BEPPU, Oita Pref. — Contrasting images fill my head as I sit down to write this. Bouncing basketballs heard after endless hours in the gym and the pleasant silence of the local onsen (hot springs) clash for control. No problem. I’m relaxed.
Before the focus shifts to the season’s second half, it’s worth pointing out that Sendai 89ers forward Bobby St. Preux, one of the bj-league’s top all-around players, put a smile on the faces of hundreds of fans with his silky smooth performance in the 2008-09 All-Star Game on Sunday. Sure, his 20-point, nine-rebound, four-assist effort for the Eastern Conference squad was impressive, but when he talked about his mind-set, his determination, it made the feat even more memorable.
“This is very special to me,” said St. Preux, who was born in Haiti, grew up in Florida and attended Palm Beach Community College and Division II Northern Kentucky University. Indeed, his life story doesn’t follow the typical path one thinks of for a pro ballplayer.
“I think the biggest thing for me was I was enjoying this weekend from the get-go, so all I was trying to do was enjoy myself and let the game take care of itself. The main thing was to win, and it just so happened that I ended up getting the MVP, which is a great honor for me.”
Whenever a player wins an MVP award, he’ll be eager to reveal what his favorite moments in the game were. You don’t need to beg him to offer this insight.
For St. Preux, this included his well-executed teamwork with Saitama Broncos forward Reggie Warren.
“Me and Reggie Warren were running the pick-and-roll in the first half and it was real good because I had the option of scoring and I know that I had a great scorer that I could pass it to,” said St. Preux.
In any give game, the 29-year-old St. Preux has plenty of options. Blessed with superb shooting range, textbook shooting form and quickness, he is the league’s fourth-best scorer (22.4 points per game), making 50.3 percent of his 2-point shots and a stellar 42 percent from 3-point range.
St. Preux has paid his dues as a basketball player. He’s spent time in the American Basketball Association with the Palm Beach Imperials, starred in a Gatorade commercial with Dwyane Wade and done a lot to help increase the 89ers’ fan base in Tohoku.
Now he has earned the right to reflect on his own success story.
“This is great, man,” he said. “Two years ago, I couldn’t picture playing professional basketball. I was doing a regular job for two years and for some reason in the back of my mind I just stayed working out. I could’ve had two jobs, but I just had one so I could have time to work out.”
Along the way, he stayed in shape and never lost sight of the fact that he would rather be a basketball player than a clerk at a check cashing store.
“Basically, it’s a credit to Ryan (Blackwell),” St. Preux said, referring to his former Sendai teammate who helped him secure a tryout with the 89ers. “He’s the one that made me (return to hoops).”
Most of his immediate family now lives in the United States, but some of his relatives are still in Haiti. St. Preux’s relatives in Haiti are not passionate basketball fans, he said, but “they just ask me how the games are going.”
He can tell them his team, sporting a 12-14 record, is in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference and fighting for a playoff spot.
And hey, he doesn’t need to tell us that his time away from basketball is an inspirational reminder to everyone to believe goals can be attained if one is willing to put in the work in to make them happen.
A splash of good fortune — in this case an opportunity to play in the bj-league — can help those goals be realized.
In fact, Bobby St. Preux’s tale is a bit similar to Kurt Warner’s. After all, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback stocked shelves at a supermarket after he was cut by the Green Bay Packers in 1994.
And we know the rest of that story — up until Super Bowl XLIII.