Life, we’re often reminded, is a journey along a path. Marked by repeated twists, turns, bends and detours, we take comfort in knowing that each path is unique. No two people ever embark on a similar trek.
No road map, satellite-based navigation system, not even a Mapquest.com printout is required. Following one’s heart and ambitions serve as the main motivators, the idea of how we feel deep down aiding us to better grasping the wheel to steer towards one’s wants, needs and mindsets. In a nutshell, it’s the journey within the journey.
The journey of Tyrone Nared is earmarked by all of the aforementioned. The Woonsocket native has traveled in many directions in order to take the next step. It’s a journey that’s taken him far away from Woonsocket High School with stops along the way at CCRI, New York’s Monroe College and presently at the University of Oregon, where Nared is a senior on the Ducks’ men’s basketball team.
Nared’s path is unique but not in the sense that it’s considered nomadic. If a guidebook were to be written pertaining to the steps needed in the journey of realizing one’s dream, Nared would serve as the perfect subject. Every rung the 23-year-old has climbed has been met with a firm purpose, never once losing sight of the end goal of playing major college basketball.
Keep in mind we’re not talking about some blue chip recruit with a silver spoon in his mouth, a declaration that further legitimizes Nared’s journey from the playgrounds of Dunn Park to ending up in the Pac-12.
“Honestly, it’s been a blessed journey,” Nared said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It wasn’t like I had something set coming out of high school, a four-year scholarship to go here or there. I had work my way up and I took my time and got it done.”
This is a journey that goes beyond points and rebounds, wins and losses – so noteworthy in fact that it seems appropriate to look through the lens of those individuals whom Nared brushed up against and/or leaned upon. Their anecdotes help bring clarity to the journey Nared has been on, their reflections just as insightful when peeling back the many layers of this ex-Villa Novan.
“Basketball helped me meet a lot of different people, good people who helped me learn about life,” says Nared. “Don’t get me wrong, my parents raised me pretty well and I had a great upbringing, but I’m glad I was able to meet people on the other side of the country.”
Below is Nared’s journey. Granted there’s a lot of moving parts, but so does any story worth its salt, which this undoubtedly is.
In the beginning ...
He was the king of Savaria Gymnasium, the hallways at Woonsocket High School his kingdom. Already standing at 6-foot-4 and equipped with all the necessary gifts to dominate a high school game, it was clear to anyone who saw Nared up close or followed his feats in the papers that he was going places.
Then came the first speed bump. The 2005-06 season was his fourth and final one competing in the Interscholastic League. No matter that he still hadn’t graduated, which he would accomplish in June 2007. His eight semesters of athletic eligibility had dried up.
“He was a young kid who ended up graduating high school when he was 17, so he entered high school relatively young,” pointed out Woonsocket athletic director George Nasuti, who held the title of high school principal when Nared was there.
In one fell swoop, basketball from a competitive standpoint had been removed from the equation. In the eyes of college recruiters, he was out of sight, out of mind.
“He had a difficult time not being able to play [during the 2006-07 academic year] and maintain enough credits to graduate. He just had to make up some course work,” Nasuti said.
To handle a delicate situation like the one that confronted Nared and refusing to let the consequences of not suiting up for the Novans completely sidetrack him, such resolve is something that Nasuti marvels at to this day. Basketball may have been on hold, yet Nared was bent on not falling prey to his surroundings.
“He was always a good kid and what was big for him was that he got out of the city and tried his talents someplace else,” Nasuti said. “We always tell the kids not to get into that trap of staying around home and find opportunities elsewhere. That’s what Tyrone did.”
Back on the scene
Rick Harris was more than aware of the impact Nared registered on a basketball court. He had coached against Nared in high school, back when Harris was at Cranston East. Now Harris was the head coach at CCRI and was casting a line in the hope of luring Nared.
It was an opportunity to rekindle his passion to play college ball at a high level, so why not take it? There was one provision, however. Harris wanted Nared to sit out his first year, 2007-08, in order to get better adjusted to the academic and on-the-floor rigors of college life.
“He hadn’t even grown to his full height at that point,” Harris shared. “I remember taking him to a scrimmage at RIC. He was capable of being successful, but mentally he didn’t know the game well enough.”
On taking a step back at CCRI before moving forward, Nared said, “I sat out and thought about what I wanted to do with my life.”
The 2008-09 season marked Nared’s first in organized basketball in three seasons. He had stretched out to 6-8, his listed height at Oregon. With Harris grooming him as a wing player, Nared reestablished his credibility on the recruiting front. By season’s end, Harris was fielding calls from several low-end Division I schools with URI also expressing interest.
“Going to junior college, I had no idea if I was ever going to play Division I basketball,” Nared said.
The spring of 2009 saw Nared leave the CCRI program for Monroe College, another JUCO school located in the Bronx. When whispers of Nared’s departure reached Harris’ desk, the coach pleaded with his up-and-comer to rethink the idea that the grass was greener on the other side.
“In his mind, Monroe was going to get him to a bigger level,” Harris said. “At the end of the day I wished him well, though I wished he’d stayed.”
Nared’s mind was made up. The beat of his heart was telling him to venture to the Big Apple, the next stop on his journey.
“It was definitely for better exposure. Plus I knew I didn’t want to stay in Rhode Island,” Nared admitted. “I’m like a city kid. I love New York plus I have family there. New York is like my second home.”
The big push
As Harris noted, the premise behind a JUCO program is “to provide a place where kids come to us because they’re looking to put themselves in a position to get to the best possible four-year school.” Nared fit that mission statement down to Harris’ last word.
Not that playing at Monroe and for head coach Jeff Brustad was a walk in the park. Leaning on his big-fish-in-a-small-pond reputation that had served him well during the comeback tour at CCRI simply would not hold up. Nared would have to start all over just like any newcomer to a program. No exceptions.
The 2009-10 season at Monroe was one filled with peaks and valleys. The potential was still omnipresent, but modest averages of 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds don’t exactly scream Division I prospect. Brustad saw through the choppy waters, praising Nared as a good soldier.
“We had our rough patches where production probably wasn’t where it needed to be and he sat the bench for a little while,” Brustad said, “but he never quit and kept working hard.
“A lot of Tyrone’s issues stemmed from just having confidence in his abilities,” Brustad continued. “He didn’t trust what he could do and one of the things we tried to instill in him was to stop thinking and just play.”
Nared was nicknamed “The Solution” at Monroe. He was more like a savior on a Mustangs team that would go on to stage an impressive showing in the NJCAA National Tournament. A shift to the perimeter created all sorts of havoc for opponents as Nared averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in four tournament games, displaying the eye of a marksman in the final game with 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point land, including four straight makes.
“He put on display what he could do,” summed up Brustad about Nared’s coming out party.
Had the winds blown a little differently, Nared would have ended up swishing jumpers for Creighton. The head coach in place at the time, Dana Altman, was a major Nared fan, his infatuation to the point that when Altman landed the Oregon coaching gig in April 2010, he set aside a scholarship with Nared’s name on it.
“I thought it was a great decision on his part,” Brustad said. “It was a chance to see a different part of the country and get better as a person and a player.”
Said Nared, “It was one of those choices where I didn’t want to look back and feel like I was missing out.”
Now in his second and final year at Oregon, Nared finds himself at a point where he can reflect on the many thresholds he crossed on his way to landing out west while at the same time focusing on leading the Ducks into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. At 4-2, Oregon sits in third place in the Pac-12 heading into Thursday’s home date against USC.
Nared’s first season with the Ducks saw him play in all 39 games, starting the final 21 outings with averages of 5.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and nearly one block. This season has seen him slowed by a left knee injury suffered in a Dec. 12 game against Portland State. Sidelined for six games, Nared returned to the Ducks’ lineup earlier this month.
“I took my time and took great care by not rushing back,” Nared said. “Everything worked out fine.”
As stated earlier, what Nared brings to the table is more than a bunch of numbers on a score sheet. Altman’s message to the player has been one of squeezing out every ounce of the 20.1 minutes Nared is presently averaging, a pretty good sum for someone who has come off the bench in 9 of 12 games.
“I’m not in a situation where I’m only playing a couple of minutes,” Nared noted. “(Coach Altman) has given me plenty of chances. I’ve got to make the most of it, which I feel I do.”
Asked to describe his role with the Ducks, Nared stated, “Bring energy and hit open shots. Attack the boards and beat the big men down the floor. I can play defense in the post and on the perimeter, so I’m versatile.”
To be continued
Nared isn’t the first senior in college basketball with aspirations to continue playing once his time at Oregon is through. Playing overseas or in the NBDL are possibilities that intrigue him, but Nared realizes he’ll be able to open up a completely different set of doors once he’s awarded a degree in sociology.
“Someday basketball is going to be over,” said Nared, his voice full of resolve. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity I did.”
Spoken like someone who’s taken the time to realize the journey he’s been on over these past several years.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03