Hoop dreams: how one student got a big assist from UB alumni
Long before he clicked open the e-mail notifying him that he just won the $10,000 UB Alumni Association Scholarship for 2016-2017, Mendel Murray used to get very different kinds of academic notices. There were the high school report cards, littered in Fs, which he hid from his parents, and later, a blizzard of rejection letters from various colleges and universities.
“It was an experience I never want to have again. That feeling—“
Murray, now a junior at the Trefz School of Business, shakes his head then continues. “—I didn’t know who I was, but I knew who I wasn’t. I used the experience to motivate myself.”
When the University accepted him as a freshman in two years ago, Murray seized the opportunity to change the course of his life.
Since enrolling at UB, his stellar academic record, currently a cumulative 3.8 GPA, has landed him on the President’s List— just one reason the Alumni Association awarded him its scholarship at the Distinguished Alumni Dinner this fall. Given for two consecutive semesters in $5,000 increments each, the Alumni Association Scholarship recognizes undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need, have a GPA of at least 3.0, and who are actively engaged on campus or in the community.
“We only wish we could do more, and we are working on trying to increase our capacity to help. I would hope that all potential donors to the University would truly understand the money that is given to the scholarship fund does go 100 percent to that fund and to the next bright young hope here at UB,” says Alumni Board President Dennis Brotherton ’86.
Since his arrival at UB, Murray has worked to become the person he wants to be—a team manager in the NBA, a husband who can provide for his family, and a role model in his community.
Just days into his freshman year, for instance, Murray introduced himself to UB men’s basketball coaches Mike Ruane, Kranthi “Crunch” Senadhi, and Will Logan, asking if he could volunteer as team manager. “I just kept showing up, and they kept giving me bigger and bigger responsibilities.”
For the past two years, Murray has spent approximately 12 hours a week attending to a multitude of tasks: getting players’ jerseys from the laundry, for instance, running the clock, videotaping games, helping players if they need a rebound partner, mopping sweat from the floor—the kind of jobs “other people might think are beneath them,” says Murray.
“But I don’t think that way. You got to start somewhere.”
It’s not just about pushing a mop. The daily exposure to players and coaching staff has helped him to develop interpersonal skills required of any leader, be it a manager in the NBA, marketing chief, or CEO. he adds. “Every year we get new players. I talk a lot of smack to them. We play one-on-one and develop a relationship. They’ve gained a lot of trust in me. But when practice starts, it’s serious game face.”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. “One of Mendel’s great assets is not only be accepted by coaching staff but also being accepted by the players,” says Senadhi, who is associate head coach. “He’s there every day, showing the kids that they can be part of something bigger. He’s reiterating our message. He has a presence, and one thing we know about Mendel, if we ask him to do something like clean the sweat off the floor, he gives 100 percent. He has initiative.”
School of Business Assistant Dean Tim Raynor agrees. “Mendel’s very coachable. He’ll come into my office three or four times a month. ‘Can I ask you a question?’ And we talk about the right step to develop himself. That’s what I love about hm. And he has great people skills. No matter where he ends up, he’ll be very successful.”
That seriousness of purpose is a far cry from his experience at his Mt. Vernon, New York, high school, where Murray says he was too busy negotiating social pressures to think about academics.
It’s different at UB, where the business school professors readily welcome him into their offices to discuss his future players share his same drive.
“One of reasons I wanted to get into sports, is the work ethic for athletes is crazy,” he said. “To be able to love what you do and perfect your craft I think that’s incredible.”