What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I was a very strange combination of hood-rich country boy. I grew up on a rural farm in southern Ontario, Canada, but regularly crossed the border to play elite basketball in inner-city Detroit. I’ll never forget the day [former Columbia] coach Joe Jones pulled up to the family farm in a rented Cadillac, all dusty from the dirt roads of St. Joachim, Ontario, to convince my parents that Columbia was the right school for me. I didn’t know anything, but I had a wicked jump shot. I was wearing XXXL Rocawear jeans and Jordan sneakers, and had a bald fade with oversized cubic zirconia “rocks” in both ears. I didn’t know what the Ivy League was, and had never been to a city like New York. As naive as a big fish in a small pond could be, I thought I would breeze through college and find myself in the NBA. To put it simply, I was in for a very rude awakening, and an incredible amount of personal growth on every level. My first day on campus I showed up five minutes late to practice — the whole team ran sprints until we puked — then I had to ice my knees in class, dripping water all over the floor of Hamilton, fake rocks in ears.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived in Hartley Hall and roomed with one of my basketball teammates, Leo Nolan ’09 from New Jersey. I remember being shocked at how small the room was, for two people. It was a long way from the farm. I remember building a shelving unit above my twin bed, where I kept roughly 50 pairs of sneakers (some authentic, some knock-offs) all in their original boxes, with printed photos of the shoes on the outside of each box. Leo and I couldn’t have been more different. He and the rest of our teammates (Joe Bova ’09, Jason Miller ’09 and KJ Matsui ’09, who also lived on the same floor) each had very different backgrounds and we taught each other a lot. It was that camaraderie and brotherhood that I remember most. We weren’t in the dorms much, though — only to sleep, basically. If I wasn’t in the gym, or class, I was on the M60 bus up to 125th, shopping on the streets of Harlem at the storied streetwear shops that I had only seen on TV and in hoops magazines.
What class do you most remember and why?
“University Writing,” because it was the only class that I excelled in early on. When it came to Lit Hum and CC, I remember thinking, “Is it physically possible to read this much every week?” The shock was real. I wasn’t the fastest reader, but I loved observing the people and culture around me (and there was a lot to observe) and writing my unfiltered thoughts about it. I was lucky to have a teacher who supported my un-filteredness. I remember having a conversation with him about breaking spelling and grammar rules for effect, like I was some kind of hood-rich country Ernest Hemingway. University Writing was my first “A” at Columbia — I think my mom still has that paper on her fridge. I also loved my first psychology class. I knew right away that psychology would be the path for me. I was more interested in how people thought than what they were thinking about. That is another beautiful thing about the College — the diversity of thought, experience and opinion. I don’t remember the courses as much as the people in them. On a daily basis I was blown away by the caliber of student that I was surrounded by. Having a competitive nature and being surrounded by greatness was a recipe for expedited personal growth.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
The gym. For the first couple years it was the only place I felt at home. A great community of people ran the athletics department when I was there. There are so many more people involved than just the coaches and the players. Take a guy like “Junior,” for example. He was the equipment manager but he was also like our uncle. He always made us smile, even when he knew we were feeling down and out. I also have to shout-out the training staff. I was riddled with injuries throughout my career, and had hip surgery my sophomore year. The training room became like a second home. They took really good care of me and always got me back on my feet.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I would try to make a more diverse friend group. Due to the demanding schedule of student athletes, we have a tendency to become insular. The basketball guys hang with the basketball guys, the football team has its crew, etc. This, in my opinion, can hurt the overall experience of being part of such a rich melting pot of incredible people from all over the world. I would have joined more clubs committees or group activities that had nothing to do with basketball. I also would take more advantage of professors’ office hours. When you’re a young person, you don’t realize the value of having brilliant experts literally waiting on you to show up. I would knock on doors just to have conversations, and pick their brains about anything that interests me. This is one of those “additional” resources that you don’t think to take advantage of, until it’s too late. Now, if I want to run an idea by a person with the caliber of brain that my business teacher had, for example, it would cost me $500 an hour in consulting fees!