size in transfer Vaughn Morgan, and freshman Stephan Hawkins, and a dynamic scorer in transfer Karvel Anderson. When you combine that with the fact that the Colonials were returning All NEC Point Guard Velton Jones, veteran forwards Lucky Jones, and Russell Johnson, sharpshooter Coron Williams, and and two big men ready to break out in Mike McFadden and Lijah Thompson, the future was looking bright. 

Things don't always go according to plan though. The first turn of bad luck was when Lijah tore his ACL in the preseason. It didn't help that developing big man Keith Armstrong had undergone microfracture surgery on his knee over the summer. Those two injuries left the Colonials thin in the front court. How would the Colonials respond? At first it wasn't pretty. RMU was blown out by Rider in a game they expected to win on the road to open the season and embarrassed in the Preseason NIT by Lehigh, before scoring their first victory over Fordham. The team was still figuring each other out and getting used to the new pieces. Russell Johnson was missing from the lineup. But they knew they were better than that. 

When Karvel is on, good luck stopping him
After going on the road and taking a strong Xavier team to the wire before coming up just short, the Colonials went on to win 7 of their next 8, including spirited home victories against a previously unbeaten Ohio team, and a dominating performance against rival Duquesne. Velton Jones was still the playmaker everyone knew he was, Russell Johnson was playing some of the best basketball of his career, Dave Appolon stepped up and turned in some phenomenal defensive performances. Karvel Anderson turned in the most impressive performance during this streak with a 28 point outburst against Ohio, when he hit all ten shots from the field including a perfect eight for eight from three point range. The streak came to an end when RMU went into Fayetteville and nearly upset Arkansas of the Southeast Conference. Surely this would give them confidence and they would manhandle the Northeast Conference right? Wrong. 

RMU opened conference play with home losses to Central Connecticut State and Bryant. Not exactly what they had in mind as they embarked on their journey to win the NEC. The team wasn't shooting well, or playing the defense they knew they were capable of, Vaughn quit the team, and the injuries began to pile up. Russell Johnson hurt his ankle, Anthony Myers-Pate suffered a concussion, Karvel injured his foot. Coron and Stephan are the only regulars that have played in every game this season. The doubters began to wonder out loud whether or not the Colonials would even be able to compete for the conference crown, let alone win it. 

Velton hits a game-winner against LIU
But the Colonials didn't panic, they simply regrouped and went about their business reeling off six straight victories. Than another setback came as the team traveled to Brooklyn. In the first game of their road trip Velton went down with a shoulder injury and didn't return as the Colonials lost to St. Francis NY. With a rematch of last years NEC title game against LIU coming on Saturday the team pulled together and put forth an outstanding overall effort. Velton played through injury and hit one of his patented game-winning floaters to send the team back home victorious.

After an overtime win over Wagner, a road trip to Connecticut where the team lost a tough one to Quinnipiac and escaped Sacred Heart with a victory despite a  late Shane Gibson led rally, and some help from other teams around the NEC, the Colonials now find themselves alone atop the NEC standings with a record of 10-4 in conference and 18-9 overall. 

It hasn't been easy, but the team is right where they want to be as they head down the stretch run. This team can be very special if they are able to get everybody healthy and they are playing at the level they are capable of heading into the conference tournament, or they could struggle with the same bad luck and inconsistencies that have crippled them at times this season and fall well short of their expectations. But after all they have been through together to get to this point, are you really going to doubt them? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taking Fan Heartbreak to a New Level

Just like that it was over. A postseason run that started out so promising with 10 straight wins, had suddenly been abruptly ended by the Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City Thunder. The deep, talented, and veteran Spurs after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, had been sent to four straight losses, and an earlier than expected postseason exit by the younger, more explosive, and more athletic new kids on the block. I felt pain and sadness Wednesday night, for my latest love affair, the San Antonio Spurs.

I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. My first sports fan memory is one of my Dad and I watching our beloved New York Yankees winning the World Series over the Atlanta Braves in 1996. Just like all great fans and die hards, I am very passionate about my teams and extremely loyal. When your team is playing well you are along for the ride with them on an emotional high, and when your team lets you down, you feel their pain, their sadness, and sometimes anger.  That first World Series I saw with my Dad was amazing, but it set me up for failure because more often than not your team is not going to be the last one standing.

I have experienced some great moments as a fan including seeing my Yankees win 5 World Series, seeing Ohio State win the National Championship in 2002, Donovan McNabb finally leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, the Jets upsetting the Patriots in the 2010-11 playoffs, and seeing the Robert Morris Basketball team make the NCAA tournament my freshman year. I've experienced my fair share of heartbreak too though, including the Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox, the Jets losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game (twice), and Robert Morris losing to LIU in the NEC Championship game (twice.) When it comes down to it, more often than not, your team is going to finish the season on a loss. But the pain and sadness I felt and experienced tonight, for my latest love interest, the San Antonio Spurs, ranks right near the top of my list for moments of heartbreak as a fan.

For die hard sports fans, the relationship with your team is a lot like a relationship that one would share with their spouse in a marriage.  Some are born into their fanhood, and similar to an old school marriage where the people directly involved didn't necessarily have a choice, you are stuck with each other. Others float around and get into the game a little bit later, making what they think is a better choice for themselves personally as their team, or in the case of marriage their spouse.  The only difference between a marriage and a sports team is your favorite team cares even less about your opinion than your wife does. But even though we know that, in both cases, we don't let it affect how much we love them right?

My marriage with the Spurs began when I chose to move to San Antonio for the summer for my internship as a New Business Consultant.  I had always liked the Spurs. I always thought they were a first class organization, had a great coach in Coach Pop who ran a tight ship, played great team ball, and won four championships. Plus they had Tim Duncan. A classic quiet guy who always let his play do the talking, my kind of player. But I would never say I was really a fan of them. My first memory of the Spurs was seeing them knock off my New York Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals. However once I got hired, I began to read about the Spurs daily, checking out the box score after every game, following every player transaction, and I knew the bio of every player on the roster.

Once I actually got down here to San Antonio my love for the Spurs was in full effect.  I was ready to chant "Go Spurs Go!" with the rest of San Antonio and I watched them close out the Utah Jazz in my first night on the town.  My orientation was that Monday and the staff and organization couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming. The organization is one of a kind in my opinion. I haven't worked for another professional sports team so I realize I am biased, but it is hard to imagine one that preaches and even more importantly upholds the values that they believe are vital to running a good business. They place a real emphasis on staff interaction, building a culture, and maintaining an identity of a family atmosphere.

We had to wait about a week before we knew who we were playing, and finally we found out the Los Angeles Clippers were coming to town. I'll admit the first game I was a bit star struck.  It was pretty crazy to see Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get off the team bus no more than 20 feet away from me, as we were eating our staff dinner. It was even more surreal when I walked by Kawhi Leonard in the tunnel and realized he might not be the biggest player on the floor but he is MUCH bigger than I am. The atmosphere in the arena was electric. I got chills during intros when they played Party Rock Anthem and Tim Duncan was introduced. It was my first NBA game in 10 years and it certainly didn't disappoint. The Spurs dominated from the start, and ran right through the bruised and battered Clippers winning that first game 108-92, and sweeping them 4-0 to secure our spot in the Western Conference Finals.

The atmosphere for the Western Conference Finals was even more amplified than it was against the Clippers. I had become a little less star struck but I still thought it was pretty cool to walk by Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins in the tunnel on my way to dinner in Game 1.  After being down for much of Game 1 the Spurs exploded for a 39 point 4th quarter, while my favorite player Stephen Jackson shut down Kevin Durant down the stretch to help ensure the victory.  Some people may think Stephen Jackson is an interesting choice for a favorite player since he is a bench player, and somebody who is a supposed thug, on a roster with three future Hall of Famers. But as Jonathan Abrams on Grantland pointed out, there is a lot more than what meets the eye when it comes to Captain Jack. The Spurs completed the comeback and came away with a thrilling Game 1 victory.

In Game 2 Tony Parker turned in a vintage Tony performance. He was efficient, exhilarating, and unstoppable. The Spurs never trailed and we were up 2-0 for the series. The team was looking great, our win streak was at 20 straight. We were playing good team defense, great team offense, knocking down big shots, and the young Thunder looked shell shocked. San Antonio was ready to celebrate.

Than we went on the road to Oklahoma City and the series turned. The home court advantage was undeniable, but we just looked bad. The Thunder did their best to turn it into a track meet and we couldn't keep up. The Thunder made quick work of us and sent it back to San Antonio tied 2-2.

I wanted to have confidence coming back home, but I was definitely worried.  The atmosphere was great again, and we even broke out white shirts for all the fans to make a white out. For the first 3 and 1/2 quarters of Game 5 the Thunder picked up right where they left off. But than suddenly down 13 with 5 minutes left in the 4th the Spurs sprang to life and began an improbable comeback. Tim Duncan led the Spurs to within 2 and they needed a defensive stop.  But the next time down the floor James Harden hit a cold blooded step back 3 that broke the hearts Spurs fans everywhere. It was undoubtedly the dagger and sent the fans to the exits.  The fans were worried and we were going back to Oklahoma City for Game 6. We just couldn't keep up with them.

The Spurs wouldn't go down without a fight though. Tony Parker came out of the gates hot and the Spurs built a lead as large as 18 points at one point in the first half, before heading into the break up 15.  However even that lead proved to be not enough to beat the Thunder. Kevin Durant took over in the second half, Tony Parker slowed down, and the Spurs just couldn't keep up.  Durant and the young Thunder were headed to their first NBA Finals.  It was a sad, sad night in San Antonio.  The office was very quiet on Thursday morning.

Despite the common perception that this team is too old, the window of opportunity for another championship hasn't closed.  As long as Coach Pop is running the show, R.C. Buford is making the calls, and Tim Duncan is in a Spurs uniform I think it would be wrong to not give them a chance. They will reload, get better and they will be back.  My internship is still moving along in full force. Still sales to make, and it's time to focus on Silver Stars. No time to dwell on the loss from a professional standpoint.  But for now from a fan's perspective this one hurts. The fans know how good this team was, and that an opportunity for a championship slipped away, and being a part of the Spurs family made it that much tougher.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Remembering Marco Giovengo

On Friday evening March 16th this world lost the best man I know. Marco Giovengo suffered a heart attack in his on campus apartment in Lexington. But that's enough about his death. I am writing this today so people will remember him for the way he lived, because that is what he would have wanted, and that is what he deserves.

My relationship with Marco began in our Sport Coaching class.  He had asked me to help him out on an assignment through a message on Facebook and after I had helped him he challenged me to a video game of NBA 2k11.  It was definitely a different experience for me at first.  I had never had a friend who was handicapped, growing up as an athlete I had very few friends who weren't athletes, and I had a very minimal understanding of the disease muscular dystrophy that he was suffering from.

The first time I met him it made me sad because I had trouble understanding everything he was saying. I felt bad asking him to repeat himself, but he understood that I was trying my best so he didn't mind too much.  But despite not being able to hear him very clearly that first time we hung out there were a few things that I learned about him right off the bat.

Marco is one of the passionate people you will ever meet, and that passion carries over to everything he does, especially the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He loved baseball more than anything. He told me about how his Pap would teach him about the game, how to hold a bat, how to break in a glove, how to throw a ball, and he loved all of it.  He played baseball at every chance he could, both when he was physically able to and even when he wasn't, and he could talk baseball with you all day.  His love of the Pirates also showed you his loyalty. The Pirates have been the worst damn team in baseball since he was 2 years old, but he never once thought about switching his allegiance.  He loved his "Bucco Brothers", as he so affectionately referred to them, for life. His favorite Pirate was local kid Neil Walker who he had built a very close relationship with. Marco had a 20 game season ticket package, and before each game he attended, he would text Neil to let him know he would be there, and Neil would make sure to come over and talk with him in the pre-game, and than give him the ball he had warmed up with.  I had the privilege of seeing this relationship first hand, as Marco insisted that I meet Neil, because as he put it "he wanted to be just like the two of us someday, and we both made his life a much better one."

He also loved and appreciated people way more than anybody I know.  After leaving his apartment one time after we had hung out, he texted me and said "hey man thanks for coming over, it means a lot to me. I love you bro." I wasn't sure what to think at first.  I mean how many guys tell their friends on a daily basis that they love them. The next time we hung out he said to me "I know you might think it's weird that I say I love you. But I really do man. You don't know how many people can't accept me for who I am. So the fact that you look right past all of this, and treat me the way you do, it really means the world to me." It just about broke my heart when he said that to me, and I told him I loved him every day after that.

Another thing is he would never be afraid to speak his mind.  That first time we hung out, he beat my butt in that game of NBA 2k11, and he was talking trash to me the whole time.  He had used the Orlando Magic and I used the New York Knicks.  His favorite player was J.J. Redick and he was yelling things like "J.J. Redick baby", after he hit shots with him, and "New York sucks" the entire game.  Another thing that stuck out to me, was that in the entire three hours I spent with him, he didn't say one negative thing.  He had this terrible disease, but he was not about to let it define him by any means.  He was a regular college student, pursuing his degree, talking about girls, and living on his own.

This past summer I lived on campus, interning with the Washington Wild Things and training for football, and Marco stayed on campus as well taking summer classes. When he found out I got the internship and I would be staying on campus he was overjoyed. Every morning after working out I would play a game of NBA2k with him or MLB the Show before I left for work.  Every night after I got back from working the game around 10:30, we would watch some random West Coast game on my account, or if we were lucky enough the Pirates would be on a West Coast trip.  One night specifically stands out to me where the Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in extra innings on a very questionable call. We had stayed up until 2:00 in the morning watching and it was the most angry I have ever seen him.  While we were watching the games we would have "bullpen sessions" as he liked to call them, where we would talk about our days, anything new that was going on, how we were going to make his senior year the best year yet, and just life in general. He referred to me as Manager DBon, and he was my young pitcher that I was trying to lead to the Cy Young award.

One afternoon when I had the day off my friend Heather came to visit me. The Pirates were playing at 4 that day so he came over to watch the game with me.  When he got there he saw Heather, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. That was the only time I've ever seen him be distracted from a Pirates game. I introduced him and the three of us talked for about an hour before Heather had to leave.  After she left he said to me "she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen." He told me that he wanted me to make sure that she was his Homecoming date for when he ran for King in the fall and I promised him I would do everything I could to make it happen.  I asked her if she would come over with me one day to his apartment, and although he was extremely nervous, being the courageous and polite guy he was, he said to her "Heather I'm running for Homecoming King, and it would be an honor, and a privilege, if you would be my date and escort." She happily agreed and Marco was so happy he could barely contain himself.

This year Marco has had some great memories, despite finishing as a runner-up for Homecoming King, he loved Homecoming weekend. I would be lying if I said he wasn't bitter about not winning, because he absolutely was. But he had a great time regardless.  I threw him a birthday party at my apartment and he said to me "Dan I got the invites for the guys, but out of us two you're the pimp so I want lots of ladies there." We had about 40 people crammed into my apartment for the party, and at least half of them were girls, and during the midst of it, he called me over and said to me "I love you Dan, this is the best night of my life."

Marco always loved the Pitt Panthers, but he really loved his Robert Morris Colonials and his university.  He said that this was his second home.  He was more involved than just about anybody on campus.  He was a member of the band, the Secretary of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, which he was Damn Proud of, as he liked to constantly say, and a Sport Management major who was ready to walk in May and graduate in August.  He was at every basketball game, and every football game, and he swore that we could beat anybody.

Marco is the most courageous person I have ever known, and I consider it a privilege and an honor to have known him so well, and to call him my friend.  Just think about all of the people you know, or maybe even you are guilty of it, who go through life just floating along, not working towards anything, wasting the gift, and the blessing they have been given.  Here was a kid who was dealt a bad card, but refused to let it hold him back.  Marco lived his life to the fullest until his last moments. I spent that afternoon watching March Madness with him. We were watching 15th seeded Norfolk State, upset 2nd seeded Missouri.  He was yelling about how embarrassing Missouri was, and that they sucked, mainly because he had picked Missouri to go to the Final Four in his bracket. But than he said to me "you know how I love underdogs, so I can't really be that mad." And I did know, he had said to me once, the reason he cheers for underdogs so much is because he is an underdog himself.

Marco always said to me and my teammates that we were an inspiration to him, but the truth is that he was an inspiration to us.  He has taught me so much, and he really has given me an entirely new outlook on life.  So although Marco is no longer physically with us, I hope that his passion, his courage, his love, and his unbreakable, and undeniable spirit, will live inside of all of us, and I can promise you that it will always live on inside of me.  Rest In Peace man. I love you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Robert Morris sets themselves up for an extended stay in NYC, with vengeance on the mind

For somebody on the outside looking in, one without much knowledge of the Northeast Conference, it may have seemed as if the Robert Morris Colonials and the Long Island University Blackbirds were on a collision course all season for a rematch in the Northeast Conference Championship game.  On Wednesday night in Brooklyn, we will be seeing the rematch of the overtime thriller that we witnessed a year ago. But there is always more to the story than what meets the eye, so first let us take a look at how our Colonials have reached this point.

Coming into the 2011-2012 season, expectations for the Colonials were high. The Colonials roster features talented guards in Velton Jones, Coron Williams, and Anthony Myers, swingman Russell Johnson, and forwards Lijah Thompson and Lawrence Bridges, add in a talented freshman class and mid-season addition Mike McFadden (after transferring from Iona, Mike finally became eligible in December), and a young rising Head Coach in Andy Toole and you knew this team had the chance to be special.  But just how special?

Robert Morris played well in their non-conference schedule going 9-4 with quality wins over Ohio, James Madison, Youngstown State, Duquesne, and La Salle, and tough losses against, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State, and Memphis.  But as we all know, if you're going to be successful in college basketball, you have to perform well in conference play, especially at the mid-major level, if you want to make your presence felt on the national stage.  In smaller conferences like the Northeast Conference, where it is a one bid league, you need to win your conference tournament to earn the automatic bid if you want to make the NCAA tournament, and you need to perform well in your conference schedule to set yourself up for the conference tournament.

Although many media outlets who have covered our Colonials throughout the season have pointed out that they have struggled with consistency at times in the season, I always believed that this team was going to be great.  This team didn't necessarily struggle with consistency, but rather they went through the growing pains, and maturation process that a team goes through as they build chemistry. The Colonials struggled with injuries at times as they missed Russell Johnson, and Lucky Jones an All NEC rookie performer, for extended periods of time, and they simply dealt with a much improved Northeast Conference.  At one point this season the Colonial Athletic Association, the Northeast Conference, and the Big 12 were the only conferences in the nation that boasted three teams with 20 wins or more.

After going 13-5 in conference play the Colonials found themselves in third place headed into the NEC tournament.  On Thursday March 1st the Colonials welcomed the sixth seeded Monmouth Hawks to the Sewall Center for the opening round.  Robert Morris put on one of the most impressive shooting performances we've seen from them in recent memory.  Coron Williams finished 8 for 11 from long distance and lead all scorers with 25 points.  That win set them up with the second seeded Wagner Seahawks on Sunday March 4th in Staten Island.

Despite finishing in second place, Wagner was the team that received the most press time of any Northeast Conference this season.  That is because they had the conference's most impressive non-conference win over Pittsburgh, and the most famous Head, and Assistant Coach in the conference in Danny and Bobby Hurley respectively.  In just their second season the Hurley's have changed the culture of Wagner Basketball, and this season they established a new school record with 25 victories.  But heading into a hostile environment at the Spiro Sports Center, where the betting line had them as seven point underdogs, and they had already suffered an ugly 80-69 loss earlier this season, the Colonials were anything but intimidated.  Robert Morris put together a brilliant team effort, led by an outstanding performance by Velton Jones, who showed why he earned first team All-NEC accolades this season, and pulled off the 71-64 upset victory.  Down at the half 31-29, the Colonials went on an 11-1 run to start the 2nd half and never let up.  Despite battling a tough Wagner defense, a late Wagner run, and the referees at times, Robert Morris advanced to their fourth straight NEC Championship Game.

After LIU made a late comeback to stave off Quinnipiac's upset bid, the stage was set for the conference title rematch.  In the regular season Robert Morris won the only matchup between the Colonials and Blackbirds by a margin of 75-66.  This time the stakes will be much higher with a conference title and the berth to the NCAA tournament on the line, and the Colonials will be ready to go, with vengeance on the mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How we can all learn a lesson from Jeremy Lin

Linsanity, Lincredible, Linvincible, Super Lintendo. The nicknames for the stunning breakout of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin are endless.  He has emerged from anonymity, and now finds himself in the center of the brightly shining spotlight of New York City, and Madison Square Garden.  How did this all happen? Where did he come from? And why has he been overlooked for so long?

Jeremy Lin has gone from the end of the Knicks bench, to the top story on ESPN, and is now the hottest story in sports.  For those of you who have been following this story, you probably know by now that Jeremy Lin has been overlooked at every level.  But despite being overlooked, and being told he wasn't good enough, he kept fighting. He had a dream, and he has worked relentlessly to make it into a reality. All he needed was for somebody to believe in him, and to give him an opportunity.  He is the epitome of an underdog, and from this underdog story I think there are two major lessons we can learn in perseverance, and in stereotyping.  

Jeremy Lin hails from Palo Alto, California.  In high school Lin was a phenomenal player. He received very little attention heading into his senior year from recruiters though.  Even Harvard, where he eventually found a home, came away unimpressed after their initial analysis.  However, after seeing him a second time Lin became the top player on Harvard's recruiting board.  In Lin's senior season he led Palo Alto High School to a 32-1 record and an upset over perennial powerhouse Mater Dei High School in the state championship game.  Lin would also go on to win Player of the Year honors in the state of California. However he was also the only California High School State Player of the Year to never be offered a Division I scholarship.  Stanford was located right across the street, but they never came through with an offer. Neither did Cal or UCLA who were at the top of his list. So he ended up at Harvard, a school who has produced more United States Presidents, than NBA Draft Picks.

At Harvard, Lin continued to perform.  He averaged, 17.8 points per game, and 16.4 points per game respectively in his junior, and senior seasons.  He also helped turn around what had been a horrid Harvard Basketball program. With the help of newly hired Head Coach Tommy Amaker, Lin led Harvard to a 21-8 record in his senior season. They narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, however they did receive a postseason bid to the CIT, which was an impressive accomplishment after struggling through an 8-22 season when he was a sophomore.  Lin also graduated with a degree in Economics.

However despite all the success he had at Harvard, the NBA didn't seem to really take notice.  He was projected to be drafted by many experts, but the draft came and went without Lin's name being called.  You think stereotypes don't exist? Let me tell you that even here in 2012 they are alive and well.  "How could an Asian kid from California, who played at Harvard possibly be good enough for the NBA?"  "He's smart, and he knows the game, has a decent shot, but he can't possibly be athletic enough." Those were the kinds of statements that NBA scouts, and front office brass made about Lin.  People didn't take into account that he has won at every level, that he has constantly been overlooked yet continued to perform, that he actually has good size for a point guard at 6'3" and 200 pounds, and that he has an explosive first step and ability to get to the rim.

But did that stop Lin? Absolutely not. He had a dream, and he was determined to make it come true.  He had been overlooked going into the college, this was just another hurdle on his way to achieving his dreams.  Lin was invited by the Dallas Mavericks to play in the NBA's Summer League. That is where Lin made his first impression on the NBA. He played very well against that year's number one overall pick John Wall out of Kentucky.  He posted solid numbers in the Summer League, and was signed by the Golden State Warriors.  Despite making the roster he was placed on the inactive list.  Despite making his NBA debut, and enjoying playing for his hometown team, Lin spent the season bouncing between the NBA and the D-League and was cut on December 9, 2011, the first day of training camp after the NBA lockout had ended.  He was claimed off of waivers by the Houston Rockets on December 12th.  However things didn't get any easier in Houston.  He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart, and was waived by them on Christmas Eve.

Than Lin finally caught a break, well sort of.  On Christmas Day, New York Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert suffered a knee injury, and the Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on December 27th.  Again Lin initially saw no playing time. In fact he was even assigned to the D-League again.  After posting a triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, the Knicks recalled him to the NBA team.

He still wasn't playing though. The Knicks were going with their completely ineffective combination of Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, and Toney Douglass at point guard, and along with it their previously high expectations were gone. The Knicks were ready for Baron Davis to come back and hopefully instill some stability to the point guard position. However after he suffered a setback in practice, and with the urging of Carmelo Anthony, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni decided to give him some minutes, and what Lin had been waiting for all along, an opportunity.  25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds later, and one Knicks victory later, Lin found himself with a starting assignment against the Utah Jazz.  And as they say, that's all she wrote.  Lin has led the Knicks to seven straight victories and counting now. Those victories include dramatic comebacks, a game winning 3 pointer at Toronto, and a dominating 38 point performance against the Lakers.  Despite, the public questioning of whether or not Carmelo will pose a problem once he returns, things are only going to get better.

How did he seemingly come out of nowhere? Well the thing is, he was always ready. He was just waiting for a chance.  This whole time he patiently waited, working his hardest, and most importantly staying confident and believing in himself.  It's easy to lose confidence in yourself when nobody else seems to have any in you. Sometimes the only thing that can hold you back is yourself, and when you don't believe in yourself that is what can happen. Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski once said "For the most part people do not attempt things because they fear the consequences. But the greatest consequence of all comes in not attempting to do the things that you believe you can. Having courage means boldly pursuing your dreams, no matter what the consequences may be." Jeremy Lin has the courage of a lion, and for those of you who think that he is just a flash in the pan, or a fluke, you don't know enough about him, and he's looking forward to proving you wrong just like he has everybody else on his way to the top.

Right now he's the toast of New York City. People can't get enough of him. His jersey is the best selling in the NBA since February 4th, and he is the headline on ESPN every day.  But the reason people love him so much isn't just because he is a great basketball player. Sure he is one, but there are plenty of those. The reason is because he inspires us, he gives us hope.  Every player on the bench working his hardest to get in, every employee who feels that they are under-appreciated and that they can do more, every person who believes all they need is a chance, look no further than Jeremy Lin, and keep believing.