Should HBCUs teach their students financial literacy and about the business of higher education?

This piece was originally published on Dr. Matthew Lynch’s online publication The Edvocate back in May of 2015. It was entitled Thoughts on Why HBCUs could use more Alumni than Graduates, and Financial Literacy. I decided to republish this story after the new President of my alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), recently visited our Washington DC alumni chapter to discuss his vision for the university which is currently on probation due to financial distress.

A lack of alumni giving has long been a major issue for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Something our new President Clarence Armbrister shared with us that I didn’t know, was that securing funding from Corporate America is difficult if alumni aren’t already giving significantly. Donors in fact inquire about alumni giving when deciding to give money themselves confounding the problem.

What’s at the heart of this conundrum? I think a major piece is that the concepts of wealth-building aren’t passed on in the ecosystems many HBCU students come from. When I say ‘ecosystems’ in this context, I’m referring to the environment the students have come from prior to matriculating into their particular schools – their home, their social circles, their church and the school system they’ve come from – in some instances where the goal is simply survival.

Coincidentally when you start studying money, a common theme you see is the importance of giving. Since many of these students are not receiving this information from wherever they come from, perhaps our HBCUs should consider planting these seeds in their student’s minds before they graduate – weaving it into their curricula somehow. After all, higher education is actually a business, and it isn’t free as someone somewhere has to pay for it.

In a previous post regarding the Tax Reform and Jobs Act, I discussed my alma mater being on probation, and challenged other HBCU alums to take some of the money they’ve received from their tax break and passing it on their alma maters – something which may have upset some readers. In this piece, I suggest that the HBCUs themselves should proactively arm their students with information which will not only empower them during their working lives, but also compel them to give support back to the places which gave them their start, allowing other kids to have similar opportunities.

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Being highly involved in the Washington DC Alumni Chapter for Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), I’ve become keenly aware of the issues facing Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCUs). As an education advocate and writer, I’ve helped promote the “Quotes for Education” collaboration between Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation the last two years. In numerous interviews with Allstate’s Senior Vice-President and Florida A&M University alumnus Cheryl Harris, the importance of HBCU alumni giving back to their alma maters was stressed. In addition to the other pressures these institutions are facing, one of the more significant problems is the lack of alumni giving.

At an Executive Board meeting, our Chapter President Robert Ridley shared with us an idea he read stating that, “A graduate is someone who gets a degree from an institution and never looks back. An alumnus is someone who gives their time and money back to their alma mater.” This was an important distinction that I’d never heard before, not even when I was a student at JCSU. It’s an important concept that arguably should be introduced from day one at our HBCUs.

Why is it important for graduates to give back to their alma maters? The main reason is to give future generations a fighting chance to succeed. This is particularly important for Black America. Secondly, institutions of higher learning rely on state, federal and extramural funding from private donors. Many HBCU’s are “Land Grant” institutions and their funding has been decreased ironically under the Obama Administration, in addition to the tightening of the borrowing criteria for the “Parent Plus Loans” which many HBCU students and families heavily relied upon.  Thus donations from alumni have become more important.

As unofficially told by an insider, for the 2014 fiscal year, less than 14% of my class of 1999 gave anything back to JCSU, a staggeringly low number. When our school President Dr. Ronald Carter gave an overview of the current health of the University here in Washington, DC, he cited low alumni giving as one potential threat to the University’s future. A key piece of that evening was encouraging alumni to consider cutting back on certain luxuries to free up money to give back.

Why don’t HBCU Alums give more to their alma maters? Why would only 14% of my class give back to the University? One reason is that many students who’ve attended HBCUs feel as though they’ve given enough of their money to their alma mater when pursuing their educations, and don’t feel inclined to give anything else after graduating. Another reason is hard feelings towards one’s alma mater. Many graduates feel bitter about their experience for one reason or the other as well. I’ve heard this personally and read about it in other articles.

Another piece to this puzzle though is socioeconomic. Of the many curses to being born black in the United States, a key one is starting from lower rungs on the economic ladder than our counterparts of other ethnicities. If for example, your parents planned ahead and saved a college fund for you, your economic burden will likely be lessened or non-existent upon graduation as discussed by Georgette Miller, Esq. in Living Debt Free. You’ll have less debt and more disposable income (some to donate) after starting your career.

“They just weren’t thinking that way,” my father said in a discussion about my grandparents in a discussion about mortgages. I stumbled upon the basics of financial literacy by accident (from books like Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Millionaire Next Door), and wondered why my parents didn’t teach me more about the vital knowledge shared in these books. They didn’t know themselves and I think this is true for a lot of African American families in the United States.

Likewise, I hypothesize that many other college graduates from my community have a low level of financial literacy and that in part drives this lack of giving that we see from alumni towards their HBCUs. In other words, they know how to lavishly spend it, but not how to gradually save and grow it. If my hypothesis is true and many students are matriculating into our HBCUs with a low level of financial literacy, HBCU’s may do good to start educating their students on these topics from day one and also stressing that higher education is in fact a business. A good place to start would be Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU), or something similar.

I honestly didn’t seriously start giving to either of my alma maters until going through the FPU class taught at my church. In FPU, I learned that the greatest misunderstanding about money is that one of major keys to building and maintaining wealth is blessing others. Put another way, sustained financial health and giving are a function of one another, and in order for one to be able to give, one’s own financial house must first be in order.

Student loan debt can also help explain the lack of giving, but my suspicion is that there’s a percentage of graduates that once they get established, their finances aren’t situated so that they’re able to give back, or giving back just isn’t a priority. Coming from the African American community, there is truth to the myth that we as a community often collectively make poor financial decisions, particularly when ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, ‘signaling’, and trying to portray a certain image. For this reason, and because so many of us don’t get it at home, HBCUs once again may do good to expose their students to a financial literacy a curricula such as FPU which ultimately stresses sound financial decision making and ultimately charitable giving.

So why give back? Giving back to our alma maters, especially HBCUs is important if we want to see future generations grow and thrive. One of the keys to advancement of the African American community in the United States is financial stability as a group. Likewise the community itself has a responsibility to give its younger generations a fighting chance to participate in our new global economy. In the United States, economic power influences everything else. Regarding my own graduating class of 1999, we can do better than a 14% rate of participation in terms of giving back to our alma mater, as can graduates from other institutions.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. In you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

What are your plans for your tax cut? Thought on what can be done with heavier paychecks and paying tax
Who will have the skills to benefit from Apple’s $350 investment?
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions on household income and wealth building
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Your net worth, your gross salary and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, and one of the main focuses of my blog is awareness of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers and fields. Up to this point I’ve written several posts discussing the ‘Biomedical Sciences’ which I’ve been trained in: Pharmacology, Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism, and Inhalation Toxicology. In this post I want to discuss what “Regulatory Science” and “Regulatory Affairs” are – the scientific interface between the ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ sectors where the safety of commercial products sold to the general public are determined – a science not well understood by the general public despite its importance to our everyday lives – myself included initially.

“You can always go into ‘Regulatory’,” a classmate who I’ll refer to as Greg said, during graduate school at the University of Michigan. I was feeling the stress of working on my thesis project which consisted entirely of ‘Bench’ or ‘Basic’ scientific research, and lamenting that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in academia once I finished my dissertation. Greg had worked in one of the bigger Pharmaceutical companies, and understood everything that comprised them. At the time I wanted a career with a ‘regular’ schedule which is something I’ll describe more in depth in my next blog post which will discuss the ‘Basic Sciences’. I, coincidentally, did start a career as a Regulatory Scientist by accident, depending on your belief system.

When giving my annual Toxicology lecture at SUNY Albany, I always tell the class that Regulatory Scientists are ‘Watch Dogs’ or ‘Gate Keepers’ who evaluate new products generated by the ‘Private Sector’ to make sure they are safe for the public. What types of products am I talking about? You can start with anything in and around your home, whether it be food products, pharmaceuticals, or industrial chemicals, air fresheners, household cleaners, paints, or cosmetics. These are just the chemicals which we consume, or are exposed to on a personal level. Another context is the environment. For every product generated, questions must be asked about what that product will do to wildlife, their unique ecosystems, lakes, oceans, the air, etc. Here think about coal and petroleum products as good examples.

The term ‘Regulatory’ is rooted in the ‘Regulations’ put in place by Federal and State governments – laws and statutes which dictate how and when the government should act in the general public’s best interests to ensure that the products they are being sold are safe. Going back to the previous paragraph, there are regulations for example for registering the following: crops and commodities, livestock and poultry, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, industrial chemicals, industrial materials and textiles, and energy products such as petroleum and coal. We’re very close to the use of ‘Nanomaterials’, so products that contain them are of particular interest now.

Here is a good place to think back to the 2016 Presidential election where the then candidate, Donald J. Trump, discussed the need to rollback excessive, costly and burdensome regulations put in place by the Obama administration to allow private businesses to grow and thrive. Having an understanding of Regulatory Science and Regulatory Affairs is the essence of that discussion because it takes resources to demonstrate the safety of products; otherwise it can cut into profits if their uses are restricted. Important questions to thus consider are: 1) is there such a thing as over-regulation; and 2) is there a happy balance between business and keeping the public and environment safe? Some food for thought.

Regulatory Scientists work in both Public and Private sectors. On both sides each must understand the Federal and State government laws and regulations. Scientists in the Private sector must understand the regulations and provide the government with the data it needs so that their companies can efficiently register their products. Scientists in the Public sector must understand the regulations to ensure that the companies trying to register their products are in compliance, so as to not cause injury to individuals in the general public and create subsequent litigation. While this post is about Regulatory Science, it’s also worth noting here that most of the private companies also have scientists working in the ‘Applied Sciences’ and ‘Research and Development’, which is where their new products come from – examples are the Food, Pharmaceutical, Biotech, and Crop-Science companies.

Where do Regulatory Scientists receive their training and what types of skills do they need? Most Regulatory Scientists receive their training in the ‘Basic Sciences’ at major research universities, such as the University of Michigan, where I received my training. This means that they first become trained in specific scientific areas of expertise – Pharmacology and Inhalation Toxicology in my case – and they then use those knowledge sets in the Regulatory world to make safety decisions. The same is true for the Applied Sciences where that expertise is used to create new products. As you can see these worlds are closely interrelated.

The four Biomedical Sciences I’ve discussed in detail – Pharmacology, Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism and Inhalation Toxicology – are all basic sciences which translate to the Applied Science and Regulatory sciences. Scientists trained in these fields and others can either remain in academia, or take their skill sets into the Public or Private sectors. See my post entitled, “The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences” to get a feel for what skills are necessary to work in the Regulatory Sector or Regulatory Affairs. Just briefly, a couple are of the skills are the ability to: 1) work on teams; 2) write; 3) plan; and 4) speak orally, as there are lots and lots of meetings.

There are typically two contexts for Regulatory Science – one which takes place in a classic laboratory setting, and the other which takes place in an office setting. In the lab setting, experiments are carried out to test products safety. In the government office setting, scientists interpret the results generated on specific products using the above-mentioned regulations and policies which each scientist has to learn when starting in the field. It’s worth noting here that science is constantly changing and evolving, and thus a challenge to working in the Regulatory sector in government settings is staying current on new and relevant scientific breakthroughs and methods. This can be done in any number of ways including attending national meetings, and participating in special ‘work groups’, for example.

A third context for Regulatory Science is consulting. Many scientists, after working in the Public or Private sectors, eventually opt to the start their own consulting companies. These consulting groups typically work with Private sector companies to get their products registered swiftly and efficiently, with the goal of keeping their costs as low as possible.

What do Regulatory Scientists make in terms of salary? That is in part dictated by one’s degree level, and whether the scientist works in the Public or Private sectors. Scientists in both sectors can start out making $70,000. Federal and State Regulatory Scientists are typically paid according to the ‘General Schedule’. While Regulatory Scientists in Private Industry are paid according to what that company determines the individual is worth, and the mutually agreed upon salary.

In closing, when you think about Regulatory Science, think globally. While the United States Government has numerous agencies to protect the general public – the EPA, FDA, USDA and the NRC to name a few – other countries around the world have them as well. And there are actually global partnerships and cooperatives amongst nations which are important when it comes to international trade and commerce, in addition to environmental protection. A career in Regulatory Science thus has the potential to touch not only the lives of those in your immediate circle, but also those in faraway places.

The next posts in this series will talk about what Basic Research and Science are, and then my personal journey towards becoming a Scientist. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Father’s Day 2018: Dad’s doctor and his lawyer, and a discussion on careers

Your brother is going to be my Doctor, and you’re going to be my Lawyer!”

Happy Father’s Day. My 2017 Father’s Day blog post talked about some of my father’s life and money lessons, and there were many. I wrote some more about us in my second essay submitted to A Voice For Men entitled: Two very well-behaved boys left to figure things out on their own: Reflections on growing up ‘Blue Pill’, which discussed how my brother and I had to figure out several aspects of manhood on our own. There weren’t a lot of men around growing up, and there were limitations in what we were taught by the men we did know.

For this 2018 post, I’m going to go in a different direction and will discuss what Dad wanted both me and my brother to be career-wise, versus what we actually became. This piece isn’t an “ode to fathers” per se, but instead a set of thoughts and ideas based upon something my father said to us as children, which will serve as a jumping off point for things me and those in my circle regularly discuss today as adults – things that have impacted our family dynamics as the years have gone by. As described in my piece Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions in academic achievement, Dad’s fatherly guidance helped me reach my academic potential. He also stimulated me to start thinking about potential careers at an early age.

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“Your brother is going to be my Doctor, and you’re going to be my Lawyer!” Dad said on one of our summer visits in the mid-1980s. The three of us were crossing a street in downtown Schenectady, NY and he turned and gave his proclamation to the both of us – communicating with one of his hands – his signature style. Like many parents, Dad had his own plans for what we should be. Somewhere alo4ng the line, he determined that it should be a Medical Doctor and a Lawyer, and as with everything Dad said, he said it with lots of authority, pretty much commanding us.

Not having either in my immediate family circle on either my mother’s or father’s side, I didn’t know much about what lawyers did. I had some idea of what medical doctors did because I had gone to see them on numerous occasions as a child. One of Dad’s first cousins was in fact a medical doctor, but we didn’t see him enough to be able to ask him about his career. In elementary school it hadn’t occurred to me what I wanted to be career-wise, though I got the inkling that it would be something scientific after really enjoying “Life Science” in the seventh grade – essentially beginner’s Biology. My brother had begun showing signs of being both artistic and creative.

But what made my father so enamored with medical doctors and lawyers in terms of careers for his sons? Dad was always one for stability which is why he became a junior high science teacher. Neither of his parents had gone to college, so he was a first-generation college graduate. From what I can see, some parents naturally want their children to do better than them. In the mid-1980s, the conventional wisdom was that medicine and law were two very high-profile professions which would lead to affluent and comfortable careers/lifestyles.

“I know that your grandfather would be very proud of you being a doctor and all,” Dad said on several occasions regarding my Ph.D. years later. He didn’t necessarily understand what my doctorate stood for or the skills it represented, but the title of ‘Doctor’ meant a lot to him – something I witnessed in the coming years both positively and negatively. Coincidentally, I think he initially discouraged me from pursuing a doctorate – potentially because he only knew Ph.D.s in the context of the school system, and not the ‘Research’ and ‘Regulatory’ worlds.

With one of the principles of my blog being “Critical Thought”, I believe it’s important to look at things in their entirety. So, while Dad wanted these two prestigious careers for us, what would it have taken for us to get into these two professions? The answer is it would’ve taken lots and lots of school for the both us and then, most likely, considerable debt to pay back. This is something very important to consider for parents and students looking to attend college to pursue ‘White-Collar’ careers.

In terms of higher education, thinking out the entire plan long-term is critical – considering the cost of the degree, how to get a quality degree for the least amount of money possible, what the expected salary will be on back end, and finally how much debt will need to be paid back. According to a 2014 article in Forbes, the average amount of debt for Law School graduates ranged from $84,000 to $122,158. Also, according to a recent 2018 article by Credit Donkey, the average medical school graduate finishes with $192,000 of debt.

Keep in mind that these are on top of however much debt was accrued during one’s undergraduate studies. The numbers probably weren’t as high thirty years ago, but it’s important to be mindful of blindly chasing certain careers based upon titles and prestige. If it’s something a student really wants to do, that’s different, but the costs still ought to be considered.

If you run the numbers and your prospects aren’t good, I would recommend not going into debt for that particular degree. A mentor recently taught me that the economy actually dictates the need for specific careers at a given time. I don’t know what the prospects were like for lawyers in the mid-1980s when Dad announced his wish for me, but as I progressed in my education, I heard more and more stories about the market being ‘saturated’ with them. I likewise heard that the landscape for medicine had changed, and in some ways, it wasn’t as lucrative a career as it once was.

In terms of my career, I figured it out as I went along. I had an interest in the Biological Sciences and thus followed that path. I pondered going to Medical School at one point, but decided against it after a professor at Johnson C. Smith University encouraged me and some of my classmates to study up on what it entailed – the demands, the lifestyle, and the backend costs.

It’s also important for students and parents to keep in mind what the student is good at, and where their gift/passion lies. While I turned out to be the son that was interested in the Biology, my brother’s gifts were completely different. He turned out to be a ‘design and build’ –type of guy. He had the gift for designing things, constructing things, taking them apart, and he was quite formidable with tools and devices. He started studying Architecture in college but didn’t finish, but in hindsight, he may have also been well suited for one of the ‘Skill Trades’ – something that didn’t come up as a child as college and ‘White-Collar’ careers were emphasized as opposed to ‘Blue-Collar’ careers.

Speaking of the trades, since finishing my own education, I’ve realized that there is power in learning one or more of the skill trades. There will always be the need to build and fix things. That includes: the electricity and plumbing in your home, airplanes we travel on, the public transportation vehicles we ride to work on every day, and so much more. If your refrigerator breaks down as mine did recently, for example, you either have to buy a new one or hire someone to come and fix it – unless you can do it yourself.

Unfortunately, our society looks down on the Blue-Collar careers in some ways, though they pay very, very well and don’t require the schooling doctors and lawyers need – the same is true for the debt required to train for the latter two careers. In my opinion, individuals who are proficient in the trades people are willing to pay for; and those who also have some business training, stand to make lots of money as they can do things like start their own companies and hire other people.

My brother never finished college and has become a bit of an inventor/entrepreneur which actually is the route that our technology giants like: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg took. There may have been some luck involved for each of them, but these men are reminders that in some instances, ideas and skills are more powerful than the degrees themselves. Today for example, there are quite a few individuals making significant incomes without being ‘degreed’ – those who can write code for Blockchain Technology applications for example. Also, while my brother isn’t degreed, he’s also not saddled with a significant debt payment of any kind – a tremendous advantage.

As for me, depending on your belief system, I got lucky. I pursued a Ph.D. in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field at a time when the economy rewarded individuals with such degrees. What’s even more significant is that I finished only with a little bit of debt from my undergraduate studies. Because I pursued a STEM degree, I didn’t pay for any of my graduate studies so I didn’t have a hefty loan to pay back for those five to six years of graduate school. This brings me to my closing point. It wasn’t until I finished that phase of my science training that I realized that I was missing something very, very important – something some kids are given early, and something others stumble upon later in life if at all.

Regardless of whether or not you get a college degree, a trade or some sort of entrepreneurship, the critical piece is understanding money. Something not discussed much in our younger years was wealth-building – something that is possible for everyone, and independent of one’s career choice as it involves a specific set of behaviors that I’ve written about in my Net Worth and Debt Snowball pieces. Understanding the concepts of Wealth-Building: budgeting, living within one’s means, delaying gratification, investments, and ‘Compound Interest‘ – these are the keys to a great and bountiful life, not necessarily the careers and titles themselves, contrary to what many people think.

Prestige and titles are nice, but if you read Dr. Thomas Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door, you’ll see that there are many high-income professionals who look the part, but who are actually struggling. In my blog post about the Tax Reform and Jobst Act, I referenced a 2016 article in the Washington Post entitled: The shocking number of Americans who can’t cover a $400 expense which showed that even some individuals making over six figures, surprisingly couldn’t cover such an emergency.

I never wanted to be one of those people. I may be different from most, but I’d rather secretly live nice and comfortable with a simple outward appearance, as opposed to looking wealthy and struggling behind closed doors. That’s a personal choice however – one which everyone must make for themselves.

* * *

In closing, our parents sometimes have dreams of what they want us to be. Some kids actually go ahead and fulfill their parents’ dreams while others go their own way. In some instances, our parents can discourage us from what we really want to do based upon what they know and feel from their lives.

There is thus a complex set of decisions to be made based upon: what one really wants to do, their unique gifts, what they’re passionate about, and how they’ll be able to earn a living on the back end. In the end, the economy dictates what’s needed at that particular time – it will determine who gets hired and how much they will be paid. Lastly, no matter what path is chosen, the critical piece is understanding money. Once again, Happy Father’s Day.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Two very well-behaved boys left to figure things out on their own: reflections on growing up ‘Blue Pill’
Father’s Day 2017: reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons
Mother’s Day 2018: Memories of my grandmothers
Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions in academic achievement
The benefits and challenges of using articulate speech

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014. As a teen I dreamt of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream for which one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. My experience turned out to be quite the adventure, and I didn’t formally play basketball beyond high school. The lessons I learned there however, not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. As mentioned when I began reposting this series, I’m working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.

Initially I thought that I would simply republish the original series and let it go, but I’ve decided to add onto it as I continue working on my book project and ideas keep coming to me. Heading into the summer months this particular follow up installment will discuss what I learned from the three years I attended basketball camp. See if you the reader can pick up on the universal themes which transcend the great game of basketball.

* * *

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same,” was the signature quote of the Ken Jones Basketball Camp – the camp run by Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, my first high school basketball coach. As he told us students more times than I can remember, “I’m a student of the game.” He ate, slept and breathed the great game of basketball. Our basketball program at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY was an extension of him and was unique in our league, the “Yale Cup”, during that sliver of time he coached there. He taught us the structure and fundamentals of the game which at that time were the hallmarks of only the area suburban and private schools. To learn some more about what the Yale Cup was like, see parts one and two of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe.

What was also unique about our program at Hutch-Tech was that our coach ran his own basketball camp – the first and only one I’d ever attend. I first heard about the Ken Jones Basketball Camp as a freshman. Towards the end of the 1990-91 school year, a highly successful season for Hutch-Tech’s basketball program, Coach Jones posted fliers for the camp on the bulletin board near the coaches’ offices. I knew very few fundamentals of basketball as most of my play consisted of games of “Twenty-One”, also known as “Rochester”, and ‘pickup’ games on Buffalo’s playgrounds and at the William-Esmlie YMCA. I thought attending the camp would not only teach me more about the game, but it would also give me an ‘in’ going into tryouts the next year – something it may have in fact done.

I’ll point out here that my perception of attending the camp as an ‘in’ to get on the Varsity team was a flawed way of thinking. There were several peers who attended the camp and didn’t make the team during those years. For any prospective players or parents reading this, it’s very important for kids with aspirations of playing sports to understand that spots on their school’s roster should be, and must be, earned. Spots on the roster should be awarded based on skills and preparation – not some form of favoritism or partiality – both of which do happen in the real world at workplaces later in life.

I was blessed that my mother and father were able to come up with the $300 to $400 fee to attend the Ken Jones Basketball Camp, as not all of my peers could afford to go. Keep in mind that I went three of my four years in high school – again a blessing. Also keep in mind that there were several local camps in and around the city of Buffalo which I didn’t know much about; which in hindsight, I also wish I had attended. Later in life I learned that no matter what your craft is, learning from multiple teachers only makes you stronger and more formidable. Each year the Buffalo News actually advertised all of the area camps, and neither I, nor anyone in my immediate family ecosystem at the time, knew to look for them.

At this point I’ll distinguish between the two types of camps and if I’ve misspoken here, please do leave a comment below this blog post. According to what I’ve learned, there were two types of basketball camps; ‘Teaching’ camps which were designed to impart the fundamentals of the game, and also what I’ll call ‘All-Star’ camps – showcases for the nation’s top talent. These included the: Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and ABCD camps. These camps drew your future Division I and NBA talent. The documentary Hoop Dreams shows a snippet of the Nike Camp in the early 1990s where in that particular year, players like Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, and Alan Henderson attended. They were scouted by high-level college coaches like P.J. Carlissimo, Mike Kryzewski, John Chaney, Kevin O’Neil and others.

The Ken Jones Basketball Camp was a ‘teaching’ camp. In the early 1990s it was held at Hamilton College in north-central New York State. It drew kids from all over the state – some from the Buffalo area, and many from the Rochester area where Coach Jones used to coach before moving to Buffalo. There were also kids from the middle of the state and the Hudson River Valley. That was true for the coaches on staff too. Coach Jones had an entire lineup of coaches he’d either coached with, coached against, or in many cases had simply befriended along the way. In a way they were like a group of ‘Mob Bosses’ like in the movie Casino. Instead of organized crime though, they were all passionate about basketball. You could hear and feel it in the workshops they taught in addition to how they coached us.

“It’s a season of basketball in a session,” was one of the other signature quote from the camp’s brochure and it was true. It was one week packed with: workshops, drills, and competition. I’d never seen anything like it before. Towards the end of the camp there was a ‘playoff’ for each age group and an All-Star game for the camp’s best players. It was literally like a basketball boot camp. We had to be up at 6-7 am for calisthenics and stretching, and then breakfast to start our day full of games and drills/workshops. We were also supposed to be in bed at a certain hour each night. As promised, our muscles and joints were aching by Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was a very ‘organized’ style of basketball they taught us there – very different than the ‘street-style’ we played in Buffalo which involved mostly, “going up strong to the ‘hole’,” and usually watching your teammates dominate the ball on offense while everyone else stood around watching – ‘isolation’ basketball. As I was going into the camp looking to become a much better offensive player, I was very much surprised by the amount of time we spent on defensive principles and fundamentals.

I also noticed that some of the other kids my age were much more developed than I was in terms of their offensive skill sets and their overall ‘basketball-IQs’ – their basic knowledge of the game allowing them to know what plays to make offensively and defensively – instinctually in some instances. One teammate from my first year at the camp who was from Palmyra-Macedon (Pal-Mac) High School in the Rochester area stands out to me. We were the same age and similar height, but he had already developed a reliable 15-foot jump shot – something I hadn’t developed at that point as no one had emphasized it back home.

Interestingly, the best basketball I ever played was probably at that camp my second year. I think it was largely due to the players I got to play with. They weren’t selfish, ‘me first’ players. The guards were disciplined and they looked to share the ball. At the camp going into my junior year of high school, I remember regularly touching the ball on my team, and making the All-Star game at the end.

What I’m going to say next is probably the most important part of this piece. I didn’t know how to actually harness what I had learned from the camp, and make myself a better player. That is, I didn’t understand that simply going to the camp by itself wouldn’t make methe best player I could be.

Afterwards, it would take hours and hours perfecting those fundamentals, and then learning how to use them in actual competition. This is the actual “development” – something that takes time, focus and commitment. When I look back on those years, I also realize that I was also developing on my own. In a game like basketball, if you want to play at the highest levels, you have to not only develop yourself personally, but you also have to figure out how to coalesce and build chemistry with the group of players you’re going to be playing with in competition.

What I didn’t understand at the time was how to break out of my ‘comfort zone’. As you might imagine, the majority of the kids at the camp weren’t black, and as an inner-city kid I didn’t know how to blend with kids who didn’t look like me – befriending them and asking them to show me what they knew – also learning about their basketball and life experiences. Making new friends was encouraged, but I just didn’t know how to do it. This was also prior to the cell phones, social media, and the technology we have today, so I didn’t think to try to befriend and stay in contact with the other kids long-term.

Probably the last important principle I didn’t understand was that becoming a great basketball player involved combining the ‘organized’ and ‘street’ styles. The reason I played my best basketball at the camp was because I had become used to playing the ‘organized’ style. A teammate at Hutch-Tech likewise told me later that my game was ‘basic’, meaning that it was very technically sound and very ‘textbook’.

I thought he was picking on me as per usual, but he was right. It turned out that the great and transcendent players at any level could play within an organized team structure, but could also play off of pure instinct when necessary – creating shots for themselves or teammates, or creating key turnovers on defense – again all off of instinct. All of this takes any player time, effort and focus, and it should come from within the individual in order for it to truly bear fruit.

“Damn Anwar. You spent all of that money to go to basketball camp,” a classmate said to me as my junior year season fell apart due to injuries and grades. He was pitying me, and or gloating – I couldn’t tell which at the time. I wasn’t originally going to put this quote into this piece, but it’s a critical aspect of my book project because it underscores how peers view you when you’re setting out to do something of meaning and value. Some are happy for you, while some are waiting for you to fail.

And again, not every family had the money to send their kids to camp which probably created some envy. Some kids wanted to play on the basketball team and didn’t for whatever reason, and you don’t know how they’re viewing you and your opportunities until you yourself are going through a hardship of some sort. This also underscores the importance of having the mental strength I discussed in part three of this series.

And I think I’ll wrap this up here. As I’m working on my book project, all of the things I didn’t know from that time are coming to me – things those in my own immediate familial ecosystem didn’t necessarily know to stress to me at the time – things which the highly successful players are and were taught at those critical stages of their development. This piece is thus highly valuable of young players in those stages. I have a cousin like that right now who thinks she wants to be a basketball player. This piece is very much for players like her who are good on defense for example, but need to develop their offensive games to go to that next level.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four: Life, success, and failure
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional careers and coaching
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences

I originally published this piece in The Edvocate in the summer of 2015 under a slightly different title. When I set out to earn my Ph.D. in Pharmacology, I wasn’t clear on what I was supposed to be getting from my doctoral research besides the degree itself, and hopefully a job at the end of it all. It turned out that in addition to the expertise gained in my thesis project, there were several other important skills that the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology sought to instill in me and my classmates.

These skills – some of which took time and effort to learn are actually very critical in any of the “Biomedical” sciences that I’ve recently written about: Pharmacology, Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism and Inhalation Toxicology, and others. They’re further critical in any of the ‘Basic’ research sciences.  All Ph.D.s are not the same, nor are all Ph.D. programs the same and you may have learned some or all of these skills in yours. The following piece discusses the transferrable skills scientists in the Basic research sciences receive during their training which are very valuable in: Academia, and both the Public and Private sectors.

* * *

July 8, 2015 marked the ten year anniversary of the earning of my Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy degree) in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan. It was a tremendous accomplishment educationally and scientifically for a kid from Buffalo’s eastside. Coming from my community, it had far reaching effects and implications socially that I didn’t understand at the time.

On June 2, 2015, the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology hosted its annual Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day. The event was designed to expose the department’s current students, to the multiple career options available to them following their doctoral and masters level trainings. As a key component of the day, select alumni (myself included) were invited back and asked to discuss their careers and share their experiences.

Going back to Ann Arbor is always like going home. Six of my most of the most meaningful years were spent there learning about science and life. My graduate advisor for example taught me lasting lessons not only about pharmacological research, but also how to be a professional and how to survive in this world. In a lot of ways, he was like a second father.

While I experienced tremendous growth during graduate school earning my degree, some of the most meaningful lessons about my doctoral degree itself took place after leaving Ann Arbor. College towns like Ann Arbor are unique in that the University is a major part of the town’s culture, and as such there is an unusually high concentration of highly educated individuals there. Needless to say every place isn’t like that, and you don’t realize it until you leave.

Once I left, I discovered that my degree touched people in many different ways. I actually wrote a ten part series for the Examiner titled “Pursing a Ph.D”. One part of the series was dedicated to the social implications of the degree, specifically some of my biological father’s words of wisdom.

“I wouldn’t tell people that you’re a doctor when you first meet them. They’re going to expect you to have certain things and look a certain way.” Upon moving to Albany, NY for my Postdoctoral fellowship, my father gave me this stern recommendation. I didn’t understand why he was encouraging me to keep my great accomplishment a secret, but to make a long story short, he was afraid of other people’s expectations, and there was some validity to his fears.

Our society associates the title of doctor with wealth, no matter what kind of doctor the person is. The late Dr. Thomas Stanley, author of the Millionaire Next Door series discussed in his books that being a high-income professional, and the accumulation of wealth don’t directly correlate. Wealth building involves: sound money management skills, financial literacy, and in some cases delayed gratification – components that not all doctors have.

“I wasn’t aware of Dr. Dunbar’s level of education when I met him so I was unable to address him by his proper title,” said a teacher at a Career Day at a local elementary school in late May. I casually revealed to the class that I earned a Ph.D. but didn’t introduce myself as “Dr. Dunbar”. As best I could, I tried to humbly explain to her class of sixth graders that success, in this case earning a doctorate, is a door that swings both ways.

That is, some people will instinctually be happy for you, celebrate your success and look at you with reverence, while others will unfortunately feel threatened and insecure about it and behave as such. This can be relatives, friends, significant others, coworkers, etc. There are numerous stories I could tell about this both good and bad, but there isn’t enough room in this piece.

In any case let’s circle back to the University of Michigan’s Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Career Day. What does having a doctorate in the basic sciences actually mean, and what does it actually empower one to do particularly in the sciences? As the lone government Regulatory Scientist at the Career Day, I interestingly drew the first time slot for the morning speakers.

I had no idea what my peers were going to talk about, but surprisingly most of our talks shared similar core themes. Each of us in our own way, communicated that in addition to becoming experts of our thesis projects, in my case the “Ubiquitination and Proteasomal Degradation of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase”, there were a host of other skills that we had all learned that were applicable to our current careers and other areas, particularly the Public and Private sectors. Among them were:

• Critical thinking/Problem solving skills
• The ability to multi-task, organize and coordinate multiple projects at one time
• The ability to write clearly
• The ability to speak and present clearly
• The ability to work on teams
• The ability to adapt and understand new systems

My classmates had all gone on to do some very impressive things. Each of us worked on research projects in the areas of: Cardiovascular Pharmacology, Receptor Pharmacology, and Drug Metabolism, just to name a few. However after graduation, not everyone had taken the traditional path of becoming tenure-track academic researchers.

Some had gone on to: work in the pharmaceutical industry, start their own companies, become consultants, become academic professors or administrators (at small teaching colleges), or science advocates. Our varying careers spoke in part to our department’s openness to prepare its students for the potential for other careers, in addition to the versatility of the skills that we had acquired. See my Pharmacology blog post to get a feel for just how vast the field is.

In summary, earning any doctorate whether it be in the sciences or the humanities is a tremendous accomplishment. That being said, it’s what one does with the skills they’ve acquired during their thesis research that makes them great, not the degree itself. In the sciences, in addition to mastery of one’s area of expertise there a core set of skills learned. And it is these skills that make that person exceptional no matter which field they go into.

I’m going to end this differently than the original piece by saying that with a simple Google search, the publications I proudly generated during my research days I believe are all still available online for those curious individuals. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four: Life, success and failure

This article was originally the conclusion of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. As described in the opening piece, I’m working on a larger writing project regarding my high school basketball experience and what it taught me about: life, success, and failure. As I’m working on finalizing that project, more ideas are coming to me and so I may add to this series from time to time. Part four discusses some of the valuable lessons basketball taught me about how to be successful in life.  As with all of the posts in this series, this one also falls under my blog’s principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success”.

* * *

Basketball taught me that no matter what you set out to do, it helps to have a mentor who is experienced in your craft of interest. Someone who has been there already, knows all of the tricks of the trade, and the potential pitfalls, and can help guide you in the best possible way towards your goal is invaluable.

“Sometimes kids have to realize when a coach is trying to help them,” Coach Larry Brown said during his unsuccessful stint coaching Carmelo Anthony, Allen IversonStephon Marbury, and some of the other younger NBA stars on the 2004 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. “Kids have to understand the difference between coaching and criticism. There is a big difference.”

One of the most important lessons basketball taught me is that when someone says something to you that may at first seem unpleasant or like they’re attacking you, it’s important to try to figure out where their words are coming from. Are they coming from a place of hurt? Are they coming from a place of genuine concern? Are they coming from a place of trying to help? Trying to figure out where people are coming from, and avoiding ‘Knee Jerk’ reactions can often save a lot of trouble later on for all parties involved. It can also lead to major successes and breakthroughs.

Basketball taught me that you have to know the leaders of your craft. On the court, you have to know who to model your game after to improve your own game. In other arenas you have to know who the leaders of your field are and how they got there. In graduate school, my thesis advisor stayed on me about knowing what was new in our field because it impacted our own research projects – it helped us not to, “reinvent the wheel,” as they say.

Basketball taught me that sometimes you have to lose before you can win. This is a hard concept to fathom, especially when the losing is taking place. In life, however, it’s often important to learn what not to do just as it’s important to learn what to do in key situations. Furthermore, there are usually very important lessons in every loss.

Basketball taught me that there are times in life when you have to go your own way, and leave certain people behind in order to achieve your goal. Examples are friends and relatives who don’t share your interests who can sometimes hold you back from achieving your goal. In other instances, they haven’t been to where you’re trying to go, and may hinder your getting there.

It likewise helps to associate with those who share your interests, and are trying to go where you want to go. If you’re going to be a good basketball player for example, you have to hang around with other basketball players. The same thing goes for learning to invest money, learning how to write, learning how to Salsa dance, pursuing higher education, etc.

In my playing days, it was often stressed to us that, “the game is 95% mental and 5% physical.” This relates to one of the biggest lessons that basketball taught me which is that whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you not only have to be focused on your goal, but you also have to be mentally strong, as there will likely be unexpected obstacles to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Just as on the basketball court, on the way to achieving your goals in the game of life, not only will you have to put in the work to master your craft, but you’ll also have to endure negative people or dream killers – sometimes the people closest to you telling you, “you can’t,” or, “you won’t,” or, “you’re not” – all disempowering words, but comments you’ll face when setting out to accomplish something of value. Many successful people derive motivation from disempowering words and naysayers, while unsuccessful people buckle and fold under such criticisms and doubts. With this being a basketball-themed post, Michael Jordan is probably the best example of this as his critics and doubters regularly served as his main motivators as he memorably described at his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Your attitude determines your altitude,” my high school basketball coach Ken Jones told us regularly. In translation, your approach to a given situation will impact the outcome of that situation. We were fortunate that in addition to trying to lead us to victories, Coach Jones also wanted to develop us into the best people we could be. Likewise, in whichever activity a young person is involved in, the life skills taught are just as important as that particular activity.

This article will be continued in part four of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching

This interview is the second part of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe. In the first part of our interview we discussed his background, and the run he and his teammates went on at Buffalo Traditional High School in the early- to mid-1990s in our city league, the ‘Yale Cup’ and postseason play. In the second part of the interview we discussed his basketball career after Buffalo Traditional – college, the professional level, and now his current experiences coaching in Western New York. The pictures in this post were shared courtesy of Jason himself.

Anwar Dunbar: It’s been documented that academics prevented some Yale Cup players from going to big time Division 1 schools. What kind of student were you at Buffalo Traditional?

Jason Rowe: I was a ‘Merit’ and ‘Honor Roll’ student. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play. My parents instilled education in me from day one. My mother and father were constantly on me about grades. If my grades weren’t above a certain GPA, then I wasn’t allowed to play basketball. My father actually took me off the ‘Modified’ team at Traditional for half the season because my average was an 87% and not a 90% or better. So in no way shape or form would I say that Buffalo Traditional didn’t prepare me. No!!! My parents prepared me and instilled how important my education was.

AD: That’s actually a big deal. I saw that happen to a couple of players at Hutch-Tech. It seems that if your parents don’t set that high standard, you’ll do just enough to stay eligible to play and, in some instances, just walk that line of eligibility as I did in some classes.

When did the colleges start recruiting you? Were you a sophomore or a junior? Or were they looking at you as a freshman?

JR: I was a sophomore and it just blew up out of nowhere. I remember my first two letters were from Duke University and the University of Michigan. They were ‘generics’, but you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t being recruited by Duke and Michigan.

AD: How did it feel?

JR: I thought I was the king of the world. Even though they were questionnaires, these were the guys that were on TV. These were Coach Steve Fisher’s (Michigan) and Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s (Duke) signatures right there so it was a big deal.

AD: Where did you end up going?

JR: Loyola of Maryland.

AD: Why did you choose that school?

JR: It felt like home. I got injured at the ‘ABCD Camp’ and a lot of teams didn’t know how serious it was. My back was just ruined. A lot of schools wanted me to sign ‘late’, but I didn’t want to sign late. My mentality is if you want me, you want me now. I didn’t want to wait for them to figure out if another kid was going to sign. I was second or third on a number of college’s boards, but if you say you want me then I felt like, let’s get this thing done. Let’s figure it out. I wanted to focus on my grades and winning the state championship, so I didn’t want to go the whole season with phone calls and distractions.

AD: So signing late is something colleges want you to do when they’re unsure of your health?

JR: All schools have a list of about five to ten people at your position, and it’s in order of how much they want them. I was two, three, or four on a couple of lists, and I wanted to be their number one. If they wanted me, I wanted to make it happen. I didn’t want to wait for someone else to not sign for them to want me. In my brain, that meant they didn’t want me.

AD: So it’s kind of like dating (laughing).

JR: Exactly (laughing).

AD: What were the biggest adjustments you had to make from playing at Buffalo Traditional to playing on the college level and being away from home?

JR: I had family in Maryland so being away from home wasn’t an issue for me. The biggest issue for me was learning the point guard position because in high school we didn’t have any plays. In college now it was about game management – knowing what’s a ‘good’ shot, knowing what’s a ‘bad’ shot, and how to keep your teammates happy. There were so many things that I was lacking that I had to pick up very fast.

AD: Interesting. So when you were at Buffalo Traditional and an opponent threw up a ‘2-3’ or a ‘3-2’ zone defense against you, how would you all approach that if you didn’t have plays?

JR: We knew what to do whether it was running a ‘Motion’ play or a ‘Pick and Roll’. We felt like we were so talented that we could figure it out anyway. We had athletes, ball handlers, big men, and shooters. We had everything so we could chuck up a shot, and with Adrian, LaVar, and Damien – someone was going to get the rebound (see part one of this interview). We could get a three-pointer if we needed it – enough of us could shoot three-pointers. It was sort of like ‘fool’s gold’ because you could get away with it at the high school level, but at the college level, that’s not how it works.

AD: So in college you had to learn how to play the point guard position from more of an Xs and Os standpoint.

JR: Yes, I had to learn how to play basketball.

AD: Did you play all four years?

JR: I played three and a half. I left halfway through my senior year due to grades.

AD: When I was an undergraduate, I do remember sitting in my dorm room one day and seeing Loyola of Maryland on ESPN, and seeing you suited up in your green and white uniform. What did you major in?

JR: Elementary Education.

AD: Did you just encounter a hard series of classes, or was it just juggling being a Division 1 student-athlete?

JR: There was a lot going on in my personal life and I didn’t know how to handle things.

AD: At any point did you dream of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA)?

JR: Yes, for a very long time. For anyone who plays basketball long enough, that’ s going to be a dream – especially someone who studied it, watched it, and idolized players in the NBA.

AD: In any of your years at Loyola, did you guys make the ‘Big Dance’ (the NCAA’s Men’s College Basketball Tournament)?

JR: The one basketball thing that drives me crazy to this day is not experiencing the Big Dance. Anything else that goes on in basketball is fine, but not playing in the Big Dance drives me insane.

AD: How did you go from playing at Loyola of Maryland to playing professional basketball overseas?

JR: It was through an agency. My college coach gave me a ton of agent letters – dozens and dozens of them and I literally went through all of them, researched them, and figured out which one worked best for me. I literally had an interview process with a couple of agencies and picked an agent that would best help me to further my career overseas and further my basketball career in general.

AD: So you must have done exceptionally well at Loyola for agents to have wanted to sign you.

JR: Prior to my leaving school, I was actually projected late first round and late second round going into my senior year in the NBA Draft. When word gets around, you’ll have agencies calling.

AD: What kind of numbers were you putting up? Were you putting up ‘Triple Doubles’?

JR: I’m trying to remember – my senior year, I was around 25th in the country in scoring, 15th in assists, and 3rd in steals. In my junior year I was 2nd or 3rd in steals, and in my sophomore and senior years it was similar.

AD: What was it like playing professional basketball overseas? Which club or franchise did you play for?

JR: I played in 11 countries for 18 teams. I played 15 years and I don’t regret a thing. It was beautiful.

AD: Wow. So this was all over Europe?

JR: I’m going to try to do it in order. I played in: Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Argentina, France, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, and Morocco.

AD: So you were playing against home-grown European players, as well as players from the United States too? Which names come to mind?

JR: Yes. When I was in Turkey, I played against Allen Iverson. In Italy, I played against Danilo Gallinari and Khalid El-Amin. In France, I played against Hollis Price. C.C. Harrison had a big name. I played against Rudy Fernandez when I was in Spain. Lamar Odom signed to a team in Spain, but he didn’t play that night. Manu Ginobli, Marco Bellinelli – I played against those guys. I played against Troy Bell who I’m still friends with. I played against a lot of people.

AD: I remember you posting a picture of you playing against Allen Iverson, also known as ‘The Answer’ on Facebook. What was it like playing against ‘A.I.’?

JR: There’s two sides to it. There’s the ‘wow-factor’, and there’s the competitive part. The wow-factor lasts about five seconds. I walked on the court and I remember looking at him. He’s not bigger than me – maybe an inch taller. His arms are super long and I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Wow, this was once the best player in the NBA.’ He was for sure one of the best players in the world, and he was no bigger than me. And then it was like, ‘Alright jump ball let’s go.’ It literally happened that fast. You’re in competition mode and you don’t ever want to let your opponent see a weakness. While it was a blessing to be able to share the floor with a Hall of Famer and an icon, the competitiveness kicks in and it’s like, ‘Okay you’ve got to go to work.’

AD: There was always some controversy about whether or not he was 6’.

JR: He’s not 6’ (laughing).

AD: Okay, we’re almost done Jason. One of the common themes in my interviews with some of the former Yale Cup players is wasted and underdeveloped talent. The Buffalo News actually wrote a series of stories on this during your junior year at Buffalo Traditional. With players like you and Damien Foster taking your basketball careers beyond the Yale Cup, what are your thoughts on the challenges of our city league and that era? We didn’t have a solid Junior Varsity program like the suburban and private schools, and most of our ‘league’ games were immediately after school. There were just so many differences between what we had versus the suburban and private schools. Talk about that.

JR: I think that’s a valid argument. Our games at Traditional got moved to 7:30 pm because they were so popular. Being a coach now myself, I do think the development is completely different. I’m in a private school right now – Bishop Timon. The things that I have access to, public schools don’t have access to, and what you said was perfect regarding the development of a Junior Varsity team. Having access to the gym and being able to develop my kids in a particular type of way that public schools don’t have access to – I think it’s unfair, and because of that I think you see the difference between public schools and private schools. One is structured and one doesn’t necessarily have the same structure, because they’re not allowed to do certain things. Because of insurance or whatever the reason is, you see this big difference immediately, and in terms of athletics, I think something needs to be done about that.

AD: Is that something the School Board would have to address?

JR: Yes, because from my understanding, the biggest issue is insurance. That’s what I was told. I’ve always wondered why some schools have access and other schools don’t. It’s unfortunate because for a lot of these kids, athletics is their way out of their toxic situations. So why not have things in place for them to look forward to? If they know that there is an adult or adults who are there in the gym to help develop their minds and bodies to give them a place of peace and tranquility, why not do that? Why not develop these everyday life skills, instead of having these kids with nowhere to go, and no access to anything, and now they’re doing something they don’t need to be doing? I would love to sit in on one of the meetings and get to the bottom of why these things aren’t happening.

AD: I’ve heard you DJ at Dennis Wilson’s Oak Room, but you’re coaching now yourself at Bishop Timon. After your long playing career, how are you enjoying coaching?

JR: I love it. To be honest, coaching wasn’t something I was looking forward to – I just wasn’t into it. I don’t like stress – the yelling and the screaming. I’m actually a calm coach, and my kids think it’s hilarious. I don’t yell and I don’t scream and yet I know how to get my point across without demeaning or belittling the kids. That works for me, and I relate to my kids the best way that I can and it’s working for our team. We’re having huge success this year. I’ve tried to take my experience from playing for four different coaches and meshing everything together to come up with my own coaching style.

AD: So you’re not a ‘yeller’?

JR: No, not at all, and I get that from my mother. I just give the kids a look and they know when I’m serious or something wasn’t done right. I also demonstrate – I get in the practices and in the drills because I think it’s pointless to tell the kids they did something wrong and not show them the right way. That works for me, and now the kid doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I’m very, very hands on.

AD: How are the kids today different from 20 years ago?

JR: I do training as well, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of hardworking kids. I think the era as a whole is more concerned about how people view them as opposed to actually getting into the gym and working. I think kids are worried about rankings and social media ‘likes’. Granted it’s a 20-year difference. We didn’t have a phone to let the world know we were in the gym working out, so their mentality is different because they have access to different things. My kids know that when it’s time for practice and training, they have to shut their phones off. When it’s training time give me an hour, and when it’s practice time, give me two hours. After that you can do you what you want to do, but lock into this and we’re fine.

AD: That’s true. We didn’t have Facebook or YouTube twenty years ago.

JR: In the first week of practice I told the kids, ‘Do not worry about polls. Do not worry about rankings. They don’t mean anything. Polls are just a bunch of people’s opinions of who you are. Being ranked No. 1 in November doesn’t mean we’re state championship material.’

AD: Does that mean when you are at Buffalo Traditional, you guys didn’t look at the Buffalo News weekly ‘News Cage Poll’ to see if you were ranked over Cardinal O’Hara, Burgard or John F. Kennedy?

JR: Of course, but as a retired player, a coach and a trainer, I understand that those don’t mean anything. You still have to go out and perform, and do what you need to do.

AD: Is there a difference between the kids you have at Timon versus what you would have if you coached in the Buffalo Public School system (BPS)?

JR: No. I was doing training and I had BPS kids. What works for me is that I respect them and they respect me. Fortunately, I played basketball a long time and I can help them get to where they want to be in terms of this game. Because of that I’m able to keep their attention for an exceptional amount of time. I’ve gone where they want to go, so if was in the BPS I don’t think it would be a big issue.

AD: Is there anything you would change about your playing days?

JR: I would say not failing out of school, finishing my degree and my senior year at Loyola of Maryland. Otherwise, I enjoyed every single time I stepped onto the basketball court – high school, college, rec-center, international – every good game and bad game – I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of my basketball career.

AD: For youngsters aspiring to play basketball or to achieve any other life goal, what advice would you give them?

JR: Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and take it seriously. Understand that every decision you make affects the next thing that you do. When I left school, it affected me possibly not being drafted which led to me going overseas. And I’m grateful to have gone overseas and to have played in fifteen countries, learned so many things, played against so many people. I was able to accomplish so many things and see the world with a basketball which is something I never thought would happen.

But I didn’t understand the effects of decision making. You’re a kid and you think you’re invincible. You leave school, but you don’t understand how much of a domino effect it is, and how one decision affects everything that you do afterwards. It can alter everything in your life, so my advice to youngsters is to really understand the decisions that you’re making with everything you do in life.

AD: Yes, one injury, a violent crime – anything can change your future. I’m sure you saw ESPN’s 30 for 30 about Benji Wilson’s life. He was the No. 1 high school player in the United States in 1984, was on his way to being a college star and then a professional basketball player. And it was all taken away just like that over a stupid argument with two guys on the street he didn’t know, and who had nothing to lose themselves.

JR: When I was in high school I didn’t go out. When I was at Loyola, I didn’t go out to a club until maybe my junior year. I was afraid of losing my scholarship due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I went to dorm parties, but I didn’t want the club scene. I didn’t want it.

AD: Well Jason, thank you again, and I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your life and playing days. Whether you know it or not, you are royalty, at least as far as I’m concerned. What you guys did at Buffalo Traditional was big and in your successes, you touched a lot of lives – not just at Buffalo Traditional, but also for the rest of us at the other schools – seeing that those types of things could be done and giving everyone else something to shoot for. It was something for the entire area to be proud of – to say that you were there, and that you played against Jason Rowe, Damien Foster, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls (click on the image below to enlarge it).

JR: You just said something very important, which was that we touched lives. At the time you don’t understand that, but that’s why I also said for the youngsters to be mindful of their every decision because you never know who is watching. That was something that I learned later on in my career – to be mindful, to be in the moment, and to appreciate each moment. There is nothing wrong with stepping outside, smelling the air and saying, ‘Thank you.’ Don’t get caught up in getting flashy rings, a Range Rover and all of those things, because all of that can be taken away from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership

This article is the continuation of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. Part three will discuss some of the valuable lessons I learned about people, teamwork, mental toughness, and leadership – all of which have implications for succeeding in any group mission and functioning on a team – key aspects in the workplace and in all relationships.

An important life lesson basketball taught me is that people come and go in and out of your life for any number of reasons. In workplaces, there are always going to be people who are unhappy, distraught and discouraged. They may feel that they’re not being used enough, used properly, or are just being overlooked – sometimes for someone who is favored by management. There are always people who feel passed over for promotions that they just knew that they were qualified for, or entitled to get.

In other instances they may feel that they aren’t being given the chance to succeed. This can lead to frustration and even quitting altogether. Once they’ve quit, they may even try to convince you to do the same, but if you’re content where you are, you have to stay and continue to press on in your current station. Malcontents can become cancers that poison their teams. This is something that goes for both platonic and romantic relationships as well.

Regarding teamwork, basketball taught me that the most talented team doesn’t always win, which is always fun to watch when it happens (but not to experience firsthand). When the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship, they weren’t the more talented team. They were an assembly of interchangeable parts that no one else wanted. They were able to put their egos aside, played together unselfishly, and they bought into a common philosophy while the Lakers fought amongst themselves, and allowed their egos to divide them.

Oh, and speaking of selfishness and unselfishness, just as in basketball, it’s a lot more fun to play with unselfish players than it is to play with selfish players. The same goes for coworkers, friends and significant others. When you feel as though someone is willing to share, respects you, and has your best interests at heart, you tend to want to do more for them. When you’re working with someone whose only concern is their own self-interests, it makes for a difficult partnership.

Basketball taught me that whenever you’re setting out to do something of meaning and substance, you have to be mentally strong as you’ll have to endure criticism and doubt – often from people who are on the sidelines watching. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t doing anything themselves. Sometimes they wish they were doing what it is you’re doing. In some cases they wish they had the opportunity to do what you’re doing. Whate9ver the case, mental strength allows you to keep going through it all.

Basketball taught me that, being a part of a distinct and visible group (like the basketball team) will put a bullseye on your back, and people will ‘gun’ for you even if you haven’t done anything to them. Later in life you may become a: Doctor, a Lawyer, a Division Director, a Manager of some sort, the President of the United States, or even just someone with a lot of responsibility. Once you achieve that level, people will inevitably watch and scrutinize your moves and you have to be ready for that.

“The team, the team, the team,” legendary University of Michigan Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler stressed to his team in one of his most famous pre-game speeches. Schembechler was a wise Coach who came to realize that each player was different, and needed to be motivated differently. Basketball likewise taught me that for any team, whether it’s two people or ten, solid leadership is paramount for any long-term and continued success. Strong leadership can be the difference between members of a team coalescing and becoming their best selves, or falling apart into bits and pieces.

Lastly, not every leader leads the same way. That goes for: athletics, government, the corporate world or any other arena in life that requires teamwork. I didn’t understand this aspect of leadership as a teen on my high school basketball team. Then, a couple of years ago I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary titled I Hate Christian Laettner – a story about Duke University’s most storied college basketball player, and arguably the best college basketball player of all time whom few people outside of the Duke fan base liked – his teammates included.

It turned out that Laettner was a bit of bully towards teammates – particularly Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill who resented him at times. There was a method behind his madness though. It was his way of challenging them, making them tougher, and pulling out their best play. Sometimes leaders just want to see how driven and mentally strong you are, and how you’ll respond under pressure. Rising to the test ultimately creates a much, much stronger team.

This article will be continued in part four of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons

This post is the continuation of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. In part two, some of the important life lessons basketball taught me will be discussed. Some of these lessons will come from or be related back to author Charles J. Sykes’s book, 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.

The biggest lesson basketball taught me is rule number one from Mr. Sykes’s book, “Life is not always fair. Get used to it.” The game taught me that even though you can spend hours upon hours dreaming and preparing for a goal of some sort, an unforeseen calamity can come along and snatch away that goal. For me that calamity was an injury, but in the real world it can be anything, and often times it isn’t fair.

Basketball taught me rule number four from Mr. Sykes’s book, “You are not entitled.” Putting in your time at a job or even your degree level does not guarantee you advancement in your career in every case. Coaches and supervisors are usually looking for the most talented person (s) and will usually show favor to that person at the expense of others, regardless of seniority. So it’s always important to put out your best and not expect things because you’ve been there for a while.

Basketball taught me that sometimes other people’s decisions can affect your life for better or for worse. Sometimes people don’t consider the consequences for everyone else when they make decisions and do certain things. Whether it’s a teammate, a relative, a coworker or even a significant other, sometimes decisions are made that adversely affect the team, and its times like that that you realize another difficult life lesson; there are some things in life that you have no control over, but you have to deal with the consequences somehow. This relates right back to the first life lesson.

Rule number ten from Mr. Sykes’s book states that, “Life is actually more like Dodgeball than your gym teacher thinks.” He goes on to state that, “It comes at you quickly; it requires alertness and skill; the outcome is unpredictable; the weak can sometimes overcome the strong; it involves elimination and has both winners and losers.”

Likewise and easily relatable to rule number 10, basketball taught me that not everyone plays fair and many people seek to gain any advantage they can whenever they can, especially when the referee is not looking. The same is true in the adult world. People have different concepts of what is fair and ethical and can surprise you when they do things to you that you wouldn’t do to them on the job and in relationships.

Lastly, basketball taught that hindsight is 20/20. Often when you are in the actual game or life situation, you make decisions and react based upon what you’re seeing and experiencing in that particular moment. However when the game is over, and you have a chance to look back at the film and what you might have done differently, everything looks so much more clear. It’s the exact same way in the game of life.

This article will be continued in part three of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments

One of the key principles of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key pillar of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in the Buffalo Public Schools’ ‘Yale Cup’ high school city basketball league laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.

I’m actually working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On February 2, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Jason Rowe – a Buffalo basketball legend who sits on the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Yale Cup players with the likes of: Trevor Ruffin, Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, Curtis Aiken, Ray Hall and Cliff Robinson. Jason spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of his four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls, his final two before winning it in his senior season. In part, one of this two-part interview, we discuss his background, and his storied playing days at the Buffalo Traditional High School.  The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Jason. I’m working an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience. It was my first major success and failure life lesson. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience on our team at Hutch-Tech gave me the tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.

In my project I also tell the story of the Yale Cup in that era, and you can’t properly tell it without discussing the Buffalo Traditional Bulls as you guys were the premiere program/team. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to some of the other Yale Cup players to gain insight to what it was like playing at Bennett, City Honors, Kensington, Riverside, and others. But to talk to you is like talking to Jordan (laughing).

Jason Rowe: That’s a lot of pressure (laughing), but I’m happy to help out.

AD: Okay, so let’s start. As you know, the Buffalo News wrote extensively about you in the early to mid 1990s. They particularly talked about your father, Jerry, and your Uncle Lester being very influential in your development as a basketball player. At what age did you start playing basketball? Did they put a basketball in your crib as a baby?

JR: It’s funny you should say that because that’s literally the story I was told. When I came home as a baby, there was a basketball hoop on the wall in my crib and my father used to pick me up and have me dunk the basketball as a kid.

AD: Was your father a basketball player?

JR: Yes. He played locally, but he didn’t pursue it at a higher level. My uncle and I were the ones who were fortunate to go on to play in college, and to make some money from it.

AD: So you would describe your upbringing as being similar to that of a Stephon Marbury where basketball was literally in your family?

JR: Yes. All of the males in my family – myself, my uncle, my father, and James Rowe my cousin, who was an athlete at Lafayette High School. He played football, basketball, and I believe he ran track too. My brother, Jeremy, played football, basketball, and he ran cross country at Buffalo Traditional. My whole family was athletic.

AD: When you were playing middle school basketball, were you already in camps and clinics?

JR: I went to the University of West Virginia’s basketball camp as a kid. I went to the local camps at Canisius and the University at Buffalo. I was actually at Georgia Tech’s camp the moment Kenny Anderson got drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA). As a kid I was a huge Kenny Anderson fan, and that’s why I wore number 12 in high school.

AD: Were there any other college and professional players that you looked up to?

JR: Jordan, Isiah and Magic were the guys that I idolized in the NBA. In college I looked up to Kenny Anderson, Jason Kidd and Chris Jackson. Locally, I looked up to my uncle, Trevor Ruffin, and Ritchie Campbell. I looked at them and felt like I could do something. They were guys I could watch every day in a ‘hands on’ type of way. Trevor grew up across the street from me and he was like a ‘big brother’. He played at the University of Hawaii and he went on to the NBA, but I didn’t look at him that way. This was the guy who, when he was in the NBA, would pick me up to go work out with him. We had that type of relationship where he was my big brother, and I was going in the house and watching TV with him.

AD: Were you familiar with some of the other Yale Cup and Section VI stars who came before you like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

JR: I grew up watching those guys so I idolized Ritchie, Nigel Bostic, and Marcus Whitfield. I vaguely remember Ray Hall. My experience with him was in the summer leagues. But as far as the big name guys who were in the Yale Cup, I knew them because my cousin, James, was eight years older than me. So he grew up in that era and took me to those games because he played at Lafayette. I was able to get my experience watching those games as well.

AD: Did anyone in your circle talk about Christian Laettner?

JR: I heard stories about Laettner, but I wasn’t around him that much. I was at that infamous game between Nichols and South Park where the fight broke out, but I was too young to remember it.

AD: Being at Traditional for middle school, what made you decide to stay for high school? Is that just what the students did there?

JR: I wanted to have my own name. Traditional was home for me. They had some success leading up to that time and I knew everyone on their team. I wanted to be a part of that, so for me it didn’t make sense to go anywhere else.

AD: Yes, every year Coach Joe Cardinal’s teams were making deep runs in postseason play – a couple of times to the State Tournament. Did you and Damien Foster plan to attend Buffalo Traditional together, or was it a random decision?

JR: We grew up in the Masten ‘Boys Club’. The basketball circle is very small. We became friends and started playing there together. I want to say that he was going to go to McKinley first, but he decided to come to Traditional and it definitely worked out for everyone involved.

AD: For me, you guys came out of nowhere. I wasn’t in the ‘basketball circle’ you described, and I didn’t know who you guys were. Thus, the first time I saw you play was when you guys came to play us at Hutch-Tech in January 1993 and smacked us 96-73. It was right after Cameron Calvin died, and it coincided with the University of Michigan’s storied ‘Fab Five’. We had an all upperclassmen starting lineup and getting routed by you guys like that was a backbreaking loss for the players and our coach. I watched it all unfold on the bench due to an injury, and I even looked at the tape numerous times afterwards in awe. Play after play, you guys just made it look easy. Many freshmen are scared in Varsity competition, but you guys looked so fearless. What was your mentality as a freshman?

JR: It’s funny that you mentioned Michigan’s ‘Fab Five’. If you pull up the videos and pictures of us at Buffalo Traditional, we mimicked the Fab Five – the big shorts and the black socks. My mentality personally was to be the best ballplayer I could be. I grew up around Trevor Ruffin and my uncle so inside the home, the pressure to succeed was one of the things that drove me personally. I was fortunate enough to have that basketball success around me – my big brother was an NBA player, and my uncle was a legend who played Division 1 basketball and then overseas. So when you walked into that house you had to bring something to the table. You can’t just sit there and say, ‘I had 10 points today.’ You had to win convincingly and put up some numbers. As a team and as freshmen we were happy to compete and do well, but I don’t think we knew how good we would become and the success we would have. You’re 14 years old and you want to win, but you don’t really understand how far it can take you.

AD: I imagine you guys caught a lot of teams like that. Riverside won the Yale Cup the year before, and if I recall you all beat them. You had two seniors on that team, Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra, along with you younger guys. How did you guys blend it all together?

JR: I was in the school so I was familiar with Andre and Jeff already. They were instrumental in our success my freshman year. Jeff was our shooter, and Andre was like our ‘Draymond Green’ – he was undersized, but he could do a little bit of everything. They were very good leaders.

What also helped us was that a lot of us played together outside of Buffalo Traditional. We were always at the Boys Club – myself, Damien, Damone White, who unfortunately has passed away – we were always together playing. It’s kind of like we weren’t surprised because we knew how each other played and our mentality. No one else really knew. We knew how to compete, we just didn’t know we were going to knock off so many teams and make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to win.

AD: As you know, whenever you experience a high level of success, you’re going to have critics as well. I’m sure you guys heard similar chatter, but one of my teammates at Hutch-Tech once told me about how your Coach, Joe Cardinal, would just go into his office and read the newspaper while you guys played ‘pickup’ basketball during practice every day (laughing). What was the Traditional team like? Was it a thing where Coach Cardinal just put the ball in your hands and let you go or was there more to it?

JR: Coach Cardinal was very honest when he would say, ‘I’m a gym teacher, and I don’t know much about basketball in terms of coaching.’ Because he was so open and honest, and didn’t try to hide that, it actually made us closer. He wasn’t lying and trying to be something he wasn’t. He was the most personable coach I ever played for because he had our backs and we knew that. In terms of Xs and Os, no he wasn’t that knowledgeable so it’s no surprise that we didn’t learn certain things.

In tight situations, he would tell us to, ‘run a pick and roll,’ or something very basic – nothing complex. Fortunately for us, we were able to beat a lot of teams by a lot of points, so there weren’t a lot of tight games. When the games were tight I was able to use some of the things my father and uncle taught me.

AD: Were there any other coaches on that staff that made a difference?

JR: Ellis Woods, who was the coach’s best friend. They were cut from the same cloth, and were very open and honest with us about what they did and didn’t know. We would run through a brick wall for both Coach Cardinal and Coach Woods. They could relate to us.

AD: My junior season was cut short due to grades, an injury and not knowing how to deal with adversity, but I kept my eyes on what was happening in postseason play. I remember watching the news at night and seeing your team march all of the way to the Class C “Far West Regional”. You guys beat Starpoint, Newfane, Portville and then top-seeded John F. Kennedy 71-67 to win the Section VI Class C Championship as mostly freshman and sophomores. Some kids never made the sectionals at all, and the core of your team won yours as freshmen and sophomores. What was that ride like?

JR: Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’. We used to say, ‘Get to Glen. Get to Glen. You’ve got to get to Glens Falls.’ That’s where the State Championship was held. For some time the Buffalo teams were having a hard time getting past the Rochester teams in the Far West Regional. We wanted to get past Rochester. For us, we had a lot of confidence because we played against the top notch competition in Buffalo. We were confident enough to get past Buffalo’s competition and we just had to beat the Rochester teams. It was step by step.

AD: It was the Marion team in your freshman year and the Mynderse team in your sophomore year you faced in the Far West Regional – were they bigger? Were they better?

JR: Everything. I think what we lacked is what they exploited. They had the structure we didn’t have. They were big and physical, and they just outworked us. I cried a lot after those two games. I shed a lot of tears. They were well deserved victories for them.

AD: Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that Mynderse game which was at UB’s Alumni Arena, but I did see the highlights and recognized one of the guys Damien Foster was jawing at after hitting a three-pointer. I played with some of those guys at the ‘Ken Jones Basketball Camp’ – my coach’s camp which a lot of Rochester area players attended. I imagine just seeing the clash of styles must have been amazing.

JR: You had this fast paced team versus this half court, slow it down type of team – two completely different styles of basketball.

AD: Yes, you guys were clearly more athletic and more talented. I imagine they were patiently working the ball on offense, and slowing the game down.

JR: They were physical. I remember them being very physical.

AD: So you guys beat Lyons in your junior year in the Far West Regional 74-71, you willed the Bulls to victory against Mechanicville in the state semifinals 81-72, before matching up against Elton Brand and Peekskill in final game. What was the key to beating Lyons? Had you guys just been there two years and you were ready?

JR: I would say that it was the pain of losing in the Far West Regional those first two years and not being able to get over the hump. We felt like it was our time and we wanted that victory more than anything else in the world. Lyons might have been No. 1 in the state that year too, and for a team that was easily motivated like us, we’d had enough.

AD: Your team went on to suffer a heartbreaking 94-85 loss to Peekskill in a public state final game, and then you graduated veterans Adrian Baugh, LaVar Frasier and Jimmy Birden who were featured in the Buffalo News during the playoffs that season. Was it hard to get back to the State Tournament the next year? Or did you and Damien just not miss a beat?

JR: It was hard in the sense that it’s just not easy getting there period. But in terms of remaining focused and knowing that the State Championship is what we wanted, the mental part wasn’t hard, but the physical part was hard. You have to play 20 games just to get to Glens Falls – that’s just getting there. The game by game process was hard, but the mental aspect wasn’t difficult. When we lost to Peekskill, I remember telling the Buffalo News before I walked off the court, ‘We’ll be back,’ and I meant that.

AD: I imagine all four years were fun, but was there one that stood out above the rest? Was it in your senior year when the team won the Class C State crown 62-48 over Mechanicville, and then the Class C Federation crown 92-71 over Collegiate of New York City?

JR: Yes, that was the year that we won. It was fun, but it was also bitter sweet, because I remember when we won a lot of us were crying tears of joy, but we also understood that it was over – our run was over and that it was our last game together. Our team was very, very close.

AD: As I mentioned earlier, you guys lost the three seniors from your junior year, but you still had a strong supporting cast which included guys like: Damone White, Darcel Williams, Jamar Corbett, and Darnell Beckham.

JR: To me Darcel was our ‘X-factor’. We had a good team. We had guys graduate in different years, but everyone stuck together during that time so we already had that bond and that chemistry. So by the time Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy graduated, the other guys were ready because they already had experienced playing in big games. That’s why, in my senior year, we were just running through teams. It was insane.

AD: You and Damien were talked about synonymously – Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, Jason Rowe and Damien Foster. What was Damien like? Did you guys have to talk about who was going to get the last shot? Who was going to get the majority of the shots? Was your chemistry just natural?

JR: I had two personal goals going into high school; I wanted to get 1,000 assists and I wanted to win the State Championship. So passing the ball – I didn’t have an issue with that, and fortunately for us, we blew so many teams out that it was never an issue regarding who got the last shot. There is no issue when you’re up 10, 20, or 30 points – we won so many games convincingly that we never argued about who was going to get the last shot. Again, I wanted the assist, so on fast breaks I’d throw the ball backwards to set up someone else.

AD: Talk a little bit about the Bennett game in your junior year – the 69-68 thriller where you guys lost to the Tigers. Periodically, I still see guys talking about it on Facebook. Did you overlook them?

JR: We didn’t overlook anyone. It’s hard to overlook teams when you go into their gyms and their teams have pep rallies. We knew every team was gunning for us. We knew that we were going to get everyone’s best shot so we came ready to play every single game. That night Bennett played well. It’s a great game and I actually watch it from time to time. It was a great game.

AD: Were there any other players that you especially look forward to playing?

JR: I liked playing against LaSalle’s Tim Winn, Burgard’s Jeremiah Wilkes, Cardinal O’Hara’s Ryan Cochran, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell. We were all friends. We would play against each other one day and be friends, and then completely hate each other on the court the next time. We were all very, very, very competitive. When you have competitors competing at that high level, it just makes for some great basketball.

AD: In your junior season, the Buffalo News also wrote a piece actually comparing you and Tim Winn as you two were the top two point guards in Western New York. If I recall, he actually hoped to team up with you in Empire State Games at one point. Did your two teams ever match up allowing you to go head to head – Buffalo Traditional vs. LaSalle?

JR: Tim was hurt when we were supposed to play. That was a game everyone was looking forward to, and he had sprained his ankle the week of the game in practice.

In the second part of our interview, Jason and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate. After completing this interview, I realized that there are other historical significances to what we discussed here, beyond the basketball court. Just as the city of Buffalo has changed since the early 1990s, so has its school system. Two schools that were a part of our Yale Cup of the early 1990s no longer exist. One is Kensington High School. The second is Buffalo Traditional High School where Jason played. While the building still sits there on East Ferry Street, it is now the home for the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.

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