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Basketball player Pena’s perseverance, selflessness a shining example

Senior basketball player Preston Pena has traveled down a different path than most to become a Division I athlete

January 7, 2011

Basketball player Pena’s perseverance, selflessness a shining example

Senior basketball player Preston Pena has traveled down a different path than most to become a Division I athlete. Pena came to campus to pursue academics and only through opportunity and sheer determination, he made the team as a walk-on and became a Division I basketball player. Pena answered some questions about his motivation, his basketball and his career goals.

You are in a unique situation as a walk-on and two-year letter-winner with the men’s basketball program. What made you decide to try-out for the team last October and what was it like to go through a try-out and make the team?
Playing basketball at the Division I level has always been an aspiration for me. I tried out twice prior to trying out last October and I was never satisfied with the outcome. Consequently, when the opportunity arose to try out again, I decided to give it one last shot. When I actually made the team it was a relief for me. Finally making the team was an accomplishment for me and I wanted to make sure I made the most out of it.

What was the biggest challenge for you last year and how has your game improved with the intensity of Division I workouts, practices, coaching and game experience?
The biggest challenge for me last year as for as competing was that I lacked a lot of confidence in the things I was most comfortable doing. Actually finding a niche for me on the team was something that I struggled with. However, as the season progressed and I got a feel for the system, I learned what my role was on the team. I learned that every day I walked into the gym, my purpose was to make those around me better by working hard. Throughout the plethora of workouts, practices and coaching I have been able to improve my knowledge of the game of basketball.

You are respected for putting in endless hours of work without the benefit of much playing time. How do you keep motivated and what have you enjoyed the most from your experience these last two seasons?
I have to admit that at first, the fact that I was not getting much play time, did affect me a bit because I would always have people ask me “what is the point of being on the team if you aren’t going to play?” However, I never paid mind to what others would tell me because basketball is something that I enjoy doing. What I’ve enjoyed the most about the last two seasons is the camaraderie we have with each other. This camaraderie has made playing together that much easier because we know what we are all capable of doing and we all know what our role on the team is.

With your dedication to the team and work ethic … what have you learned about yourself with this Division I experience?
I have learned a lot since joining the basketball program. One of the things I quickly learned, was that I was that I was going to have to cut down on hanging out with my friends as free time became very valuable. I call the library my second home - that’s how often I go there after practice. More importantly playing Division I basketball has been one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had. It has kept me level-headed with school and it has made me appreciate my family a lot considering I only get to see them a few times out of the year.

What are some things that people might not know about being a Division I athlete?
Some things people don’t know about being a Division I athlete is that it offers exposure to places you have never been before. For example, last year we got a chance to go to California, a place I have always wanted to visit. That visit made me realize I wouldn’t want to live there because of the time difference but it was nonetheless an enjoyable experience. Another thing that people don’t know is that not everyone who plays Division I basketball has aspirations or thinks that they will be playing basketball after college. Some people actually want to become doctors or teachers upon completing their tenure.

What have you had to sacrifice to go from being a regular student for two years to now being a student-athlete your final two years?
The one thing I had to sacrifice from being a regular student for two years to now being a student-athlete for my final two years, is some of my friendships. The transition from being a regular student to being a student athlete took a toll on my free time and I was not been able to communicate with my friends back home as often as I wanted to. I barely have time to unwind myself. From the moment I step out of class, I go to practice, then go to fraternity meetings, and then study.

When did you start playing as a kid and who was your role model?
I didn’t start playing basketball until I reached the 9th grade and I never had a desire to play before then. My brother was the one who always told me “let’s go shoot” or “let’s workout” and he would always put me in situations where I was the youngest player competing against grown men. He made me want to work harder through workouts and the experiences he shared with me about the time he used to play basketball. Given our similar experiences and seeing how successful he became made me want to emulate him.

Why did you decide to attend Binghamton University and what have you gained from your college experience?
Academics was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend Binghamton University. Another reason why I decided to come here was because my sister is an alumnus. As a kid I would always remember visiting her. I liked the fact that Binghamton was far away from home but not too far, so I could go home with some regularity. I definitely feel as though I’ve maximized my experience at Binghamton. Aside from my involvement with the basketball team, I am also part of a fraternity, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, and a national honors society in Chi Alpha Epsilon. What I’ve enjoy most about college thus far are the relationships I’ve developed. I will carry these experiences with me forever and will never forget.

You are an accounting major … what are your career aspirations?
My career aspiration is to obtain certification and become a Certified Public Accountant. I would enjoy the opportunity to work for an accounting firm and eventually become a partner. Finally, if I have enough funds and the proper resources, I want to open up a basketball camp so that kids whose parents can’t normally afford camp, can get the opportunity to go to basketball camp. Through playing sports, I feel kids can learn a lot of life lessons such as time management, commitment, and discipline.

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