Jay Kelly – Fighting for redemption

Jason "Jay" Kelly.
Jason “Jay” Kelly.

About a half a mile from Fields Corner train station in Dorchester, there is a beige and green gym surrounded by an array of warehouses. On this Thursday afternoon the only music that can be heard from outside the upstairs entrance, labeled “D.B.C” for Dorchester Boxing Club, are rhythmic Cuban tunes accompanied by the hard breathing of Jason “Jay” Kelly.

Dressed in a grey hoodie and navy-blue track pants, Kelly is alone in the dimly lit boxing club his father began renting about three years ago.

A buzzer goes off every 30 seconds, signaling time left in the practice round. His white and blue sneakers move gracefully as he dances around the red and blue ring at the back of the gym, pretending to trap his future opponent against the ropes.

“I just like the groove, the rhythm,” Kelly says as he cuts through the air with his left jab. But the Irish-American knows the lyrics to each song. Spanish was one of the few classes he excelled in while at Boston Latin high school. The Dorchester-native plans on using it to excite Spanish audiences in future fights.

“Hopefully, one day, when I get big enough and fight in front of other walks of life,” Kelly says.
The fighter’s goal has always been to travel the world and train as one of the best. He sees himself eventually selling out any arena and beating any fighter in the world. Becoming a champion, would mean the prior trials of his parents and his individual failures weren’t for nothing.

“I can beat world title contenders when I can get to that level once I get that experience,” Kelly says. “I believe I have the talent and the ability and the intelligence.”

The 24-year-old has only two professional fights to his name. His upcoming welterweight match against South Boston-native Jimmy LeBlanc (13-25) at the Royale, a Boston nightclub on May 16 will be his first fight in over eight months. But he’s been fighting for the better part of his life.

He left boxing after his last fight to take on a courier job and take on more hours at his family-owned South Boston bar.

Kelly’s comeback fight may not be the competition that he wants but it is a step towards relieving himself of the pressure on his back.

He knows the money his father dumps into the gym would be better spent somewhere else. He knows money would be a second thought if he had stuck with his first career – acting.

But the ring has always provided a path towards legitimacy.

“It’s supposed to be his savior,” says Kelly’s father Danny. “It’s his redemption.”

Round one
Kelly has the skill and fan base to fight some of the nation’s best in sold out arenas like Boston Garden in at least the next four years, according to Artie DePinho, who is promoting Kelly’s upcoming fight. DePinho has promoted for Terrence Crawford, a 28-year-old, who was named Fighter of the Year by ESPN.com.

“Jay’s biggest quality is a fan base, which is extremely important boxing in Boston,” DePinho says.

But Kelly has been used to having a fan base since he was a child. In 1998, four years after his Irish-born father Danny Kelly introduced him to boxing, Kelly was cast in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River to play the child-version of Sean Penn’s character.

St. Williams elementary, now the Cristo Rey high school, even put up a poster of the film in the front of the school building.

“He was the talk of the show for school,” says Julian Del Solar a personal trainer at the Equinox gym in Boston and Kelly’s best friend since grade school.

He was also the pride of the family. Danny remembers being in awe as he watched his son transition seamlessly from playing with the other child-actors to acting terrified as soon as Eastwood said “action.”

“First [audition tape] Eastwood looked at [what] was his and he said ‘this is perfect, this is the one I want,” Danny says.

But Kelly had no aspirations to be a Hollywood star at such a young age. He had never even been in a school play. The only reason he got involved was because scouts were recruiting in Dorchester youth centers.

Kelly’s had around 100 auditions, but besides a short stint on Showtime’s “The Brotherhood” and a United Way commercial, he had little success.

“I thought that I would get more from it,” Kelly says. “Over the years it didn’t really pan out to what I thought it would be.”

He remembers taking four hour drives to auditions in New York City, only to be met with rejection after rejection. By the time he was 18, he realized his acting career had already faded with directors looking to cast child actors to save money.

But boxing had always been consistent. Danny says after taking his three sons to a fight when he was 7-years-old, Kelly was the only one who truly stuck with it.

As a child, he would stay up late to watch every fight on television. When he got older, he studied boxing clips on YouTube more than his schoolbooks.

By the time he was in high school, he was sparring against much older opponents in various gyms in South Boston and Quincy. The teenager had developed power that allowed him to hold his own against much older opponents.

“It was kind of my prime so I kind of had a false sense of security and sense of invincibility,” Kelly says.

At a young age, he lacked discipline and was no more than an amateur-level boxer.

“I didn’t take it seriously at all,” Kelly says. “I was out partying and everything like that. Boxing was just a labor of love for me.”

He was arrested for drinking and smoking marijuana during his time in high school but never saw a court date or any served time.

Kelly’s grades declined at the prestigious Boston Latin high school, which requires potential students to take an entry exam. He transferred to the Fenway high school, mainly because Del Solar was there.

By the time Kelly graduated in 2009, he says his GPA was just in the high 1.0s. He figured he could get a solid career out of the NAVY and did very well on the aptitude test. The test projected he would not serve in combat but rather be a mass communicator, which writes stories about the NAVY experience.

Plans changed again when the 18-year-old Kelly decided to visit Del Solar at his school, the University of New Hampshire. While in a bar, another guy was heckling the two and Kelly, never one to back down from a fight, knocked him out and was arrested. He served no time but his plan of going to the NAVY was derailed.

But his father, Danny, luckily had a friend at the Boston Sports Club in the Fenway area so Kelly started training people as a certified trainer in February of 2010. He finally found his niche: he could still box while making money.

It only took a month for another knock down.

Kelly went out to watch one of his friend’s boxing matches at the Police Athletic League in South Boston and drank a bit too much for it. He didn’t expect to see a rival in the streets outside of the fight.

Kelly says the tension with Sean Provenzano began just a couple weeks prior when he saw the South Boston-native bullying someone outside of his house and intervened.

This time, Provenzano, accompanied by friends, asked Kelly if he wanted to walk around the corner. A drunk Kelly, not thinking of the value of his new job, or the fact that he was alone, agreed.
Provenzano pinned Kelly and beat his face against the concrete. His friends held back an emerging crowd so no one would interfere. By the time Kelly was conscious he would need wire wrapped around brackets attached to his teeth to hold his jaw in place.

“I convinced myself that I would never box again,” Kelly says.

His only source of food was through a tube for seven weeks and he lost 20 pounds. His morale and work ethic quickly declined.

“I just kind of lost interest in anything positive and was just off the deep end,” Kelly says.
It didn’t take long for him to quit the job.

“Actually living with the injury and having to adjust in life, that was the worst I’ve ever seen him,” Del Solar says.

The low point was still to come even after his jaw was unwired that summer. Kelly saw a former friend about to get jumped by a group of guys in Toohig Park in Dorchester on a random summer day. Just like he’s always done, he joined the underdog.

It turned into a brawl but Kelly was able to make it home. Later that day, police came by and arrested Kelly in his home, in front of his family.

“They arrested me in the kitchen and took me out of there,” Kelly says. “[My mother] was just worried about the neighbors seeing. She was mortified and so ashamed.”

Kelly did not serve any time. Breda Byrne refused to give comment for this story.

“It might have been part of what snapped me into it,” Kelly says of the arrest. “God willing, it snapped me out of it and into my old self to do some positives.”

Round Two
Slowly Kelly began working out again with his father’s support. He also started to train children from the community in the club.

Danny spends $2000 a month to rent the space for Dorchester Boxing Club, because he wants to see the sport grow among youth in the community but also because he loves seeing his son train children.
Father and son also work at the family-owned “Whitey’s” Bar, in South Boston. But the investment in the gym hasn’t proved to make money.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a burden on him because he’s doing it for me but he knows that I think the money would be better spent better otherwise,” Kelly says.

He can’t dissuade his father from the gym but he can train, in hopes of being a prized fighter.
“For me it’s a monetary thing,” Kelly says. “I want to make money off of it. I love boxing, I love to box but not enough where I’m going to be up there taking huge punches for free.”

Danny realizes the gym is costing him money. He also knows a son in Hollywood would have made the family more money.

“But what can you do? You got to encourage your kid to do what he wants to do,” Danny says.

But Danny realized his son still needed closure if he hoped to move on as a fighter.

“I didn’t think I would box again but my Dad thought I would,” Kelly says. Thanks to him and his belief.”

Round three
Provenzano, sporting black shorts and gear, stood opposite from Kelly in the ring inside Dorchester Armory in 2012. It was his first amateur fight back after the wired-shut jaw kept him out for more than a year.

Provenzano was not a seasoned fighter by any means. Kelly doesn’t even know what he did for a living.

Kelly, in white shorts and a red top, remembers surveying the raucous crowd of 600, and wondering if the fans from South Boston really thought his opponent had a chance. He had fallen far too low to not rise to the occasion.

“You have to get real low and everything to try and bounce back from it and to get back in boxing,” Kelly says. “I just started exercises again and this is just something I know how to do.”

Shortly after the bell rung, Provenzano had already hit Kelly so hard, his head was spinning.

“I’ve boxed all sorts of pro fighters obviously, all sorts of different levels of fighters from different weight classes and no one hit me as hard as this kid does,” Kelly says.

Danny remembers an infuriated, anxious Kelly coming back to the corner after the first round.

“Obviously he wanted to kill the guy,” Danny says. “I freaking wanted to kill him myself.”
Del Solar remembers the second round being close and entertaining as Kelly held the bigger Provenzano at bay with his jabs.

“The first two rounds were pretty entertaining,” Del Solar says. “And the last round just got everybody off their feet.”

Kelly knocked Provenzano out and roared to the electric crowd as the Southie-native hit the floor.

“He just set the tone for what boxing really is,” Del Solar says. “They were too old for street fights so they just kind of squashed the beef in the ring.”

But Kelly didn’t just end an old grudge. He restored pride, not to his family, but to himself.
“I would have had to get out of town definitely,” Kelly says. “But the way it played out it was just so perfect.”

Round Four
After leaving after his second win in the summer of 2014, Kelly knew he wasn’t living the life he wanted.

He quit his courier job and took a trip to California and Colorado this past winter, hoping to clear his head and find out what he truly wanted in life. The only thing he could think of was boxing. In fact, he was soon training in the high altitude.

When he got back, to Dorchester Boxing Club in early March he found joy, once again, training kids in the community.

Kelly trained 8-year-old Stephen O’Malley to the Silver Mittens tournament championship. He has trained Dorchester youth since the gym opened.

“I don’t think I’d like to see Stephen with anybody, at any point, other than Jay,” says O’Malley’s father, also named Stephen.

Currently, Kelly isn’t training as much as he would like to. His trainer Billy Conway, of Dorchester, also works at another South Boston boxing gym. Kelly also still works at Whitey’s bar.

Even though he won both of his fights in first-round knockouts and his upcoming opponent has a weak record, LeBlanc is an experienced fighter. The last time he fought a guy who was 2-0, he knocked him out in the first round.

“I think he’s good but it’s just a matter of time before I hit him,” Kelly says. “With [25] losses, it’s just as soon as I hit his chin.”

He thinks LeBlanc will push him away from his strong side and towards his left, which is why Kelly is relentlessly working on his left jab and hook.

“I hit him with the jab, it will make an effect on the fight,” Kelly says. “Mark my words.”

If LeBlanc gets him on the ropes or even knocks him down, based on Kelly’s past, he should expect to get right back up.

“I don’t want to do nothing but boxing to have some sort of legitimacy,” Kelly says.

The fight is just another step for Kelly to traveling as a seasoned professional and maybe even revving up future foreign crowds with a little Spanish.

Tickets for Jason Kelly’s fight vs. Jimmy LeBlanc are available for $40. The fight will start at 3pm at the Royale.

Zach Auguste: From Boston to Notre Dame and on to the NCAA Tournament

PITTSBURGH – Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste showed off his off-season development with 25 points in a 69-65 win over Northeastern in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Where was the source for that development? In gyms – for multiple sports – throughout the Huskies’ home of Boston.

Auguste, a 6-10 center for the Fighting Irish, has the Greater Boston Area in his blood.
The half Greek junior was born in Cambridge before moving around different parts of Boston and finally settled in Marlborough when he was 7-years-old.

He grew up seeing Harvard, BU, BC and Northeastern play and those are the gyms he works out in in between seasons.

“It was kind of diverse,” Auguste said. “It was pretty much just all of us Boston guys just coming out working hard together.”

Kansas’s Wayne Selden Jr., BC’s Olivier Hanlan, Harvard’s Kyle Casey, BU’s Blaise Mbargorma, joined Auguste in the workouts.

The pick-up games also gave Auguste a preview of Northeastern center Scott Eatherton, who he went toe-to-toe with on Thursday.

“I was pretty confident going in,” Auguste said. “I knew a lot about his game, as well as he knew a lot about mine so we just wanted to go head to head.”

But matching up with future opponents wouldn’t be enough for Auguste to improve from his 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Auguste also needed to improve his physical features and knew boxing could lead to peak conditioning.

“There’s a lot of mental focus in it,” Auguste said. “It helps obviously with my conditioning as well but I think it just uses the best of my ability, where I can just work on all of my physical features.”

So one day this past summer, Auguste, Casey and Selden Jr. walked into Peter Welch’s Gym in South Boston and started training.

“Guys were looking at us like at us like ‘Jeez, you guys are big,” Auguste said. “Other than that everyone was just cool with it.”

And now, even though he broke some Bostonian hearts by sending the Huskies running, Auguste still has the Welch trainers, Marlborough high school coach Illya Nicholas and his East Coast friends and family in his mind as he gets ready to take on Butler tomorrow.

Some of them are thinking of him too.

“It was a very big deal that they reached out,” Auguste said. “I was very blessed to hear from a lot of people back home.”

NCAA Tournament: Scott Eatherton leads Northeastern to near upset of Notre Dame

 

Scott Eatherton will try to lead Northeastern to the NCAAs. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Scott Eatherton will try to lead Northeastern to the NCAAs. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

PITTSBURGH – Scott Eatherton’s last game in a Northeastern jersey ended in a loss, but true Huskies’ fans will forever remember his team’s effort in their second round matchup against third-seed Notre Dame.

‘They left it out on the floor as you would expect in this type of venue, in this type of environment,” coach Bill Coen said after the 69-65 loss. “I just couldn’t be more proud of this group of young men.”

Punch after punch from the Fighting Irish, the Huskies rebounded right up until the final buzzer of the 69-65 game.

In fact, Northeastern dominated Notre Dame on the boards 33-17. But 16 turnovers, compared to Notre Dame’s 7, cost the Huskies when it mattered most.

Eatherton gave the Huskies hope when he tipped in a Walker 3-pointer miss with 33 seconds left to go.

Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton, a Mass-native, didn’t help the cause when he turned over the ball on a homerun attempt on the next inbounds pass.

Stahl came up with the steal, and without timeouts, Northeastern had one more shot to either tie or win.

The Huskies ran a play to get Walker open beyond the arc for the win, but Notre Dame closed in and he swung the ball right to Ford.

Ford dribbled around a Stahl screen but was stripped by perennial guard Jerian Grant. Two free throws on the other end by Zach Auguste (25 points, 5 rebounds) ended the game and Northeastern’s season.

“We gave a great effort,” said Eatherton. “I don’t think that last play is what cost us the game.

“…There was a lot of turnovers, we just fell asleep on some of their actions that we walked through.”

Eatherton fought through foul trouble throughout the game and brought the Huskies on the verge of an old fashion March upset. But he wasn’t alone.

Sophomore point guard T.J. Williams scored seven points and gathered five rebounds after registering no points in the first half. David Walker had 15 points and four rebounds and Ford has nine points with five rebounds.

Senior, co-captain Reggie Spencer gave Northeastern a huge lift off the bench with 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting.

“He’s one of my better friends on the team,” Eatherton said. “I’m sure we’ll be friends for awhile. I’ve never met somebody from Alabama before so I’m sure I’ll always remember him.

“He’s been a great teammate and a great captain.”

Spencer told One-Bid Wonders earlier in the season that his relationship with Eatherton grew after last year’s disappointing season.

The two made a goal to rebound and they succeeded.

The Huskies won a CAA championship and put the dogs from Huntington Avenue in the national spotlight.

And even as he sat at the post-game podium moments after the loss, Eatherton acknowledged that.

“I’ve had a great season,” Eatherton said. “Got to play under coach Coen, got to play with Davie and some great players and I watched them win a [regular season] championship my first year and this year we did too and we almost had an upset so it’s been a great year and a great career.”

Marcquise Reed — up to the challenge for Robert Morris

Marcquise Reed (bottom left) is more than motivated to lead Robert Morris onto the NCAA Tournament court.
Marcquise Reed (bottom left) is more than motivated to lead Robert Morris onto the NCAA Tournament court.

Not too many positives can be drawn from losing by 44 points.

But when Robert Morris got blown out by No. 6 UNC 103-59, in just their second game of the season, one Colonial was able to still impress.

Marcquise Reed scored 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting in just 24 minutes. Reed said the game impressed his coaching staff and led to him averaging 27.4 minutes-per-game in a season that ended with the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year award.

“I was real hyped for the game,” Reed says. “Everybody was just saying you better show out and show the world what you can do.”

Reed’s family and friends who motivated him earlier in the season will be cheering him on when Robert Morris encounters a new challenge: North Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Wednesday.

Reed, a Landover, Md-native has proved he can face challenges.

“It’s a rough, rough neighborhood, Reed says of his hometown. “There’s a lot of talent out there but a lot of people don’t get the offer.”

His adolescence was great preparation for a season of distractions for Roger Morris.
Suspensions and injuries resulted in only two players – Reed and Rodney Pryor – playing in all 33 games for the Colonials.

Reed said his grandparents, parents and all of his coaches consistently told him he was going to make it, even before he averaged 31.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Capitol Christian Academy.
It also helped that he came to the academy ready to play. Reed was already disciplined in the gym by playing football for most of his life. In fact, he originally thought he would make it out of Landover with a football in his hand.

But when he got to high school, he committed himself fully to basketball.

Once immersing himself fully into life on the hardwood, he added to his list of supporters.

Reed said Towson’s Byron Hawkins, a Fort Washington-native guard, has been like his brother since the Maryland days.

“It’s like a brother relationship,” Reed says. “We work out together, we push each other.”

And when Towson was knocked out in the first round of the CAA tournament, Reed said Hawkins still reached out to tell him that he needed to finish the job of putting his hometown on the national stage. “Even though they were out, he said it’s time to put on for back home,” Reed said. “Remember where we come from and try to make a run for the NCAA tournament.”

Max Plansky — The heart behind Northeastern

Born with cerebral palsy, Max Plansky (center) has been the heart behind Northeastern's run to the NCAA Tournament. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics
Born with cerebral palsy, Max Plansky (center) has been the heart behind Northeastern’s run to the NCAA Tournament. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics

If anyone had full confidence the Huskies would win the CAA championship, it was Max Plansky.

Plansky, 16, of Danvers Mass., has been a consistent source of inspiration for Northeastern since signing a national letter of intent in 2013 through Team IMPACT, a program aimed at improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

Plansky has attended every Northeastern practice and home game, even on school days, during his time with the Huskies.

Because his severe cerebral palsy limits his traveling abilities, away games are usually dubious. But Plansky, who long ago predicted Northeastern’s deep run, deserved to be with his teammates when it counted.

“We got to get ready for March,” Plansky told his speech specialist earlier in the season.

Once his father, Michael Plansky, heard the message, he made his son a promise: If Northeastern made the championship round of the CAA tournament, they would find a way to get down to Baltimore.

With the help of the Northeastern coaching staff, Michael would reunite his son with his teammates in the championship, which evidently reunited Northeastern with the NCAA tournament.

The Plan

Even before the early wakeup and the long, uncomfortable drive, Plansky had already provided a spark for Northeastern.

Before the start of the tournament, coach Bill Coen reached out to various alumni of Northeastern basketball requesting they send in a video-recorded bit of advice.

The video included Matt Janning, Chaisson Allen and NBA champion J.J. Barea, all saying what it would take to win a CAA championship. But the message that sent the Huskies’ locker room into a frenzy?

An image of Max Plansky using his computerized speaking device, to say, “Northeastern basketball, I love you guys. I’ll see you at the championship.”

The Huskies were so moved by their teammate’s message, they replied to his recording with their own video.

But getting Plansky to Baltimore is easier said than done.

While the Huskies were resting after a hard-fought win against UNC-Wilmington in the semis, Plansky and his father were waking up at 6 am on Monday morning for a 7-hour trip to Baltimore.

A 7-hour drive isn’t easy for any 16-year-old but not stretching out of his wheelchair for that long would be strenuous for Plansky.

“He just gutted it out,” said Michael. “He was just so excited about it. Every game is like Christmas for him.”

Upon arriving, Michael learned that the family’s parking had already been taken care of at the Royal Farms Arena. In fact, coach Dave McLaughlin was standing in the parking lot waiting for them when they arrived.

The Northeastern assistant coach got credentials for Plansky and his family too – but did it without telling any of the other players.

So when Plansky wheeled into the Northeastern locker room before tip-off of the championship, it gave a tense locker room a pre-game celebration.

“They were doing there pregame stretches and then suddenly it’s ‘Max is here! Max is here,” Michael said.

Plansky stayed in the locker room for pre-game and would return for halftime. Before the game, while Coen went over the game plan with his players, Michael said the coach regular would stop and ask Max if he approved.

“They include him in the true sense of including,” Michael said.

Contagious growth

Plansky has a usual spot during Husky games: at the end of the bench, to the right of personal trainer Art Horne.

It would be no different for the CAA championship. Plansky took ownership of his spot and his role of being positive from start to finish.

“He’s so happy to be there,” said Michael. “It doesn’t matter if things going are good, bad or whatever, he’s got a positive attitude.”

He wasn’t always like that. When Michael, a former player at Fairfield, left a career in coaching, he said Plansky struggled to control his emotions and would have bursts of frustration.

But ever since a Northeastern loss to Harvard earlier this season, he’s noticed a calmer, cooler and collected Plansky.

“That’s 180 degrees from what he used to be,” Michael said.

The growth of his son influenced Michael to found “You’re With Us,” a program aimed at connecting able-bodied college groups with disabled young adults.

If he needs any evidence for how affective the collaboration can be, he only needed turn to the end of Northeastern’s bench during the championship game.

Even when Marcus Thornton and Daniel Dixon led a late rally, cutting the Huskies’ once 20-point lead to single digits, Plansky remained unnerved.

And when the final buzzer sounded and the celebration had begun, Plansky’s teammates made sure he was in the middle of it all.

The 16-year-old was at the center of every victory picture and his team made sure to cut a piece of net just for him.

“He’s been an inspiration to these guys and really a source of compassion,” Coen said in the championship post-game presser. “…I’m so proud of the way our team has accepted him, embraced him and made him feel welcome and special and in return these guys get so much more.”

And Plansky is proud as well. When asked what gives him the most joy about being on the team, he said, “Just being around the guys.”

“It’s just special,” Michael said. “I don’t think I can put a different word on it. That’s become his identity, to remain rock solid. And I can’t see how that doesn’t rub off on other people.”

Seven questions with Max Plansky: Northeastern’s unsung hero

1. Has it hit you yet that your a member of the first championship team for Northeastern since 1991? It hasn’t hit me yet.

2. What does that mean to you?
I am happy for the guys and the coaches and all of their hard work.

3. What was your favorite moment from Monday?
Being part of the post game celebration.

4. In what area have you changed or grown the most since joining Northeastern?
Trying to remain positive no matter what happens.

5. Who would you rather play in the NCAA tournament.. Kentucky, Kansas or Maryland?
Maryland, but don’t let them know.

6. What about attending practices and games gives you the most joy?
Just being around the guys.

7. Any teammates you’re specifically proud of after this season?
All of them.

Cor: An earlier version of this story referred to Michael Plansky’s father as Tim. His name is Michael.

Northeastern basketball’s T.J. Williams and the father who spurred his success

TJwilliams4

The sun has barely been up in Texas and T.J. Williams is already at work – but not on a basketball court. That comes later, when most of his peers are just getting out of bed.

Williams wakes up at 6:30 am to bike down to the Villages of Hidden Lake. He needs ample time to circle the lake twice, a 3-and-a-half mile distance.

On a good day, the future point guard for 14-seed Northeastern basketball, will then ride the hills, pumping on his pedals until he feels his calves burn.

Then it’s time to hit the court. Williams will be early for his team’s morning practice and the last to leave practice after school but he likes it that way.

It’s all he’s known since the third grade.

“You always want to be the first person in the gym and the last person to leave the gym,” says Williams, a sophomore whose Huskies will take on three-seed Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament second round on Thursday, looking back on the training regiment of his childhood. “I know that I would always be the last one to leave.”

When all of his teammates have left, one person joins Williams in the gym. Tim Williams can’t always make it with work but he has been his son’s most consistent coach.

When Williams got his first letter of interest from a college – in eighth grade – his father kept him humble by making him practice twice as hard.

“When I realized he was going to be pretty good, I started working him out every weekend and I would take him to the gym after I got work,” Tim says.

Every day wasn’t easy for the father and son but even when his son lashed out, Tim knew his son would one day understand.

He knew that his son had the potential to be a starting point guard at a Division I school.

SACRIFICE NOW

Tim Williams’ passion has always been basketball but the Louisiana native got his college opportunity on the baseball diamond. After playing at Houston-Tillotson, Tim spent about five years playing in professional softball tournaments.

He still thinks that with the right mentor, his path could have led to a parquet court.

“Had I had somebody to push me, to give me that extra push, there’s no telling where I could have been,” Tim says. “Since I didn’t have that, I wanted to make sure I didn’t shortchange my son.”

Tim saw the signs of potential when his son was assigned to play with fourth graders as a third grader. From there on most vacations were spent traveling as far as San Diego – anything to get Williams into the best basketball camps possible. Weekends were spent in 24-hour fitness.

“Everyday was not a good day between T.J. and myself,” Tim reflects. “There was days he didn’t want to go and he didn’t understand why I was pushing him so hard.”

When Williams’ middle school friends invited him to sleep-overs, he had to decline because he risked missing a morning workout.

“It was very hard,” says Williams. “I didn’t understand some of the things that I was doing was going to get me to where I would want to be later on in life.

“…I was living the basketball life at a young age and it felt like a job to me almost but I didn’t really realize it at the time.”

One might think the pressure would relent when Williams got a letter of interest from Texas A&M in the eighth grade. But Tim knew the letters would stop coming for his undersized son if he let up.

In fact, high school meant it was time for Williams to clamp down more – even if it meant distancing himself from childhood friends.

“There are going to be some people that you’re going to be dealing with and if you’re going to reach the next level, you’re going to have to distance yourself from them,” Tim told his son in high school. “There are things that they’re doing and you’re doing that aren’t the same.

“Your common going and their common going is not the same.”

Soon, T.J. Williams was waking up in the morning to workout by himself. He implemented the hills and the bike riding into the workouts without his father.

Williams’ peak physical condition led to success on the court.

After an injury-plagued junior year, Williams averaged 17 points per game on 48-percent shooting and led Pflugerville to a district championship.

But college is a whole different ball game.

tjwilliams2

UNCOMMON GROWTH

Northeastern Coach Bill Coen says there are three sides to a basketball player’s transition from high school to college; the new home, the added mental load and the higher level of weight training and conditioning.

Williams was more than ready on the latter of the three. After starting high school at 5-foot-6, the point guard entered Northeastern at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds.

“He got his body up on his own by going to the gym and lifting weights so that when he stepped on to Northeastern’s campus, he didn’t look like the same T.J.,” Tim says.

It didn’t take long for Williams to make his presence known in his freshman campaign. After scoring 10 points in a nationally televised 63-56 win against basketball power Georgetown, the guard was promoted to the starting lineup.

“His entire freshman campaign built to his last six weeks where he really, in that point in time, got comfortable with himself, got comfortable with his teammates, got comfortable with the system and got comfortable with the level,” says Coen.

Williams ended the year with averages of 6.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, sufficient enough to earn him a spot on the CAA All-Rookie Team.

The award was a sign that his childhood training — that would make many high school athletes shudder — was for good reason.

When the 2014 season ended, Williams was faced with a decision: go home to see his hometown friends or stay on-campus to workout with the team.

He knew the jump from freshman to sophomore year is crucial for a basketball player. But the lure of seeing your family and high school friends could change any 20-year-old’s mind. As always, his father pushed him to take his training up a notch.

“Some of those same people you went to high school with, they won’t even be a part of your life once you grow up,” Tim says referring to their talk in the summer. “You’re going to lose people along the way. I don’t need you to come home this summer. Stay up there, get an education and work on your game and that’s going to benefit you more.”

It has clearly paid dividends.

Williams finished second on the team in assists (3.2 apg), while averaging 9.7 points, shooting .457 from the field and .346 from behind the arc.

While most of his high school friends were partying on New Year’s Eve, Williams scored a career-high 20 points and had six assists and six rebounds against Richmond.

The performance was enough to get him CAA Player of the Week honors.

“There’s been some great point guards out there from J.J. Barea to Chaisson Allen to Jon Lee and those guys, all different styles, but they all took command of the game,” Coen says of the torch that has been passed down from recent Northeastern point guards. “I think TJ is just taking that edge where when you watch the game, you begin to notice him more.”

Coen and Williams credit part of his growth to the summer workouts. His effort in the off-season even caught the attention of an “old” Northeastern star.

“The way he makes plays for his teammates and gets them shots and he doesn’t give up on the defensive end as well,” says former Husky Joel Smith, now with the Mexican team Ultimas Noticias. “He’s got a big heart for the game and just goes after it.”

But Williams also credits his father’s constant pressure and guidance.

“I can look back and say that’s why I did that because this is why I’m here — I put in all that extra time,” Williams says.

Like any father, Tim is extremely proud of his son’s early success but it didn’t take a Player of the Week award to make that happen. He could sense his son’s growth when T.J. called him in the summer and told him thank you.

“The thing that I’m most proud of is that even when he didn’t believe what I was putting him through was for a reason, I’m most proud of that I had an opportunity for him to tell me he understands,” Tim says of his son. “Everything I was trying to tell him, he understands.”

According to Tim, the extra time on the court was never about the game.

“He’s playing basketball and that’s important right now,” Tim says. “But I want him to be a good person that’s playing basketball rather than a person who’s playing basketball that’s not a good person.”

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Photographs by Sam Perkins

If you enjoyed this story visit our features section for more compelling pieces on the inspiring players who suit up out of the limelight in the shadows of mid-major basketball.

Powered by Quincy Ford, Northeastern punches ticket to NCAA Tournament

Northeastern punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics
Northeastern punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics

BALTIMORE, MD – It didn’t take long for Quincy Ford to find his mother after winning the CAA championship.

The red-shirt junior weaved through the crowd of championship shirts, finding Denise Ford just in front of a pep band blasting victorious anthems.

As the mother and son embraced, the emotions that come with giving a school that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 a bid finally began to hit.

“All the sacrifices she made, just reminds me of the staff, the teammates and all the sacrifices they made,” Ford said after the 72-61 win over William & Mary on Monday. “It was just a great feeling to see her and celebrate with her, as well as the team.”

Ford recorded 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting and four rebounds and in the process, earned the CAA tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

The forward got off to a great start, scoring 15 points in the first half (including 3 of 3 shooting from beyond) and the Huskies went into the break up by 10.

He picked up right where he left off in the second half, nailing his first long range attempt.
Northeastern led William & Mary by as much as 22 in the second half and weathered a late surge led by Daniel Dixon to hold on to the win.

“The X factor was our energy, our togetherness,” coach Bill Coen said. “These guys were on a mission this week.”

Even though Ford was the game’s most outstanding player, players throughout the roster contributed to the win.

Caleb Donnelly, a former Northeastern club basketball standout, had another fine shooting performance, nailing 4-of-6 three-pointers. The undersized Zach Stahl had 10 rebounds to lead the game. Senior captain Scott Eatherton dominated inside with 15 points.

And then there was David Walker, a CAA all-tournament team member, who needed to play well with his fellow guard TJ Williams slowed down by the stomach flu.

Walker had 15 points and four assists, two years after losing in the CAA championship to James Madison.

“I can’t even put it into words,” Walker said as he reflected on the journey. “The emotions after that game, especially for the seniors there in Jon [Lee] and Joel [Smith], I feel like we let them down the most.

“This just goes down in the history and they’re a part of it.”

In fact, Coen made them a part of it. Leading up to the tournament, Coen reached out to former Northeastern players – Matt Janning, J.J. Barea and Chaisson Allen to name a few – and asked them to record video clips saying what it would take to win a championship.

“It had a huge impact because these guys realize they’re a part of something that’s much bigger than this year, much bigger than this team,” Coen said. “They’re part of a program, they’re a part of an outstanding academic University.”

And now every member of that program – the players, the alumni and parents like Denise Ford – are headed to the NCAA tournament.

“We’re going to be ready,” Eatherton said. “We know the season is not over and we’re obviously not going to be picked to be favorites but we don’t want to the season to end so we’re going to work hard all week.”

Daniel Dixon 3-pointer sends William & Mary basketball to finals after 2OT thriller

Daniel Dixon's corner 3-pointer was the difference in William & Mary's double-overtime win over Hofstra in the CAA Tournament Semifinals. Photo Credit: William & Mary Athletics
Daniel Dixon’s corner 3-pointer was the difference in William & Mary’s double-overtime win over Hofstra in the CAA Tournament Semifinals. Photo Credit: William & Mary Athletics

Marcus Thornton and Omar Prewitt each had two of the best individual performances in CAA tournament history on Sunday, but it was selflessness that sent William & Mary basketball on to the CAA championship tomorrow against Northeastern with a 92-91 double-overtime win against Hofstra.

After Hofstra’s Moussa Kone pushed the Pride’s lead to 91-89 with a made free throw, Thornton the ball up the court with eight seconds on the clock in double overtime.

Thornton dribbled left into a Hofstra double team and elevated to make the winner, the same shot he missed last year in the CAA championship loss against Delaware.

Then, just as he hit the peak in his jump, the senior whipped the ball left to a wide-open Daniel Dixon for a corner three.

“That’s what great players do – when you need them, they’re there,” Shaver said. “It’s a big step for Marcus, trusting his teammates.”

While Thornton was on his way to scoring 37 points, a CAA tournament all-time best, and Omar Prewitt torched for 33 points, Dixon had fallen behind the scenes in the game.

The game-winning shot was only his second field goal of six attempts on the day.

“I just tried to stay up the whole time for my teammates and be a defensive threat,” Dixon said. “I knew Marcus and Omar were going off so I really trusted them and they basically won us the game.”

Dixon is still recovering from a hamstring injury that sat him out five games towards the end of the season. A double overtime game featuring nine ties and 12 lead changes doesn’t exactly help but the guard persevered.

“What a big play for Daniel Dixon, my gosh, he played on one leg,” Shaver said. “He’s playing on pure guts right now.”

It helps when you have two record-breaking teammates to pick up the slack.

Thornton and Prewitt became the first teammates to record 30-plus points in the same CAA tournament game.

“We’re a team, like I’ve said all year long, all of our guys contribute,” Thornton said.
The Tribe have to turn around and prepare to play a Northeastern team in less than 24 hours.
If Shaver is wondering how team will recover from the fatigue, he only needs to look to Dixon’s performance.

“He just played on heart today,” Shaver said. “He played on heart and soul.”

Caleb Donnelly ices it for Northeastern men’s basketball

Caleb Donnell
Northeastern walk-on Caleb Donnelly. Courtesy photo / Northeastern Athletics

Before this season, Northeastern men’s basketball walk-on Caleb Donnelly had no idea if he was going to see a minute of playing time for the Huskies.

On Sunday, the red-shirt junior sat at the CAA championship press conference after scoring 11 points off the bench in Northeastern’s 78-71 win against UNC-Wilmington.

“It’s a lot easier to go out there when you know all the guys trust you and everyone’s trusting in each other,” Donnelly said after the semifinal win.

The victory sends the Huskies to the CAA championship for the second time in three years.
Scott Eatherton led Northeastern with 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting and five rebounds but the Huskies advantage came from the subs. Northeastern’s bench outscored UNC-W 33-10.

Devon Begley (11 points, 4 of 4 shooting) and Reggie Spencer (11 points, 4 of 6 shooting) joined Donnelly in double figures.

“[Spencer] could start on most teams in our league,” said Eatherton. “He comes to work every night, just like Caleb. I feel like these guys don’t really feel like they’re coming off the bench.
“It’s like they’ve been playing the whole game.”

Just two years ago, the only games for Donnelly came from pickup games in the Marino Center and club basketball games.

On Sunday, Donnelly was the player at the free throw line when it mattered the most, icing the win for the Huskies by hitting 3 of 4 late game free throws.

After red-shirting last year, the New Hampshire-native fought into Coen’s rotation and has become one of Northeastern’s deadliest shooters. Donnelly led the team by drilling 51 percent of his shots from downtown.

Is Coen surprised? Of course not.

“Nothing he does will ever surprise me because he attacks each and everyday,” Coen said. “He gets more out of a 24-hour day than most people get out of a month.”

The performance came days after Donnelly was named one of two recipients of the CAA Dean Ehlers Award, given to a student-athlete who embodies leadership, integrity, sportsmanship and academic achievement.

“There is no higher honor in this league,” Coen said. “It speaks to character, it speaks to commitment, it speaks to excellence and that’s what Caleb Donnelly is all about.”

Quincy Ford puts on show to power Northeastern into semifinals

Quincy Ford
Quincy Ford. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

BALTIMORE, MD – A year prior to Northeastern’s 67-64 win over Delaware in the quarterfinals of the 2015 CAA tournament, Quincy Ford was sidelined in a state of “hopelessness.”

Ford, recovering from season-ending back surgery, had to watch his Huskies get beat by the Blue Hens in the semi-final round of the 2014 tournament from the bench.

“It was extremely frustrating to me. I just kind of felt hopeless not being able to help my teammates out,” said Ford, reflecting after his team’s win on Saturday. “But all the more motivation for this year to come out stronger and better for this team.”
It was worth the wait.

Ford put on an all-around show in Baltimore, scoring 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 5 shooting from behind the arc. The forward only took three minutes to get on the board with an old-fashion 3-point play, giving Northeastern an 8-2 lead.

“There was some jitters in the beginning but by attacking the basket, once the first shot went in, it was game on,” Ford said.

After a Delaware score, Ford came back and nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing. After a Delaware three, Ford hit his second 3-pointer in less than a minute to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead.
By the way Ford balanced scoring and defending Delaware’s best player, freshman guard Kory Holden, it was as if the injury had never happened.

“Quincy’s got the ability to keep guys in front of him and use his length,” Coen said on the forward-guard matchup.

However, Holden kept the game close going into halftime. He had 16 points and Delaware was only down by four going into the break.

Ford, who had 11 at the break, picked up where he left off hitting a 3-pointer less than a minute into the second half. The red-shirt junior was then held without a bucket until the 1:45 mark, when he pushed the lead to 63-60.

But the Florida-native didn’t falter. After all, he got used to relying on his teammates last year.
“Second half, there was a little bit more pressure,” Ford said. “David, who’s a great player stepped up, Zach stepped up, Reggie stepped up, all my teammates stepped up and made plays.

“…I’m a 100 percent team player, all I care about is winning and it was an example tonight,”
David Walker led the Huskies with 17 points, including four late game free throws and a big time rebound, sealing the win.

Walker, a junior, and Ford still have one more year of college eligibility.

But Ford, who entered Northeastern with senior Reggie Spencer, feels the sense of urgency that was missing in 2013.

“This is something we’ve all dreamed of, this is something we’ve worked hard for all summer and the time is now,” Ford said. “We need to get it done.”