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Big East brings freshmen to New York

Big East Breakup Basketball

The logo for the Big East Conference is displayed on a row of courtside chairs at the Big East Conference women’s basketball tournament in Hartford, Conn., Friday, March 8, 2013. The Big East has reached an agreement with seven departing basketball members that will allow them to separate from the football schools and create their own conference on July 1. Commissioner Mike Aresco told The Associated Press on Friday the seven Catholic schools that are leaving to form a basketball-centric conference will get the Big East name, along with the opportunity to play their league tournament in Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)


NEW YORK (AP) The Big East brought its incoming freshman class to New York City for two days and not one basketball was bounced, dunked or dribbled.

The 10-member, basketball-centric Big East invited its “rookies” for a weekend of discussions of what these athletes were going to find out about what the next four years - less for the stars - will bring and then life after that.

“We felt there was a spate of information we could impart on freshmen to help with their transformation from high school to college and college and beyond,” said Stu Jackson, who oversees the Big East’s men’s basketball operations and strategic planning. He and commissioner Val Ackerman came up with “Freshmen Fundamentals.”

Jackson has quite a resume with head coaching stints at Wisconsin and the New York Knicks. He was the general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies and he came to the Big East from being an executive with the NBA. He knows about college and after college.

“Historically, schools in our conference did a great job of making all freshmen from all sports aware of issues like gambling, sexual harassment, academic integrity,” he said. “No one has taken the opportunity to talk to men’s basketball players about issues they will face as they come into an elite basketball conference or what they can expect beyond their collegiate careers. We felt it was our responsibility.”

The players had a two-day agenda set that featured five panel discussions, from one of former Big East players to one on working with the various types of media to one called: “Etiquette and Personal Brand Presentation.” The players were taken to the 9/11 Memorial on Saturday and on an inside tour of Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

“I found out quite a lot about a lot of things,” said 6-foot-10 Henry Ellenson who stayed in his native Wisconsin and will be the man in the middle for Marquette. “Balancing school and basketball. How you handle the media. You learned that how you view yourself and present yourself to others means a lot.”

Jalen Brunson, the 6-1 point guard who is expected to join the list of standout guards at Villanova, called it a “great experience.”

“I felt we learned a lot about the different lifestyles,” he said.

Tarik Turner, who played at St. John’s from 1995-98, moderated two of the panels. He said the players were locked in and focused both days. There was only one thing wrong with the freshman foundation.

“It was on my mind the whole weekend,” the analyst for FOX said, “that it would have great for me to have had this opportunity. When you’re 18, 19 you are trying to figure things out. To hear from someone who had been in the same shoes ... This has been a great way to welcome guys as they start the next chapter in their life.”

Jackson said it was no accident that none of the coaches were there.

“Our coaches felt strongly that the program should be for freshmen and about freshmen,” he said. “These kids face issues old players never had. Social media. The issues are just bigger and you have to do all you can for them in that respect.”

Still, Ellenson sounded like a kid without a problem in the world when he spoke of Madison Square Garden.

“I felt like it was my first time to the Garden being a basketball player and that’s the Mecca of basketball,” Ellenson said. “I can’t wait to come back here.”

Ellenson, Brunson and all the other Big East freshmen will return to Madison Square Garden. The conference tournament is there from March 9-12.