Experience is abundant throughout the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, but there are still three freshmen: Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jordan Walker, who have yet to dip their toes into college basketball waters. Still, despite their lack of collegiate experience, maturity is not something lacking from the three young newcomers.
The trio gained perspective from a two-day event that took place in New York, N.Y. called Big East Freshmen Fundamentals on Sept. 16 to 17.
The event, which is in its third year, brings together freshmen from all 10 of the Big East schools to discuss how to deal with the complexities of life as a collegiate athlete, both on and off the court.
“Being there I made a couple friends, but I know that when it’s time to come, like when we play against one another, I gotta stay on my side,” Cale said. “But, it was a good thing that they did. I liked it a lot and I enjoyed it.”
The first day of the event featured a number of speakers who instilled their own important lessons; from a media training session to talks about relationship management, with an emphasis on avoiding situations of harassment and violence.
Day two brought the 35 freshmen to the center of their aspirations, Madison Square Garden, for a tour of the world-renowned arena that hosts the Big East Tournament. While there, players were told stories of great moments from years past, all the while growing more eager to run onto the court and add their footprint to its history.
“Madison Square Garden is one of the most famous arenas in the world. Everybody wants to like, just go and visit it,” Mamukelashvili said. “I was so excited just to go and visit it and see how it is inside. I have been at a game, but not like to see the whole thing. Thinking that I can play there, I don’t know…even though it’s college, it seems like you’re a pro basketball player.”
Despite the aura of pro basketball at The Garden, very few will make the jump to playing in the NBA or overseas. One of the most poignant presentations of the event came from former St. John’s player Tarik Turner, who made the successful transition from succeeding on the court collegiately to succeeding off the court professionally, both in business and sports commentary. Turner stressed the importance of getting to know people outside of your team circle, a message that was not missed by Cale or Mamukelashvili.
“He just told us there is a life after basketball and you always have to have a plan B,” Cale said. “You just have to stay open. And it’s not cool to just be part of the [basketball team]. Like, it’s cool to be a part of the basketball team, but you can be open about certain stuff, like you can have other friends and invite people in.”
“We’re like normal people, [not as if the] only thing we do is play basketball,” Mamukelashvili said. “For us [the] basketball team is like our family, but at the end of the day, when you’re not in the gym, you can’t be like, only based with your basketball teammates. You can make friends, and [Turner] said how you never know, like maybe somebody you meet will become like…CEO or something. So, because I smiled to somebody or you smiled to somebody, like, you’re changing their day and they’re going to remember in the future and they can help.”
Balancing friendships, school and expectations for the team can be difficult, especially with a national spotlight, but the Freshmen Fundamentals program works to give student-athletes the right attitude. The biggest emotion within SHU’s freshmen is eagerness, as they have watched this team succeed for two years during their recruitment and have been ready to play a part in the team’s success.
It remains to be seen what the Pirates can do in year one, adjusting to school and the physicality and intensity of college basketball, but following the Freshmen Fundamentals program, they are even more prepared.
“I think if you’re focused on both your grades at school and your whole team as one goal, then every day you keep going in the gym, three times a day, two times a day, working your game to get better,” Mamukelashvili said. “And [if you do that] it’s already a different story, because you’re improving, and you’re making your team better. By improving yourself, you’re making the team better, and playing your part in the team, even if it’s a small part.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.