I’ve traveled more the last two years than my previous 30! Marathoning, speaking, and basketball clinics have given me the opportunity to meet wonderful people while exploring new places. This weekend however, it wasn’t about me. I came to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico to support Jonathan Holton in his first major basketball tournament of the year.
Sponge, as many people call him, is a starting forward for the West Virginia University Mountaineers. I’ve trained and developed many basketball players but Sponge is the only one I have been a father figure for. In eighth grade he tried out for a team I was coaching but his hand was in a cast. The cast looked like it weighed more than him! As soon as the cast came off he began playing for me. His energy and hustle was contagious and still is. I began training him, mentoring him, giving him rides, and often buying meals for him. One day he asked if he could live with me. My answer “yes” changed both of our lives.
Sponge is one of 10 brothers & sisters. His aunt’s house was very crowded and in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods. That toughness shows every minute he is on the court. Living with me wasn’t easy though. For nearly 5 years I’d wake him up at 5:00am every morning before school to train and again at lunch time. We worked everyday on the scorching hot outdoor courts on post moves, shooting, footwork, finishing, jump hooks, up and unders, and of course ball control. All that was aside from the practicing Sponge would do with his team. I always preach that if you want to get ahead you have to do more. That work ethic is still with him and has gotten him to wear he is now.
So this weekend was the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. One of the many elite tournaments kicking off the college basketball season. All of the games were televised on ESPN. West Virginia got off to a great start by beating George Mason in there first game. Sponge was all over the place. Their round 2 opponent was Boston College. The Mountaineers didn’t get off to the same hot start as their first game but came back from a double digit deficit to win. What I was most proud of in that game was when Sponge had to come out of the game due to foul trouble, he maintained the same energy but in the bench. He was jumping, cheering, and getting everyone else excited. He controlled what he could and was a great teammate off the court. He eventually got back in and sealed the win. That meant WVU would advance to the championship and face the defending national champs, number 17 ranked UCONN! What an opportunity it was for his team. Sponge got off to a great start hitting his first two baskets of the game while drawing a foul on each of them and converting three point plays. WVU held onto the lead the entire game and won the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against a nationally ranked team! After the game it was all sweaty hugs and high fives.
Sponge was very grateful that I was there for him. Before the trip I asked him if there was anything I could bring him from Miami and he said “just your presence.” How ironic that “give presence” is Lululemon’s slogan for the holiday season. Saturday I got to watch WVU practice and afterwards took Sponge to lunch. He told me how disciplined Coach Huggins and his staff were and he was happy to be able to get away and spend some time with me. All that discipline sure paid off because winning the championship earned them a lot of respect. I would have been proud of Jonathan either way because he is succeeding. I love him. He’s in college, working hard, after overcoming tremendous adversity. If he can make it, anyone can.