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Go Islanders!

Smoke Show

Man has thrown rocks and things since the beginning of time; even before the discovery of fire.  It’s not possible to pick up a baseball and not want to see how hard we can throw it to another person.  I would guess that’s how the art of pitching was invented. As a kid, like most of us, he talked sports, read the newspaper, listened to the game on the radio, studied players on television, checked box scores, opened packs of baseball cards, memorized statistics and dreamed the dreams little boys dream.  Born with a slingshot right arm and the grit to let it go, the kid can melt a radar gun. He can fill up the strike zone and he has turned into Zeus with a 98 mph fastball. God gave him his baseball arm but his love for sports came from his dad, Albert. “My dad wanted us to play football and pushed us that way, but baseball revved me up,” he said.  Therefore, he became a right-handed gunslinger with a heart three sizes too big. He’s the kind of pitcher who can stop a losing streak or start a winning streak. Now, every trip he makes to the mound for the Islanders becomes a story.

Tom Seaver always said, “The most important pitch is strike one.” You will love the pop of the catcher’s mitt when Aaron Hernandez lets one go, but he will be the first to remind you that he’s learned to be a pitcher first and a hard thrower second.  When he gets ahead in the count, this guy can make you look silly. He throws so hard the ball begins to feel hot. The kid understands that most home runs are thrown, not hit. This fellow’s fastball may be allergic to metal bats, and he can take your soul with his stare.  The man’s not afraid to live in the strike zone and with the way he pitches, one run can feel like a crooked number. Hitters swear his fastball jumps over their bats like in a cartoon, and he just refuses to give up runs. Walking up to home plate with a bat in your hand and Aaron Hernandez on the bump is like bringing a slingshot to a gun fight.  He can throw his fastball through a car wash and not get it wet.

For me, watching a baseball game is less expensive than therapy.  You see, baseball is a teacher. It reveals your heart and soul, and the game tries to reveal it to you.  We can use the game to help others discover themselves. They can use those discoveries to confront anything in their lives.  The game of baseball finds a story for all of us, and this one is his. Every time he toes the rubber, he may do something remarkable.  Aaron has turned into a fan favorite and a pleasure to watch. The kid is a smoke show.

Aaron Alexander Hernandez was born December 2, 1996, to Albert and Kristin Hernandez.  He attended Foy H. Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, and graduated in 2015. Aaron is the second of three brothers, with Albert being his older brother and Andrew the youngest.  I once saw a sign in a locker room that said, “Tradition never graduates.” I immediately thought about Moody High School baseball. When I asked Aaron about what has become known as “Moody Magic,” he responded.  “The best four years of baseball I ever spent in my life were at Moody,” said Aaron. “The friendships I made will last forever. The entire community was always behind us. Playing in front of 4,000 to 5,000 people at the age of 16 has helped me become the baseball player I am today.”  It’s indeed a family affair as Aaron’s parents are always in the stands.

Have you ever noticed how some people just look the part?  Aaron Hernandez looks like a baseball player. Standing 6’ 2” tall and weighing 175 pounds, he’s 21 years old and is classified as a redshirt sophomore.  Aaron did not play in 2017 due to academic issues. Now majoring in communications, Aaron is outgoing, confident, funny, and he’s got winner written all over him.  His teammates call him “AZ” which is derived from the “A” in Aaron and the “Z” from Hernandez. “I’ve been called AZ for as long as I can remember,” said Aaron. Aaron enjoys hanging out with his pals and playing “Fortnite” during his free time.  

His coach, Scott Malone, starts his 11th season with the Islanders and the team is off to one of their best starts.  Malone’s team not only fields the ball well, but they also score runs in bunches.  When I asked Coach about his team’s start, he said, “I wish I could put my finger on it.  I think my guys just like to play. We are a bit more mature now and I think our bunch just got tired of losing.  It’s so much easier to practice and coach them when they want to play.” With quality wins over UC Santa Barbara, Mississippi State and Oklahoma, the Islanders are poised to make a run in the Southland Conference.  When I asked Aaron to describe his coach in one word, his answer was “different.” I smiled. Malone’s team was recently written about in D1 Baseball’s weekly column entitled “Under the Radar.”  

Hernandez has built quite an arsenal in his pitching repertoire.  He has a fine circle change, a cutter and slider, but it’s his fastball that brings the scouts to Chapman Field.  “My out pitch depends on the situation,” exclaimed Aaron. As a freshman, in 2016, Aaron pitched in 20 games, while starting in five.  Aaron threw 39 innings, allowing 41 hits and gave up 31 runs. Aaron struck out 37 and posted a .458 ERA. His win-loss record for the season was 4-4.  This season, Hernandez earned a complete game shutout against Utah Valley State and was highlighted as the D1baseball.com Premier Pitcher of the Southland Conference.  Hernandez struck out 15 while allowing just seven hits, as the Islanders won 6-0. Aaron was also awarded the Perfect Game/Rawling’s Sports Pitcher of the Week Award and placed second in the USA Baseball’s Golden Spike Performance of the Week voting.  As of this writing, The Islanders’ win-loss record stands at 12-8. A tough weekend at home saw Sam Houston State take three from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Hernandez started his fifth game of the 2018 season this past Saturday and took the loss 5-3. AZ gave up four runs off of six hits to the Bearkats and struck out four, to raise his total to 37 K’s for the season, which matches his total for all of the 2016 season.   He has yet to give up a home run.

Interestingly, AZ chose to wear #17 after watching a quarterback named Ryan Duke lead the Wildcats of Calallen High School, when AZ was a kid.  Aaron’s favorite professional baseball team is the Los Angeles Angels, because he played for a team called the Angels in Little League. He follows Mike Trout, and his favorite pitcher is also an Angel by the name of Garrett Richards.  Hernandez’s goal after college is to pitch professionally in the Major Leagues.

The Islanders will host the Texas A&M Aggies on Tuesday, March 27th at Whataburger Field, and then welcome the University of Texas on April 3rd.  So, grab a ticket and check out Islanders baseball.  With players like Aaron Hernandez, the sky is the limit.


                              Andy Purvis

                      www.purvisbooks.com



Green Light

Nothing quite captures the imagination like a made 3-point shot with the game on the line.  There is a rhythm to shooting well, especially from distance. It’s like reading poetry. Players like her give their team the greatest gift possible, hope.  The basketball becomes alive in her hands and this kid can shoot it from the dressing room.

Magic Johnson once said, “The great ones eat pressure for breakfast.”  He may have been talking about players like her. At game time, she can be as calm as a jar of peanut butter.  She may have something besides blood running through her veins. Growing up, she polished her game in gyms all over the city of Houston.  She’s a sharp-shooting guard who wears #15. Her jump shot is as smooth as a glass of warm milk, and when she gets dialed in from the 3-point line, you can forget about it.  She can light up a scoreboard faster than a cash register during a department store sale. Her middle name should be “bombs away.” You see, shooting 3’s is her jam, and everybody in the building knows who’s getting the ball.  Brittany Mbamalu may be the best clutch shooter you have ever seen, and her 3-point shot should be outlawed in at least three states. I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but for me, she never played like a freshman.

There are always a small number of players who have that little something extra in terms of drive when they go out on the floor to compete.  I have always believed in the notion of gold dust, of there being something innate in a person that could not easily be defined, something that propels a person onward and keeps them fighting, no matter what, until the bitter end. Brittany plays like time is running out and to a certain extent, it’s true.  She understands that athletes only have a limited, brutally narrow time to do what they do at the highest level. It doesn’t happen in any other profession. You can be a doctor, lawyer or a car salesman for 50 years. Unlike other professions, one of the cruelest ironies is that the smarter the athlete becomes about what they do, it is in direct contrast to the erosion of their abilities to do it.

I’ve always thought that good coaching is not about what you say; it’s about having kids willing to do what you ask.  Smiling has not been all that difficult during Brittany Mbamalu tenure with the Lady Islanders. She is truly at home on the basketball court, and her 3-point shots fall like raindrops inside the Dugan Wellness Center Gym.  Actor Ice Cube would describe the Lady Islanders’ practices like this: “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” It was about competing. When you’re talking to Lady Islanders’ Head Coach Royce Chadwick and you mention Brittany, his face lights up and he looks off into space and smiles. “She has worn out more nets than any kid I’ve ever had,” exclaimed Chadwick.  “She’s always got the green light as far as I’m concerned.” Sometimes when you’re putting a puzzle together you don’t need all the pieces to see the big picture. Chadwick knew early on he had stumbled onto a gold mine. “She’s a gym rat. She’s in there shooting all the time,” said Chadwick. “I’ve had the campus police tell me they had run her out in the middle of the night.”

Brittany Mbamalu was born in Houston, Texas, on March 10, 1995.  She is the youngest of five. Her mother Helen is a nurse and the lion of her soul.  Brittany’s older brother, Bryant, played college basketball for Louisiana-Lafayette and now plays overseas for the Nigerian National team.  Brittany led her Dulles High School basketball team in every offensive category her senior year. She was chosen to play in the Houston Area 5A All-Star Game.  Brittany posted seven 30+ games and earned 23 5A District MVP honors. She still holds the Dulles High School record for 3’s made per game (3.3) and for the season (115).  She graduated in 2013.

As a freshman at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, during the 2013-2014 season, Brittany set a new Islanders record of 81 three-point shots made in a single season.  She scored 292 points that season, while averaging 9.7 points per game. Her sophomore season would not be as kind, as she missed the entire year with a knee injury.  Her return during the 2015-2016 season would find her rejuvenated. She knocked down 74 three-point shots, scored 278 points and averaged 9.6 points per game. The team finished 9-20 and Brittany was an All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention.  During the 2016-2017 season, Brittany recorded 55 three-point shots made and scored 260 points for the season. She led the Lady Islanders to their first Southland Conference Tournament Semifinals appearance since 2011.

I asked the digital voice of Islanders’ Women Basketball, Doug Kesterson, to describe Brittany Mbamalu using just one word.  I realize it was an unfair question. He thought for a minute and responded, “driven.” Then he added “focus.” I believe he was right on both occasions.  Kesterson also offered the following. “When I first started calling the games last year, I was told by people outside the program that she was just a shooter who didn’t play defense.  I found out quickly that wasn’t accurate,” said Kesterson. “I’m allowed to watch practice and attend shoot around. Selfish play isn’t allowed on a Royce Chadwick team. Having said that, I can’t remember her not starting and playing at least 35 minutes a game.  Brittany has embraced her role as the senior leader this year and will defend the opposing team’s point guard for the majority of the game. She never seems to get rattled, and if she makes a bad play, she does not let it bother her for very long.”

I had a chance to speak with Brittany a few days ago.  Smiling when she walked into the room it was like the sun walked in behind her.  How refreshing to meet a young lady as down to earth as she is. She’s intelligent, well-spoken, humble and polite.   No doubt, Brittany also knows a thing or two about toughness. With three knee surgeries behind her, she deserves a purple heart for all the injuries she has received playing the game she loves.  Brittney understands that without struggle, there is no progress.

She earned her degree in Criminal Justice in just three years, while carrying a 3.6 grade point average.  Brittany will also earn her master’s degree in Public Administration this May. She speaks English, Spanish and Igbo (Nigerian) fluently and can communicate in American Sign Language.  Brittany plans to become a lawyer in the future. Away from the game she loves reading, watching basketball on TV and playing 2K video games. Her favorite basketball players are Candice Parker and Allen Iverson.  “Iverson changed the way they play in the NBA,” said Brittany. Most of her teammates refer to her as “Brit” but occasionally you’ll hear her called “Superstar.” When I asked her what the best thing about playing basketball was for her, she answered.  “I love the adrenaline rush you get when you make a shot. I also enjoy when all my teammates come together and we win. Coach Chadwick has taught me a lot of things, and this game has taught me patience.” Brittany is also blessed with something most 23 year-olds know very little about, confidence, commitment and sheer will.  Character is a much more important procession than intelligence, and she knows that having fun is about doing hard things really well. There are no easy nights in conference play.

With their win this past Saturday night on March 3, over Houston Baptist, 73-68, the Lady Islanders finished their regular season with an 18-11 win-loss record.  Brittany has currently scored 1,190 points during her career, including 283 three-point shots. Last November she tied the school record of three-pointers made in a single game with eight.  Brittany is the school’s all-time leader in 3’s made and has made 74 more three-pointers than second-place Nicole Duncan’s 209. Brittany has made 73 three-point shots this season and needs just nine more to break her own single season record of 81.  She is the eighth Lady Islander to reach 1,000 points scored and is currently fifth on the all-time scoring list. With a deep run in the tournament she can move into fourth place all-time. For the season, she dished out a career high 70 assists and averaged 12.4 points per game which ranks her 15th in the Southland.  Mbamalu ranks 13th among all active Division 1 players with 283 career three-pointers.  Brittany was just selected Second Team All-Southwest Conference. Her teammate, Emma Young received All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention. 
 
The 2017-2018 Lady Islanders finished fourth in the conference and now head to the Southland Conference Tournament that starts this Thursday, March 8, in Katy, Texas.  I do hope that Coach Chadwick’s group can pull off their first Southland Conference title. Win or lose, she will now have the green light to start her next career. No doubt, when it’s all said and done, Brittany Mbamalu will be missed.  

I find it quite interesting that during a time where NCAA basketball is under pressure to clean up its act in regards to illegal gifts and payments made to players and coaches, Brittany Mbamalu may be just what the NCAA is all about, a true student-athlete, an example of the way it should be.  

Andy Purvis
Purvisbooks.com



The Art of the Steal

Sitting there, he looks like 200 pounds of trouble.  The man isn’t real big or all that fast. He is just dangerous.  He is so soft-spoken only five guys on his team know which three languages he speaks.  One of the best things about sports is the characters the game produces. You see, we can’t see inside someone’s chest.  Just because you know one thing about a person doesn’t mean you know everything about them. You can’t buy time, tradition, rituals or memories.  You can’t buy kindness. These are things that cannot be bought, but they can be found in a good home. This guy lives life like it’s the 15th round and he is behind on points, yet I’ve never met a nicer man.  He can read defenses better than stop signs and has a PhD in stealing basketballs.  This guy understands that when you play hard and give it everything you’ve got, two things can happen:  winning and learning.

Ehab Amin is a maniac on the floor.  His teammates call him “Easy E.” Maybe that’s because he makes the game look so easy.  He owns great hand-to-eye coordination and is highly intelligent. His hands are like water, so fluid, and he can throw a bounce pass through a hurricane.  He may have three or four arms, depending on who you are speaking with. The man moves faster than bad news, and he has never met a jump shot he didn’t like.  With Ehab on your team, the impossible becomes possible. But what makes him different is his love for playing defense. “When I started playing basketball, I found out I could take the ball from the other guys and score,” said Amin.   The guy has mad skills and handles the ball like it’s a bubble. If he were Robin Hood in tennis shoes, he could steal everything on the court. Make no mistake; he’s a thief all right. If you are bringing the ball up the court and Ehab Amin is waiting for you, you are in trouble.  Because you know it is as much his ball as it was yours. Amin can steal the basketball and all the gold out of your teeth. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Going to an Islanders’ game and not watching Ehab Amin would be like climbing to the top of the Empire State building and not looking down.  He led the nation in Division-1 basketball last year, with 124 steals. It was like he was playing with a four-leaf clover tucked in his sock.

Ehab Mohamed Mohamed Amin was born by the sea in Alexandria, Egypt, on August 1, 1995.  Both his mom and dad love sports and have a background in the medical field. Ehab grew up with two brothers and he loved playing soccer, basketball and swimming.  “Everybody is super passionate about soccer in Egypt, but I was always better at basketball,” said Amin. “The game is played much different back home. The emphases on fundamentals are taught early on and no one is surprised to see the “bigs” shoot 3’s.”    

When asked about his uncanny ability to take away the basketball, he offered this take.  “Since the age of six, I’ve always been good at stealing the basketball from others,” said Amin.  “I like playing defense, on the ball and off the ball. And like shooting three-pointers, I practice taking the ball away from my teammates.  A big part of my success comes from anticipation, the help of my teammates and scouting. The defensive positions we are placed in by our coaches also plays a big part.  I do have to admit, I’m a risk taker,” he said with a smile, “and sometimes it gets me in trouble.”

No doubt Ehab is blessed with instinct.  It’s as if he knows what the opposition is going to do ahead of time.  In Egypt, there are no sports teams in the school systems. You have to join a club team to participate in any sports.  Ehab attended Riada American School in Alexandria and graduated in 2013. He joined the Alexandria Sporting Club at the age of six.  Ehab has been very successful in his travels. In 2011, he won the Fiba African Under 16 MVP Award. In 2012, at the age of 17, Ehab was selected the African Youth Player-of-the-Year.  In the last five years, he has played basketball in over 17 different countries. In 2013, he was recruited by St. Johns Military Academy, located in Wisconsin. St. Johns is a private prep school.  He was then recruited by the Islanders for the 2014-15 season. Last year, Amin averaged 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Amin was included on the 2017 Southland Conference All-Defensive Team.  He was also selected to the 2017 CollegeInsider.com All-Tournament Team. Ehab collected 3.4 steals per contest, while leading NCAA Divison-1 basketball with a total of 124 steals. That brings his total to 218 steals in three years.
   
Several weeks before the 2017 season started, Amin injured his right hip.  He needed surgery to remove a bone spur and mend some damaged cartilage. The surgery was performed successfully on October 10, and Ehab qualified to be red-shirted for season.   At our meeting, Ehab had tossed aside his crutches and is now participating in physical therapy every day along with hydro works. He hopes to be back at full strength by May. When asked how he has handled not being able to practice or travel with the team, he answered.  “I go to practice but its super tough to stay mentally focused. I want to be out there with the team. So, I focus more on my studies.” Ehab is trilingual and speaks Arabic, English and French. He is taking four classes this semester and is scheduled to graduate with a degree in General Business, in May.

Make no mistake, Ehab has a funny bone.  Maybe it’s because he rooms with teammates Joe Kilgore and David Bloom.  Ehab chose to wear the #4 to honor his brother, Sherif, who wears the same number.  Like most young men, Ehab enjoys playing video games and watching movies in his spare time.  He also loves to travel and being close to the water. His favorite NBA player is Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs.  When asked where he sees himself in five years, he answered immediately, “Fulfilling my dream and playing in the NBA. I would love to play for Pop (Gregg Popovich), if he’s still coaching,” exclaimed Amin.  

Interestingly, there are several other Egyptians playing college basketball in the U.S.  Anas Mahmoud, a 7-footer who plays center for the University of Louisville, is a friend. Omar El Manasterly just graduated from Jacksonville University in Florida.  Ehab and Omar grew up in the same neighborhood and played on the Egyptian National Team. They all speak with each other quite often.

I enjoyed my time with Ehab and look forward to seeing him play for the Islanders next year.  I reminded him that sometimes when you have someone counting on you, you can find strength you didn’t know you had.  

I asked Ehab, since he had a love for the water, if he would have come to Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, if it had not been located near the ocean.  “Yes!” he said. “I came here to play basketball for Coach Wilson.” It has been said that an athlete will never forget his coach. He may forget his teachers but not his coach and how and what kind of person they were.  I don’t know about you, but I’m an Ehab Amin fan. Go ’Ders!

Andy Purvis
www.purvisbooks.com




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