NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Steven Siracusa may not have known it at the time, but he very well seems to have earned a trip to Barbados with his play in a game that took place 16 months ago. No, he didn't win a prize pulling off a crazy stunt in some halftime contest. Rather, his play in The College of New Jersey's blowout loss to Gwynedd-Mercy College on November 21, 2008 seems to have impressed Gwynedd coach John Baron enough to have shortlisted the New Providence resident for inclusion on the team that USA Athletes International will send to the Slam Tournament that begins in Barbados in late May. Baron will again coach the team that is comprised completely of Division 3 men's basketball players that will travel to the West Indies for the annual goodwill competition.
Athletes International is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to provide overseas playing opportunities for collegiate athletes, while fostering goodwill between nations and growing the game through clinics that players offer to foreign youths. Siracusa, who just finished his junior season with TCNJ, had never heard of the organization until they contacted him about participating, and believes that the game against Gwynedd may have sparked Baron's interest in him.
Darrell Phipps, the Office Manager for Athletes International, which is based in Olathe, Kansas, emphasized that the event is not merely about the sport. "It's an educational opportunity facilitated by an athletic event," Phipps said. "We expose them to another culture. When [the student-athletes] get home, the thing I hear most from parents is their kids say, 'We saw this, we did this, we ate here.' They have to stop and ask their kids, 'Did you play any games when you were there?'"
Phipps also stressed that the maturity of the student-athlete is a primary determinant in whether he or she will be asked to participate in an Athletes International program. "One of the most important things for us is whether the student-athlete has the character to represent his country," Phipps said. "Will they conduct themselves well on the court and, since most of their time is spent off the court, off the court, as well?"
The opportunity to play with Athletes International in Barbados this spring should add some luster to what turned into a disappointing season for Siracusa and his teammates at TCNJ. Despite a roster that included seven seniors, they finished the season only 13-11. "We had some big expectations, but lost some key games," Siracusa said. "We had our ups and downs this year."
That leaves Siracusa in a unique position insofar as next season is concerned, as he will be the only senior on a young squad that will need to jell quickly if it is to contend for postseason play. Yet, he describes himself as "pretty excited" by the possibilities. He envisions himself in a coaching role after his playing days are over and feels that he can provide on-court leadership that will work to the Lions' advantage. "I'm a lead by example type," Siracusa said. "I'm not one to yell or scream. You do need some enthusiasm, though. I'll need to get our people to work as hard as I do," he said, mentioning off-season conditioning drills and putting in time in the weight room.
Apparently, people have taken notice of his demeanor, if his inclusion on the Athletes International roster is any indication.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the cost of defraying Siracusa's and the team's travel expenses for the Barbados trip is encouraged to send a check to USA Athletes International, 13095 S. Mur-Len Road, Suite 140, Olathe, KS 66062.