The College of Staten Island’s Tournament of Heroes is more than a basketball competition. Now in its eighth year, the tournament honors the lives of three former College of Staten Island basketball players who were killed during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The program has grown over the years, bringing strong, competitive teams to New York on an invitationonly basis.
This winter, Randolph College’s men’s basketball team made its first appearance in the tournament and left behind a reputation as a team to watch.
“We try to find the highest level of programs we can,” said Tony Petosa, head basketball coach at the College of Staten Island. “Randolph did a great job that weekend. They were tough and gritty and did a super job competing. It’s nice when kids pull together like that.”
Clay Nunley, head basketball coach for the WildCats, was eager for his team to participate in a nationally recognized tournament like the Tournament of Heroes. The added meaning behind this competition made it more important.
“These guys were very young when the terrorist attacks happened,” Nunley said. “Being there and seeing Ground Zero, hearing stories of these people who lost their lives in the attack and the impact that had on those who knew them, gave our athletes greater appreciation. You consider the sacrifices that others have made for us, and it makes you appreciate what you have.”
The trip had an impact on Jason Rutschman ’11. “Coach Nunley is always talking about how it’s a special opportunity to be able to play basketball in college. It’s humbling that you can be on Earth one minute and have everything taken away from you the next.”
A veteran coach and former college basketball standout, Nunley knows that creating a winning team means more than practice and drills. Experiences off the court can enhance a team’s performance and add to students’ experiences as athletes.
“For our students, it was a chance to experience a different setting and a chance to compete in a quality tournament,” Nunley said. “It is good exposure for the College, and it is an opportunity for our students to bond as a group. Our players did what they always do: they handled themselves well, represented the College well, and continued to help our program take steps forward.”
The Randolph team wowed the crowd during its first game with a thrilling comeback in a 67–66 victory over Colby-Sawyer College.
“It was an exciting game,” said Malcolm Nelson ’12. Nelson’s effort during the competition earned him a spot on the “All Tournament Team.” “It was back and forth all night. It was a big game.”
In the next round, the team once again fought its way from behind, but fell just short in a 69–67 loss to Piedmont College.
Though Randolph didn’t win the tournament, team members said they came away with something more valuable.
“Trips like that carry over to your season,” said Cameron Shepherd ’11. “You get to know your teammates better and that helps on the court.”