The Big East conference has made many strides, both on and off the court since Val Ackerman took over as Commissioner in 2013 and Stu Jackson joined on as Senior Associate Commissioner in 2014. One such advance has been the league’s Freshman Fundamentals Program that started in September 2015 with 39 freshmen from the 10 member school’s men’s basketball teams tripping to New York City for a weekend “to help our incoming men’s basketball players deal with the many demands they will face in the classroom and as high-profile athletes in the BIG EAST Conference,” said Jackson in a release announcing the program last year that was held on September 12th and 13th. The program consisted of speakers and panels, both with industry professionals and former Big East hoop stars.
The first event of the last year’s weekend was run by DeNita Turner, President and CEO of Image Builders, Inc., who discussed various social issues players would have to face and how they could create a positive image of themselves, both on campus among their fellow students and on the court to fans of the school. Another key event of the weekend was a media training session with Dan Broden, the President of Broden Communications, who gave the players some insight and tips for dealing with the media. Another item on the agenda was a panel of former Big East players led by former St. John’s guard and current FS1 analyst Tarik Turner. Turner was joined on last year’s player panel by former Villanova guard Randy Foye, former Georgetown Hoyas Greg Monroe and Patrick Ewing, Jr. Other events were a trip to the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan, a group dinner with a talk from former college and NBA head coach Jim O’Brien, a behind-the-scenes tour of Madison Square Garden, a speech from Commissioner Val Ackerman, a presentation from senior coordinating producer of Fox Sports Steve Scheer and a speech from Tarik Turner wrapped things up.
The league announced on Thursday that the program would be returning for a second year.
“After a successful inaugural program and hearing the positive feedback from our schools, Freshmen Fundamentals has proven to be a good supplement to the ongoing efforts at our BIG EAST institutions to assist student-athletes with strategies they can use during their college years on and off the court and later in their lives.” - Stu Jackson
Just how successful was the first year of Freshman Fundamentals? I asked some players who took part last September whether the program helped them in their first year of college and college basketball and what their favorite parts of the weekend were, in and out of the classroom.
One takeaway from speaking with the players is that they all agreed the inaugural event helped them get ready for their first full year of college and their first season of college basketball in the Big East.
“It was very beneficial, especially to have the guys like Randy Foye and Greg Monroe talking about their experiences,” said DePaul guard Eli Cain. Cain continued, “those guys are where all of us want to be in the NBA.” Cain also informed me that he still has his notebook and notes from the weekend.
There seemed to be a trend from the players I spoke with that their two favorite parts of the “in classroom” portion of the program were hearing from the former players and the presentation by DeNita Turner.
Butler wing Sean McDermott said his favorite part of the program “was meeting with the former Big East players.” McDermott enjoyed that “they gave us an idea of what to expect and what Big East play is like.” Marquette guard Haanif Cheatham agreed, saying “[the first year of school and basketball] was really everything [the former players] said it would be and more. I felt it helped us a lot to have the guys in the NBA right now.” Cheatham added “it prepared myself and the other freshman on our team last year.”
In showing that they listened, I heard consistently from the players I spoke to that a key lesson they took from the panel of former players was that there would be ups and downs in their first seasons in the Big East.
Butler center Nate Fowler said “one of the things that stuck with me from the panelists was that there will definitely be ups and downs along the way, and we need to be prepared to handle those.” Cain remembers that “they told us that there would be a lot of ups and downs but to keep working hard.”
As for the presentation from DeNita Turner, Cain told me “I definitely wrote down almost everything she said in my notebook.” Cain continued, “she was giving us great stuff as young men, how to operate, how to conduct yourself. Everything she was saying I took note of and tried to keep it all in the back of my mind at all times.”
Cheatham agreed with Cain. Cheatham said his favorite part of the program “was the first session with DeNita Turner who talked about life after basketball, life during basketball and what to expect when things are feeling a little tough.”
Outside the classroom, the players told me they enjoyed being around each other, though they all seemed to realize these would be their “enemies” once the season began. One player I talked to spoke about using the opportunity to size up the competition. “Seeing the rest of the freshman class with some of the guys that came in with big reputations, and eyeing up your competition,” was something Cain told me he enjoyed. Cheatham mentioned that he liked “going out to dinner and being around everybody, all the freshman and the committee and staff, just being around those people to listen and talk to them and pick their brain about the game.”
Another thing McDermott took from whole weekend was that “there was a focus on academics throughout almost all of the panels, and that’s important.”
For some of the players, this was their first time in New York City and they enjoyed both being at Madison Square Garden and the trip downtown to see the 9/11 Memorial.
“Getting the behind the scenes tour of Madison Square Garden was a really cool experience,” McDermott said. His teammate Fowler said “this was my first time in New York City, so that was an added bonus to the program itself.” He also described the trip to the 9/11 Memorial as “a really powerful experience.”
It seems safe to call the first year of the Big East’s Freshman Fundamentals Program a success. Year two will be held in New York City this upcoming weekend and about 30 players are expected to be in attendance. Favorite DeNita Turner will be back, as will communications expert Dan Broden. Tarik Turner will again host a panel of former players with this year’s panelists being former Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard, former Georgetown forward Nate Lubick and member of last season’s national champion Villanova team Daniel Ochefu. In addition to leading the panel of former players, Turner will give a speech on life as a Big East student-athlete. There will again be a presentation by Fox Sports This year’s speech by a former head coach will be from current NBA analyst Mike Fratello. The players will also get a behind-the-scenes tour of Madison Square Garden and take a trip to the 9/11 Memorial.