Pay It Forward

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Flag of United States  , Michigan
Monday, September 24, 2012

Hello everyone,

First off, this is my blog where you can all keep up with me and my mission. I've never written a blog before, so here it goes.  In one week, I will be sitting in Dulles airport in DC in customs to get myself into Rwanda.  From DC, my co-grantee, Isa, and I will fly to Ethiopia, then Uganda, and finally Rwanda.  We will leave on Monday morning and arrive in Rwanda on Tuesday afternoon.  While there, I will be "working" – if you can call it that - as the Sabbatical Grantee of Shooting Touch – a Boston-based non-profit that is simply awesome.  One of the many cool things they do is they send graduating college basketball seniors to a country of their choice to spread the ideals of gender equality, health and fitness, disease prevention, education, and leadership through the sport of basketball. 

In short, here is how I got here, on my couch, watching Sportscenter under a blanket as I soak up the last moments of my time in the United States for a year, and probably my parents house (sorry mom and dad, you can move in with me later on…. Maybe).

Fall 2011 – The Shooting Touch Sabbatical Application is my number one priority outside of basketball - I write 7 essays, get 3 letters of recommendation, fill out the application, and send it in.  I find myself writing notes in my agenda planner about things to talk about in the essay.

Winter 2011 – I found out that I made it into the final 11, and begin working on my video, turn it in, and find out I am in the top 5, and need to gain as many YouTube views on my application video, so I tweet it at Denard Robinson (I still believe in you) and a bunch of other athletes, of whom 1% re-tweet it.  My mom begins to tell me that my dad has developed an obsession over watching the video, and when he walks in the house, he immediately goes to the computer and begins watching.  Peers at Denison tell me that they open up 10 tabs at a time to get my views up (sounds like cheating, but pretty sure every other candidate did this).  I’ve heard my voice on the video as 10 videos go on at once so many times, but everytime it still feels like the twilight zone.

Eventually Justin and Lindsey – my bosses who don’t seem to sleep – call me and tell me myself along with another grantee have won.  I don’t say anything, to the point where they have to ASK me “how do you feel?” and to that, I just reply “holy s***!”… so much for a good first impression.

Cue a facebook status, some newspaper interviews, and a whole lot of shoutouts. At that time, I knew I was going to Rwanda, but I didn’t really know I was GOING going.. if you know what I mean.  

Over the summer, I have been planning the trip, which includes a whole lot of things – buying a plane ticket, getting my shots and immunizations, figuring out how to get equipment over there, running a shoe drive, setting up an additional fundraiser (huge success, thank you to everyone who donated!!), buying supplies, managing the budget, setting up homestays and apartment visits, and staying in contact with Rwanda basketball people and other non-profit leaders in Rwanda. 

Then was the Gala weekend, which was awesome.  Shooting Touch flew me out to Boston to meet the Board of Directors – which includes Kenny Atkinson of the Atlanda Hawks, Wayne Embry, a Hall of Famer, Amadou Gallo Fall of NBA Africa and the SEEDS Academy, Fran Fraschilla, former NCAA coach and current broadcaster with ESPN, Danilo Gallinari, a current player, coach Bob Hurley of the storied St. Anthony’s HS basketball program, Bobby Hurley, Jr., former Duke and NBA player, now coaching at Univ. of Rhode Island, Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe and ESPN’s Around the Horn and many other things,  Pete Philo of the T’Wolves who is a mastermind of international scouting (and just a cool guy to be around), Sam Presti, GM of the Thunder, Jay Triano, an assitant coach for the TrailBlazers and great story-teller, and the JET – Jason Terry of the Celtics.  Also, Justin and Lindsey Kittredge were the, along with the former grantees – Tome and Leah – and a bunch of supporters and just good basketball people.  I also met my co-grantee for the first time, Isa Guzman.  Like myself, she played d-3 ball and wants to change the world, so needless to say, we got along quite well. 

It was hands down the best weekend of my life.  Honestly, I was a little nervous being around all these people that I have seen on TV, but they were really cool and down to earth.  Tome, Leah, Justin, Isa and I had a day of training with to discuss our plans, what they encountered, what worked for them, etc.  We were fortunate enough to hop on a conference call with Amadou Gallo Fall of NBA Africa.  Basically, if you know basketball in Africa, you know the name Amadou Fall, so it was huge to talk to him and get a sense of what is happening basketball-wise in Africa. Training was held at Reebok headquarters, which is basically a glass spaceship from the future (all my Denison/NCAC peeps it makes Kenyon’s gym look like OWU’s).  I want to send a big shoutout to them because after talking with them, I felt much more comfortable and prepared to go.  Leah, Tome, Justin, and Lindsey have all stressed this idea of the “Shooting Touch Family,” and I really felt like I was a part of it after the training session.  Later, we – the board of directors and everyone -  all went to a Red Sox game Thursday night, which was pretty awesome. Friday we had dinner and drinks at this restaurant by the bay, and Isa and I met some more people.

Saturday was the gala, where a bunch of cool items were auctioned off to raise money so that future grantees can do what Isa and I are doing.  Coach Ghiloni from Denison University came, and he was like a kid in a candy store, seeing and talking to all this basketball people. We were presented the checks and it was the craziest feeling of my life to stand on stage and receive such a cool award.  It was the most humbling experience of my life. 

Leah presented a video about her experience in the past year, and about half the place teared up.  From her words and her video, and just being around Tome, I knew that this whole program was about creating an environment where people can grow, and then, I was taken back to my dorm room my freshman year at Denison, where I probably wrote the most important paper of my life – more important than any college entrance essay, more important than any essay for Shooting Touch.  The paper, assigned for a sociology class, was to discuss whether one is guided by fate, guided by his/her environment, or guided by you yourself, completely.  This indivisible struggle between fate and controlling one’s own destiny is something we think about everyday.  It was the basis for the Forrest Gump.  Anyways, to cut to the chase, I concluded that I, more than anything, am a product of my environment. 

This opportunity that I have been given is not solely the result of my personal work by any means.  It was something that fell into place because of the work of a bunch of other people.  My parents led me by example to be a social activist.  They showed me that (caution: quote from dad coming) “LIFE/THE WORLD AIN’T PERFECT, CASEY!”.. but you can make it that way if you want.  My family helped foster a passion for sports and people.  Because of my parent’s hard work, I was able to have access to basketball facilities.  I was very lucky to have great coaches who saw the big picture of basketball beyond wins and losses (Coach Rex.. coach Ghiloni – I now understand why you made us stand in the middle of a highway to raise money for the Special Olympics).  I was raised in a community where academics, athletics, and service were stressed (Pioneer/Umich).  I was provided with (even though my family paid their fair share for it) great opportunities to find who I was at Denison, and to be supported by professionals (Mrs. Baker you are the best).  I was able to experience the non-profit world and build my passion for helping others (Dane Martinez and Rich Berlin at Harlem RBI).  I was lucky to have teammates who cared about what I was doing, and re-posted things to twitter and facebook.  There are a million other people and events in my life that have helped build an environment around me where I could achieve more, and I know I am not naming all of them. 

What I am trying to say that, in an effort to say thank you to all those who have helped me on my way, I will not as much try to give something back to you, but rather, in honor of you, “pay it forward” and create an environment where young people can grow.

This was jumbled and all over the place, but hey, it is my first blog post so it can only get better from here.  In the words of the great Leah Westbrooks, I am LTD (living the dream).

Thanks, you will hear from me again soon!


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