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In His Blood

How do we know when something is just in our blood?  Since there is no actual scientific test for a seemingly inherent love for a particular sport, instrument, animal or hobby, we can only go by what we can see. For Duquesne men’s basketball senior B.J. Monteiro, if he were to meet a complete stranger who knew nothing about him, he found a solution devoid of scientific testing to let everyone know that the game of basketball is in his blood.  On his right upper arm he has a tattoo that says, “It’s in my blood,” with a basketball attached to an IV that looks as if it was being inserted into a vein in his upper forearm; you know one of the common injection points for intravenous therapy.

If your creative juices weren’t flowing in your brain at that exact moment, there was another telltale sign of Brendan James Monteiro’s love for the game, but you’d have to ask his mom, Jennifer Williams, about that one.  She’d also probably prefer that, since she’s not a huge fan of tattoos.

When Jennifer decided to get remarried, she debated whether or not she’d change B.J. and his older brother Julian’s last name if her new husband decided to adopt them.  She asked them how they felt about having their name changed.  B.J. got pretty excited and responded that he wanted to be John Starks, former NBA guard and at the time a New York Knick.

“At two years old saying he wanted his named changed to John Starks, I would say that he had quite a love for basketball,” she said.  “His biological dad, Henry, was a big Knicks fan, so he used to watch them with his dad.  I don’t know if he even talks about that, because I don’t believe he’s a Knicks fan now.”

B.J. still likes the Knicks, but not like the days of Starks.

He does, however, keep tabs on the Los Angeles Clippers (who will most likely get a little more interesting this 66-game NBA season with a handful of solid new acquisitions, most notably CP3) and his friend Ryan Gomes, who he talks to on a regular basis.

“The people who I talk to from back home, a lot of them like to talk to me about basketball most of the time, things I have to do.  When it’s him though, I really listen…I really pay close attention,” B.J. said of Gomes.

B.J. grew up in Waterbury Connecticut, like Gomes, and watched him succeed at Wilby High School, a public school, and then continue his success at Providence and now in the NBA.

Most players who came out of Crosby, the public school B.J. attended, didn’t go on to play in college.  B.J. said players either went to catholic school, played out of town or just didn’t play at all, so when Gomes excelled coming from a public school in B.J.’s area, he quickly and mindfully took notice.  Making a cognizant effort to change the norm, B.J. focused his efforts in the classroom and on the court.  He wanted to change even his own preconceived notions about players’ destinies after Crosby.

There was one tiny setback leading up to that mindset, however.  In eighth grade B.J. wasn’t focusing on his schoolwork as much as his mom thought he should, so she would not let him play basketball that year.

That was all the motivation he needed to get back on track, but he still couldn’t attend the private schools after sitting out the whole year.

He wound up getting in the rotation his freshman year at Crosby, with his big brother Julian, who was a senior, and Crosby won the State Championship that year.  B.J. went on to become the all-time leading scorer at Crosby with 1,833 points and was also a high honor student all through high school.

“When you’re focused on something, you try to do the right things, because you don’t want it taken away from you,” he said.

His mom, Jennifer, said that she believed basketball helped to give B.J. his own identity.   He was no longer Julian’s little brother or Shawn’s big brother when he played.  He was just B.J.

“I think that basketball taught him to become a team player.  It taught him loyalty.  It reinforced the loyalty that I taught him at home.  He tries to get everyone involved.  It was never just about B.J.,” Jennifer said.

Growing Up In A College Basketball Mecca

Growing up in Connecticut, one of the most notable basketball names for men’s and especially women’s basketball, he was exposed to many great basketball players, coaches and minds.

“Coming from Connecticut, you always want to play for UConn.  I remember when they won the championship in 1999.  Rip Hamilton was on the team, and I remember being in the mall just waiting for them to come in to get their autographs,” B.J. said.

Although B.J. never got an offer from Jim Calhoun’s UConn team, he did spend two summers of AAU ball playing under one of the best coaches to ever coach the game; Hall of Fame coach, Geno Auriemma.  In Auriemma’s 26 years as the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball head coach, he has a total of 24 National Coach of the year honors, and coached his squad to a 90-game win streak, until they lost to Stanford last season.

B.J. and Damian Saunders, his high school teammate and former Duquesne standout, played on the Connecticut Nike Elite for Auriemma together, a team that included other players like Aaron Herndandez, now the starting tight end for the Patriots, and Geno’s son Mike, who is now playing at Assumption College.

Geno wasn’t sure how far B.J. would take his career, because of the hard work and discipline needed to do the things necessary to be a good college player.

“I was just trying to help him become a really good high school player at the time, but he loved the game, he had great physical skills and he was easy to coach.  I’m not surprised he’s had the success that he’s had,” Auriemma said.

Even though B.J. never really was the selfish type, B.J. believes that Coach Auriemma was integral in instilling the value of teamwork into his approach to the game.  Coach was also responsible for some of the “craziest practices” B.J.’s ever had to go through.  You wouldn’t expect anything else though from a guy who has seven national championships under his belt.

“I wanted them to learn how to play and I wanted them to learn the things that go into making players good players.  Once I felt like they were getting that, then you could do the things you might want to do,” Auriemma said in response to B.J. hesitatingly saying he may have loosened the reigns a bit when they played.  “I think if you don’t ever learn how to work hard and how to play with other good players, it’s going to be very difficult for you to become as good as you can be, and we had great success with B.J. and Damian.”

On His Way To 1,000

After a long and patient decision process, Monteiro chose to attend Duquesne University.  He turned down offers from UNLV, Saint Joseph’s, Penn State and Fordham, with Penn State almost a done deal—until it wasn’t.

He was attracted to the style of play at Duquesne, up and down the floor, and believed he had a shot to make a difference right off the bat.  Watching several A-10 schools in his area growing up like Rhode Island, Fordham and UMass also gave him a sense of awareness in terms of what he was getting into.

B.J. started the first five games of the season his freshman year, on a team that had eight total first-year players.  He averaged 9.9 minutes a game that year, playing alongside, then sophomores, Saunders and Bill Clark and another Connecticut native, senior Aaron Jackson, who finished their careers with 1,511, 1,628 and 1,428 points respectively.

His sophomore and junior years B.J.’s minutes significantly increased, while he averaged around 11 points and 4 rebounds.  Now in his senior year, he is on pace to reach the “1,000-Point Club” in the next few games and is shooting nearly 48 percent from the field.  Many things have changed though, and not just the fact the he and fellow senior Eric Evans are the only two left from that group of eight freshman.

“I think at this point, I’m a lot more thankful for things, because it’s a great opportunity I’ve been given here, just playing basketball and going to school for free.  You see the younger people coming up, they’re frustrated and I kind of see myself back in that position so I really try to help them,” B.J. said.

When Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart recruited B.J. he liked that B.J. could play a guard or small forward.  He had seen him defend Maryland big man Jordan Williams, who entered the 2011 NBA Draft after his freshman season and is now a New Jersey Net.  Williams has a good five inches on B.J., but Everhart thought he defended him well, and was attracted to his versatility.  Over the years, Coach Everhart has seen the transformation in B.J. on and off the basketball floor.

“I think individually he’s really become much more mature and more accountable for not just what he has to do to get better on the athletic side, but he’s become pretty accountable for his teammates.  I think he’s gone from a young guy who came into college with stars in his eyes, like most kids do, to being a guy who is a great teammate; who young guys now lean on for advice and direction,” Everhart said.

Monteiro is quick to give his teammates credit and actually gets more pumped up when they do something well than when he does.  He praises sophomore T.J. McConnell by saying he’s a special kind of player who has an understanding of the game that is far beyond his years.  On a team that led the nation in assists and steals last season with 17.8 and 9.9 respectively, these guys are not afraid to put the team before themselves or to help one another out when it’s needed.

“We all know it’s love, because we’re all in it together,” B.J. said.

A Calling That Might Not Yet Be Known

Where he is in his life today is a far cry from that little boy who his mother said didn’t ever want to talk to anyone in the mornings.  In their house they had a rule that every morning when you got up, everyone would say “Good Morning”.  B.J. wasn’t exactly a morning person—then again what kid is when they have to get up early for school—and would come downstairs and say, “Good Morning, and nothin’ else”.

“Excuse me?” his mother responded.

“Good morning and nothing else, I don’t want to talk to anybody,” B.J. would say back.

He might have said it with a pout on his face, but Jennifer said that he did follow the rules.

Jennifer also said B.J. is extremely compassionate towards individuals who are developmentally disabled. In high school B.J. bonded with a girl named Stephanie, who has Down syndrome.

“I think it was senior night, and he went over and gave her a flower. It just made her day. She went to every game when he was in high school,” said his mom, who is currently pursuing a degree in psychology and works with special needs individuals.

Looking down the road, his mom, who has put an extremely capable, logical and intelligent head on B.J.’s shoulders, says she can see the two of them having a practice together.

“I don’t believe he sees it right now, because he says he has his love for basketball.  I hope he pursues something dealing with people in some sort of way, maybe a motivational speaker.  I can also see ‘Doctor Monteiro,’ I can see ‘Step into my office’,” Jennifer said.

Coach Everhart has seen his ability to connect with others as well.

“I think that he’s really grown up and has become a go to guy for us, not just on the court, but in terms of our players wanting and seeking advice as to how to handle certain situations.  He’s sort of grown into the grandfather role as a senior, and it’s a good thing,”  Coach Everhart said.  “I think one day he’d be a great coach, because he does understand the game very well and he tries to put into practice what we try to do in terms of a drill or an exercise.  He applies that to the game, so he can adapt and adjust.”

No young basketball player ever really wants to think about the time when they will have to hang up their jersey, and B.J. is no different.  He wants to play until someone says he can’t; until there is nowhere else for him to go. B.J. isn’t exactly sure where he wants to focus his efforts after basketball. His integrated marketing major may serve as a stepping-stone, but there may even be some callings that he’s not even aware of.

If you don’t already get the gist, B.J. and his mom have a close relationship.  Jennifer loves all of her sons just the same, but the feeling she gets when she sees B.J. running up and down the floor, it’s a celebration every time.  When she was pregnant with him the doctors gave her the option to abort her pregnancy, because there was a risk B.J. would be born with Spina Bifida.

“Whatever I get, I get,” she told the doctors.

B.J. has another tat spelling out his mom’s name, haiku style, along with adjectives describing her.

“I’m not a tattoo person, but when he said it was something that meant more to him than anything in the world, which I thought basketball was his first love, and then it was my name…I just thought that was awesome,” she said.

B.J. doesn’t have a tattoo symbolizing that helping others is in his blood.  Maybe it’s because he told his mom he wouldn’t get any more tattoos, or maybe it’s because he doesn’t even know it yet.

Aly Cohen
The Aly Way

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