Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rise Above

This a story that was published in this week's edition of the school paper, and it focuses on the Bulls team member Danielle Starzynski. An interesting read.....

"Rise Above"
By: Kevin Monahann, USF newspaper staff
February 10, 2009

TAMPA, Fl., In a perfect world, this story would be only about basketball. It would profile one of the best girls’ hoops players coming out of the 2007 graduating class, a Jersey-bred McDonald’s All-American nominee.

In the real world it’s about so much more. It’s about how a girl’s gift became a curse and how what she loved to do more than anything became a painful reminder of some of the worst times of her life. If life was fair, Danielle Starzynski, who dons the nickname “Dstar”, would be in the situation that she had always dreamed about. She was the leader of a Columbia High School team that went 33-2 and came 2 games away from a state championship. A 5-foot-8 shooting guard, she was ranked the nation’s No. 21 senior recruit in the HoopGurlz 100- No. 3 in her home state of NJ- and had numerous scholarship offers.

But Danielle’s incredible success on the court has been marred by unimaginable troubles and tragedies off it. Starzynski’s senior season seemed to consist of a dark cloud that could not escape her, bringing everything from run-ins with the law to deaths of those close to her. An exciting, dynamic player, who always put on a show with a smile plastered to her face, slowly started showing us a more vicious expression. All in one season she was arrested three times and charged with convictions that continuously questioned her image and character. Along with those troubles, Starzynski had many confrontations with her coach which were being publicly displayed, as well as deaths of 2 people very close to her. One being her best friend who was murdered at halftime of one of her basketball games and the other being her Grandmother whom she previously called the most important person in her life.

These incidents ultimately revoked her scholarship to play for Rutgers University where she had signed a letter of intent, along with any other scholarship hopes she had, including Georgia tech, Temple, UCLA, and NC State to name a few. Danielle was seeing her dreams vanish in front of her, slip right through her grip and she knew there was nothing she could do about it. Through all these trials and tribulations, everyday was a challenge and as one could imagine, the basketball court was anything but a sanctuary.

After missing several games due to her problems with the police and ongoing heart problems, Danielle insisted that she not take any time off to mourn the deaths she was dealing with. She made it clear to her coach that she wouldn’t sit out anymore games and was going to be there for her team. She played through all the pain she was bearing, but it was anything but easy. Walking onto the court with 4 initials and 2 hearts now added to her shoes she would often touch her lips and then point up to the sky signaling to her lost loved ones. To those around her it was clear that Danielle had a whole new reason to be playing her heart out, but a knowingly consistent player started struggling, having many ups and downs in her games. It was clear that as much as she tried to play her game and not let the outside issues affect her, they were doing just that.

“That was definitely one of the toughest times of my life without a doubt. It seemed like I could never see one good day, everything was just going wrong and I was trying to find ways to deal with it and just continue playing the way I had been but it only got harder and harder,” Starzynski says about her senior season. “I felt like all my issues were taking me away from basketball. There were times I felt like giving up, times I definitely had to stop and question my love for the game. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t give up, something wouldn’t let me.”

Somehow , Starzynski who had a reputation for being a very tough and rugged player, to no surprise found a way to fight through it. She had an amazing postseason where she averaged 37 points and led her team to the New Jersey group 1 championship. At the end of the day though, Starzynski knew that her college hopes were done and along with everyone else, remained unsure about her future. That is until she got a last minute call from Seton Hall University offering her a full scholarship, possibly her last chance at playing college basketball. It might not have been the highly ranked basketball powerhouse she was looking for, but it was an offer and one she couldn’t refuse.

“When I got the offer from Seton Hall I was really excited and even though I wasn’t even considering them as a school, this was my last chance, my last hope of playing ball. I was at a point where everything was falling apart and it’s like they threw me a piece and said here we’ll help you put some things back together. They saved my career and I’ll forever be grateful for that,” Starzynski says.

Expected to bring a whole new spark and dynamic to the Seton Hall Pirates team, many were excited for her arrival, especially head coach Phyllis Mangina.

“Danielle was a real catch for us because we never expected to get a player of her caliber to play on our team. Normally they go to the Uconn’s, the Tennessee’s the Rutgers’. We were very excited to bring her into her program and we were sure she would turn things around for us,” Mangina told us.

Shortly into her freshman season though that dark cloud seemed to be creeping back in. Starzynski was displaying many troubles in the classroom as well as out, getting in trouble and exhibiting behavior very reminiscent to her senior year. She would end up being suspended numerous times along with seeing more bench than play time during the season. This seemed a little too familiar for Danielle and many wondered whether she would ever escape this slump she seemed to be in. Although on the court she was amazing and displayed an over-achiever’s effort in practice, it was her off-court decisions that kept her from playing the game she loved. At the end of her freshman year Danielle announced that she would be transferring out of the Pirate’s basketball program and going to the University of South Florida to play for Big East foe USF Bulls. Starzynski seemed to be taking on the role of an NBA rookie who can’t seem to find their place on a team. As many know these are the type of situations that set one up for a very short, rough career.

But would Starzynski’s career be a constant struggle, beginning during her senior year and continuing on only to haunt her? Had she lost her love for the game that she once called the love of her life? Had her constant heart problems hindered her ability to play this game, or was her love for it all the heart she needed to go on?

Flash now to Tampa, Fl, the Sun Dome, the final minute’s ticking off the men’s USF Bulls teams’ basketball game, everyone celebrating. Look courtside though and you’ll see Danielle Starzynski slipping out of her seat and heading towards the exit. Dressed in designer jeans and a fancy jacket with a cell phone attached to her ear, she looks ready for a night out on the town. But instead of leaving the building, she makes a hard left into the locker room and re-emerges five minutes later in a cutoff bulls t-shirt and gym shorts.

Starzynski picks up a basketball and shoots her first three pointer. The janitors finish sweeping the trash out of the bleachers as she shoots free throws. Starzynski then begins to work on 15 footers.

“She does this all the time,” said Tommy Politi, one of the Sun Dome maintenance men, the one who holds the keys and has to close the gym whenever Starzynski leaves. Sometimes he’ll watch TV as he waits for Starzynski to finish. This time he just watched the kid work.

“We need a few more Dstars,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe a whole roster of them. Then we’d be really great. But this kid is something special.”

Even when times look hopeless for Starzynski all you have to do is watch her and see that this star has not given up, and it seems as though she never will. She might still be going through her off-court troubles and still struggling to find her place on this USF Bulls team, but the sophomore with the sweet jump shot is still convinced better days are coming. She is still shooting these practice shots every night she can, still shooting for something better.

“It’s been a rough couple of months, trying to adjust to this program and build it up to where we need it to be. For me personally it’s been a rough couple of years of basketball and trying to find my place,” Starzynski said. “I truly believe though that I will find my place eventually, I never let the little things stop me from doing what I do best and that’s play basketball. I’m gonna continue to put in the hard work that I’ve put in from day one and pray that things work out for me. You gotta learn to fight through everything if it’s what you really want, you gotta have thick skin in this game.”

So that’s what she keeps doing, even if she’s in it alone on some nights, even as the losses and problems away from the court keep piling up. Basketball will continue to be there for Danielle, even through all the ups and downs as she struggles through this bittersweet love affair she’s had with this game for so long. And she will continue to be there for basketball, aiming to give back what the game has given her, meanwhile showing off a talent that can only be explained as god-given. She knows that the world isn’t perfect and that life isn’t fair, but she seems determined to fight through it. Her heart wouldn’t have it any other way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Danielle is such a great player i think she's just a little misunderstood. Personally she's my favorite on the Bulls team and i love watching her play. I don't think she gets the hype she deserves so i'm glad they wrote this article about her. Maybe now people will really get a chance to see how great she is.