It has been a little over two weeks since the UConn men’s basketball team turned everyone’s NCAA brackets into confetti by going on an improbable run. The city of Boston, especially those who reside in the inner city are still beaming with pride as they watched Shabazz Napier the leader of the team shine on the biggest stage and named the most outstanding player of the tournament. I am still waiting to learn of the date when Shabazz will be invited to throw out the first pitch at an upcoming Boston Red Sox game, surely they will extend an invite to a favorite son.
Shabazz was the quintessential “Ice Man” during the tournament , he was calm under pressure , not afraid of the big moment , was willing to take and make the big shot when his team needed a lift and his poise during adversity is something you learn while growing up in the projects. Personally I do not know Napier but I have friends and associates that do, he and I do share one thing in common, we both grew up in Mission Hill and for that reason I am proud of what he accomplished.
Another benefit of the championship run and Shabazz’s play was his opportunity to use the moment as a platform to highlight a couple of items that I hope do not get lost after the hoopla has faded.
1. Shabazz Napier stayed in school the full four years and will graduate on time with a meaningful degree in sociology
2. Despite his tough upbringing Shabazz was able to assimilate at a PWI (predominately white institution) and did not lose his street credibility or swag. He did not wear his uniform shorts below his waist, there was no frohawk hair cut and his image was clean cut. His effort, talent and skills made his statements on the court while remaining a team player not a me first self promoting spectacle. I hope the parents and coaches of the next generation of talented athletes from communities across the country will point this fact out to their budding superstars, it should be an expectation and demand they go to school and actually be a student, their futures are too valuable to leave to chance, besides the coaches they play for are taking care of their families and providing for their children’s educational future off their labor.
3. Shabazz was able to push the NCAA into changing the meal plan allowed for division one student-athletes after his infamous ” I go to bed starving” statement hit social media. On April 15, 2014 the NCAA council approved of a new plan that will give the student-athletes unlimited meals and snacks.
4. Shabazz called out the NCAA for banning the Huskies who under Coach Jim Calhoun leadership failed to meet the NCAA Academic progress rate. I think he was trying to share one of the motivating forces that helped fuel their run to the championship after being banned a year ago. But should the NCAA be vilified for holding schools accountable to ensure their student-athletes are making actual progress towards a degree ? and let’s be honest as long as the ban only effected historically black colleges and universities(the majority of the institutions on the list of banned schools ;for another conversation), it was not taken seriously, not until UConn became the new poster child, that was a wake up call for the other major institutions to allocate the necessary resources to ensure they don’t miss out on the millions to be lost, should they receive the same fate.
We must not forget the real reason many of us make sacrifices to afford our children the opportunity to attend higher education learning centers; to become equipped with the needed skills to compete in a global world one in which the united states is lagging. Yes it’s great if your child is afforded the opportunity to attend a school on an athletic scholarship, its saves you thousands of dollars, prestige and fame, perhaps a chance to go onto the professional leagues. But for many of these students in particular black males once they have exhausted their athletic eligibility at the college level, the ball will stop bouncing sooner rather than later. There will be no major bowl appearances, and living in what I call an “Illusion” (best hotels, medical services, food, travel accommodations, adulation of fans and media, etc) will cease. They will return to the same dilapidated communities and face a harsh reality.
Congrats Shabazz not only have you made the city of Boston proud, your impact on the next generation will go further than any championship run could ever go, I pray that you surround yourself with wise counsel at the next level, you are an excellent role model for the often used cliche “It’s not where you start , it’s where you end that matters”.