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He Wanted to Play Basketball. He Finally Got the Chance.

Good morning. Today we’ll find out about the improbable story of how someone went from playing pickup basketball to being a star at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. We’ll also look at former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to torpedo a state ethics commission.

Last week, Arthur Dukes Jr., a 26-year-old student at LaGuardia Community College, was named player of the year by the City University of New York Athletic Conference. It was a remarkable capstone to a year that had begun with Dukes working as a security guard at a Foot Locker store and playing a pickup game at a Harlem public school. It ended with him reigning as the captain of LaGuardia’s team and as the leading scorer among all players in Division III of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

I asked Katherine Rosman, who covered Dukes’s sudden success, to explain his basketball odyssey.

He went through a lot before he got to LaGuardia and became a star, didn’t he?

His collegiate basketball dreams first got caught up in other things that quashed them. He went first to Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y.

Community college athletics can be a springboard to Division I and Division II schools. But the coach barely played him at all. He had a lackluster freshman showing that was cut short in March 2020 by the pandemic. He moved back home, living with his parents and seven siblings in a two-bedroom apartment.

Then he did a shoot-for-the-moon move and decided he was going to go to the University of Kansas. It has a long history of great basketball, and he got financial aid. He flew out there, the farthest from New York he’d ever been, and after waiting and waiting for walk-on tryouts, he was told that, because of Covid, they were not going to have any.

So there went that dream.

He left after a semester and came back home.

During this time, he started taking Benadryl to help him sleep. He found himself addicted to Benadryl, taking 12 pills a night just to go to sleep.

His parents found a rehab place for him, and he pulled himself together. Then he enrolled in Monroe College in the Bronx and tried out for the basketball team — but he didn’t make it. He became the team manager, such was his desire to be involved with basketball. He was washing the uniforms and loading the bus with equipment.

Then he decided to take a year off, and started working security and playing pickup ball.

And that’s where he got noticed?

He was playing at P.S. 92 in Harlem one night last year. A man named Paris Underwood was there. Underwood knew that a coach, Jarrett Lockhart, was recruiting players to take part in a new basketball program at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

He went up to Arthur and handed him a card and said, “Give that number a call.” It was Lockhart’s number.

What had happened at LaGuardia?

Its entire athletic department had been shut down in 2016 after a fight among students.

By last year, LaGuardia had a new president who said they should revive athletics.

Maintaining athletic teams can be challenging for community colleges, can’t it?

Community colleges serve students who probably have full-time jobs and maybe families to care for. Only some students at LaGuardia are there full-time. Many are picking up classes here and there.

But the league, the National Junior College Athletic Association, says that in order to play for a team that’s part of it, you have to be a full-time student and have a 2.0 average.

Lockhart was happy just to get through 2022-23 without having to forfeit too many games when one player or another had to miss a game, sometimes for falling below 2.0. They won only one game. Lockhart was determined to recruit more players. That’s where Arthur Dukes comes in.

And at one point Arthur and his girlfriend were evicted, and spent a couple of weeks in single-room occupancy, or S.R.O., hotels?

He went to Lockhart and said, “I can’t focus on basketball — I’m having a housing crisis.”

He didn’t want to desert his girlfriend, and he couldn’t bring her to a two-bedroom apartment that already had nine people living there.

Lockhart connected him with a department at the school called LaGuardia Cares, which helps with housing crises and food insecurity. He and his girlfriend were able to find an affordable apartment in the Bronx.

What’s it like to watch him play?

It’s really exciting, but you’re also aware of how difficult things are for the team. The game I went to, they had seven players. That meant there were only two on the bench.

Arthur did not come out of the game the entire time. He’s 5 feet 9 inches tall. He’s not the biggest guy on the court, but you see him barrel himself to the basket again and again.

Still, he didn’t save the LaGuardia Red Hawks. They were 4-17 for the season that just ended.

Yes. They had games where he scored 50 points, and they still lost.

What’s the takeaway?

I think it’s about what can happen when a young person gets important adult attention at the moment he needs it. It can be transformative, and in this case, it was. Arthur said it had been a long time since somebody had given him an opportunity. He felt that life had knocked him down left and right.

But I don’t think Arthur is the only one. It was my sense that Coach Lockhart is committed to all the men on his team.


Weather

Enjoy a sunny day with temperatures peaking in the high 30s. On a partly cloudy evening, temperatures will drop to the high 20s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until March 24 (Purim).



Lawyers for Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, were in an appellate court in Albany last week to press his case that a New York ethics commission is unconstitutional and should be disbanded.

Cuomo’s effort to sink the ethics board is the latest move in his campaign to confront two officials he sees as enemies, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James. A report from James that found that he had sexually harassed 11 women prompted him to resign in disgrace in August 2021. Hochul, who had been his lieutenant governor, succeeded him.

Cuomo’s clash with the ethics panel, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government, goes back to his $5.1 million book deal for a 2020 memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.” The commission had been considering whether to compel him to forfeit the money when he sued. He won the first round.

The appellate judges are expected to issue a decision in the coming months.


METROPOLITAN diary

Dear Diary:

I was staying with a friend in Murray Hill while back in New York for a visit in 2019. I got together with an old boyfriend. He was a drummer, and I went with him to a gig in Brooklyn.

We talked openly and honestly and deeply on the subway ride back, acknowledging the love that still connected us.

I kissed him goodbye at Grand Central and started walking. I was crying hard. He had been the love of my life, and I knew this might be the last time I ever saw him.

My face was drenched, and I had no tissues. Hoping to get some napkins, I stopped into a diner on Lexington Avenue that I had often gone to when I lived in the city.

There was a long line for tables and takeout. I told the people who were waiting that I wasn’t cutting the line. I just needed some napkins.

“Hey, let her through,” one man in the line yelled. “She’s crying.”

The crowd made way, and I stepped up to the counter. The manager recognized me as a regular.

He handed me a wad of napkins.

“Some nights are rough ones,” he said. “It’ll get better.”

— Sandra Eisenberg

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