Thursday, January 22, 2009

Saturday’s Incident A Reminder of Life PC’s Jeff Xavier Is Trying To Escape

Here's a little background information behind the incident where Jeff Xavier's brother walked onto the court at the Providence-Marquette game, via Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal:

PROVIDENCE – I always root for Jeff Xavier.

That’s because I first met him long before he became a Providence College basketball player, and certainly long before he became an unfortunate centerpiece in last Saturday’s night’s bizarre drama when one of his older brothers inexplicably walked onto the court at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after he had been poked in the eye and was in pain on the PC bench. An incident that happened on national television, no less, and has since taken on a life of its own on the Internet.

It was in the spring of 2004, Xavier was an All-State player at St. Raphael in Pawtucket then, and he said something I’ve never forgotten.

“I don’t like the ghetto,” he said that day. “I don’t like anything about it.”

He didn’t like ghetto life because he had grown up in Pawtucket’s Prospect Heights housing project, had grown up one of five kids with a father who was never around and there was never any money. Had grown up in a world where violence and drugs were always there, a childhood world of gunshots and too many kids hanging on too many corners, their futures stopping at next week.

Xavier had survived all that, complete with the scars to prove it. To this day he still has a scar on his right hand and another on the side of his head, the legacy of being jumped once on a Pawtucket playground because some kids thought he was someone else.

Survived despite spending two years in middle school living with a family in Lincoln, because his own family had unraveled.

“When I look back on my life, I don’t know how I came to be the person I am today,” he said that day.

I was thinking of all this Saturday night, of how unfair life can be. How Xavier once had been one of those Rhode Island high school stars who had gone to sleep at night, his head full of dreams about one day playing for the Friars, and how the Friars didn’t want him. And how he had gone to Manhattan for two years, had proven he was a better player than anyone ever thought he could be, and how he had transferred back here, like waking up in the middle of a childhood fantasy.

And then this . . .

He gets poked in the eye in the nationally televised game against Marquette, his brother walks out on the court to confront one of the referees, and everything gets complicated, flashed across the country as one of the big stories of the day.

So there he was in the hallway of the Dunk late Monday night, at the end of what had been an emotional 48 hours. He had spent Saturday night at the hospital, where he had undergone minor surgery on his injured eye. Now he had just finished playing in the win over Cincinnati, even if the original thinking had been that he would have to sit it out. But his eye had been better than expected when he woke up, and he wore goggles during the game, toughing it out.

“Playing here means the world to me,” he said quietly. “They’re going to have to cut the uniform off me.”

That’s the other thing to remember.

Playing for the Friars was the dream, and not just his dream, either. Every game he’s got about 20 relatives that come to watch him, and it’s their dream, too, as if he plays for them as well as for PC.

“You have to understand how we grew up,” he said. “How difficult it was.”

For it wasn’t just the unrelenting poverty and the dysfunction. It also was the little things. Like going to the playground to play a little ball and some guy’s trying to sell you drugs. Like trying to go to school and some older kid is hassling you. The everyday violence, both the reality of it and the promise of it. It was the constant drama of ghetto life.

One of his brothers was shot. He’s seen other family members just trying to get by, just trying to survive in a diminished world where they grew up with few advantages.

“I was always getting jumped as a little kid and my older brothers were always trying to protect me,” he says. “They became overprotective.”

Wasn’t that what happened Saturday night in the Dunk?

He got poked in the eye on a drive to the basket, all but writhing in pain on the bench, and his older brother Jonathan came out on the court to make things right, to protect his little brother.

Wasn’t that his motivation, to protect his little brother, however wrongheaded it turned out to be?

“It was unfortunate,” Xavier said. “I wish it didn’t happen.”

He says this softly, for this there is nothing loud or dramatic about Jeff Xavier. There wasn’t that April afternoon four years ago when I first met him. There isn’t now. Instead, there’s the sense that he’s grounded. He’s been engaged for nearly two years to Marisa Seander. He has come so far from his childhood, living a life that once would have seemed unable to imagine.

Which is why I always root for him.

So it’s understandable Xavier wants to put Saturday night’s drama behind him, not only for his brother but for himself, too. To get back to this senior season of his, in this experience that means the world to him.

To get back to the life he never thought he was going to have, back there when he was growing up in ghetto world he was trying to get away from, the scars of which he carries to this day.

1 comment:

  1. It's great to see a blog of this quality. I learned a lot of new things and I'm looking forward to see more like this. Thank you.