The GW men’s basketball team got a pep talk of sorts Monday afternoon from an unusual source: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The team’s players and coaches packed into vans and drove over to the Department of Justice to meet with the attorney general, who told the Colonials that playing Division I basketball is a rare chance that they should cherish while they can.
“This is an opportunity that you’re never going to have again,” he told the players. “Enjoy it. Have fun with it. Don’t take it for granted.”
The meeting was part of the team’s mentoring program in which each student-athlete meets with a successful adult male in the D.C. community. Leroy R. Charles, the GW Medical Center’s assistant vice president for development and government relations, facilitated the meeting, having grown up with Holder in Queens, N.Y. Charles helps coordinate the program, which began under head coach Karl Hobbs’ predecessor Tom Penders, and he also serves as a mentor to sophomore Aaron Ware and junior Joseph Katuka.
The program, which has recently been re-invigorated after a one-year hiatus, has earned praise from the program’s players and coaches alike.
“It’s definitely helping us get on track and be where we need to be as young men,” redshirt junior Travis King said. Basketball is important now, he added, “but education is going to help us in the long run.”
Charles said such a message resonates throughout the mentoring process. Most of the mentors selected to participate come from an athletic background, but have gone on to succeed in other fields, providing an example for a “gameplan for life after basketball,” Charles said.
King was chosen to play a particularly integral role in Monday’s meeting, presenting Holder with a GW basketball shirt and delivering a brief message to the attorney general before bestowing the gift.
“I was definitely thinking in my mind how I was going to say it,” he said, acknowledging he was nervous when first asked to present the shirt. “I think I got it.”
King, who said he was “star-struck” upon shaking Holder’s hand, was not alone in his awe. Before and after their meeting, the team made its way through the Department of Justice slowly, taking photographs of portraits and reading the contents of display cases honoring key figures in American history. Holder shook the hand of each player and coach when he first entered the room, and then took the time to pose for photographs in smaller groups when the meeting had concluded.
Holder emphasized the importance they have as role models and urged them to find a way to be involved in the community. He also urged them to ensure that they plan for success in their lives beyond the basketball court and take advantage of the education they are receiving at GW.
But for all the gravitas of the setting and message, the meeting itself was peppered with humor. During his introduction of Holder, Charles remarked that his old friend “had a nice 15-foot jumpshot off the backboard” during his playing days.
“Twenty,” corrected Holder, drawing laughter from the audience.
The attorney general, who played basketball as a freshman at Columbia, also had a message for the Colonials pertaining to their on-court success. He told them not to worry about what they may read about themselves or the perceived talent of opponents, but to focus on addressing their own weaknesses. Like the best lawyers, he said, the best basketball players are the ones who are prepared.
“The reality is it’s about discipline at the end of the day,” he said.