Feb. 21, 2013
It was after a long practice where you could find Steven Cruz at Siena College's Marcelle Athletic Complex weight room putting in an extra workout. He makes a humorous muscle flex after a set of weight lifts and says, "Never know when coach needs me".
As a junior walk-on, Cruz's stat line or physical presence will not wow you. Through three seasons he has appeared in only 12 games and has played just 13 minutes which is about half what some players get in a game. He has scored only nine career points and stands a generous 5'6".
But Cruz is not an ordinary walk-on the Saints' roster. He has a place on the team and is one of the emotional leaders on the Saints. During games he is always the first person off the bench to clap and root for his teammates.
"I'm the motivator, I contribute a lot in practice," says Cruz. "My goal is to make them better and prepare for the game."
You can relate Cruz's story to the 1993 sports film Rudy in which Rudy, the main character, dreams of playing football for Notre Dame, one of the prestigious football teams in all of college football. Rudy encounters obstacles such as his physical stature and the doubts of him ever making the team.
Cruz's height has always motivated to play and work harder. He says it is his heart that makes him standout not his height.
The big heart and confidence could come from being from New York City. The city is known for its confident bred of point guards. Dyckman Park, one of the prestigious basketball courts in New York in upper Manhattan, is across the street from his home. Cruz grew up playing on the courts of Dyckman. The courts have become very popular and on any given night in the summertime you never know which NBA players would show up.
Kevin Durant came once during the famed NBA lockout. Cruz recalls the summers when he would spend the whole day at the courts and he would say, "We played until the lights go out which is at 2 am, that means it's time to go home, the courts get pitch black and my mother starts to worry."
Cruz transitioned his street basketball game to the prestigious LaSalle Academy, an all-boys catholic school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan that produced NBA players such as Ron Artest - now known as Metta World Peace - and God Shammgod. At LaSalle is where Cruz had high hopes of being recruited by DI programs but it never happened. Cruz's hopes of playing Division I basketball seemed shattered.
He chose to attend Siena where he would focus on his academics and his career. He chose Siena's business program because of its high reputation and majored in Marketing. He had a vision of himself working on Wall Street.
At Siena he loves the community and the personal relationships he has with professors. But Cruz never gave up his dreams about playing basketball and decided that he should try to be the team manager and somehow earn his way on the team.
In the beginning of Cruz's freshmen year, head coach Mitch Buonaguro invited him to start practicing with the team using it as a form of a try-out. When the day of try-outs came, Coach Buonaguro announced to Steven that he did not have to tryout and had earned a spot on the team.
"It was always my goal to make the team," Cruz said, "And when I heard the news I was excited and blessed."
Now in the second semester of his junior year, Cruz is comfortable and knows where he belongs. He embodies what it means to be a basketball player and has the heart to show for it.
If basketball doesn't work out, Cruz is also quite the dancer and has an old soul, and says the movie Dirty Dancing changed his life.
He does hope to become a coach at the Division I level after his playing days and wants to have an impact on other players' lives much like all of his coaches never gave up on him and led him to achieve one of his dreams.
On kids who want try-out for a Division I team, Cruz states, "He should work hard because there is no limit to how hard you can work."