Wednesday, February 14, 2001

UC's McElroy balances basketball, fatherhood

Days filled with practice, school; nights saved for family

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Immanuel McElroy gives daughter Kiara a bath.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        University of Cincinnati junior Immanuel McElroy shows no emotion when he's on the basketball court. It's different when his daughter Kiara, who turns 3 next week, runs across Shoemaker Center, waving her daycare project at him, shouting, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, snowman.”

        His face lights up with a broad smile. Javondia McElroy, Immanuel's wife, walks over holding 14-month-old Immanuel Jr.

        “I just want to open my arms and hug them and love them and take care of them,” McElroy said. “That's my No.1 priority, to look after them and give them whatever they need.”

        Immanuel McElroy, 20, is a full-time student, Division I scholarship basketball player, husband and father. The 6-foot-4 guard-forward has started 12 of 23 games for the Bearcats and averages 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.

        Off the court, McElroy was a Bearcat Scholar-Athlete (at least a 3.0 grade-point average) in the fall quarter.

McElroy kisses his son Immanuel Jr.
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        His nights are spent juggling homework, baths and bedtime routines. Javondia takes classes at Cincinnati State and works about 30 hours a week at PNC Bank. The children attend daycare. Javondia usually picks them up, then heads to Shoemaker to collect her husband after UC's three-hour practices.

        They return to their two-bedroom apartment off campus to fix dinner and spend time together.

        “I know I'm drained,” McElroy said, “but I don't let that stop me from playing with them. Once I see my wife and my kids, that brings me up. And it makes me work harder on the court and in the classroom.”

        UC has 412 student-athletes, and McElroy is one of two married with children. (Tennis player Kara Molony is the other.)

        Huggins, in his 20th year as a college head coach and 12th at UC, cannot recall a married player on any of his other teams.

        “He is special, he really is,” Huggins said of McElroy. “I can't imagine some of our other guys doing that. He's so much more mature, but I'm sure at least a little bit of that has to do with the situation that he's in. He has to be.

McElroy and wife Javondia watch Kiara dance in her bedroom.
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        When Huggins recruited McElroy out of Tyler (Texas) Junior College, both Mac — as he is better known around the team — and his wife visited Cincinnati.

        “They're both very dedicated to making sure that their kids have a great life,” Huggins said. “He knows he needs an education. She understands that, and she's got a nice job, because she's an intelligent lady and she's got some schooling. There's a lot of pressure in that situation, and he handles things really well.”

        Team psychologist Dr. Joe Zieleniewski said McElroy arrived at UC with “a pretty sound value system.

        “He does a good job of prioritizing, plus he's got some pretty strong coping mechanisms,” Zieleniewski said. “He handles stress pretty well. He's got a pretty good concept of where his life's going. He can see the big picture.”

        McElroy was in 11th grade and on his way to basketball practice when he first spotted Javondia, who was in 10th grade and on the girls basketball team. He asked a friend to get her phone number. She told the friend that if Mac wanted to call her, he could ask for the number himself.

        He did. The first time he called, they talked for hours.

McElroy in action
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Kiara was born Feb.20, 1998, a few months before Immanuel was to graduate from Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas. That fall, McElroy left for Tyler, 3 1/2 hours away. He would go months without seeing Javondia or Kiara.

        Javondia would send photos of their daughter. The couple talked every day. They were married in May 1999, the day after Javondia graduated from high school. She then moved to Tyler, where she took some classes. Mac Jr. was born Nov.27, 1999.

        Neither Immanuel nor Javondia believes their situation is extraordinary. They say they pray for guidance and do what they have to do to get through each day.

        Immanuel: “She's the type of wife, she goes all out. She's strong. She works. She takes care of our kids. She picks up most of the slack.”

        Javondia: “When I met him, I knew that he loved basketball. If we're together, I have to accept what he loves, just like he has to accept what I love.”

        The hardest times are when the Bearcats travel or one of the kids is sick.

        “I can't imagine,” UC teammate Leonard Stokes said of McElroy's situation. “He always has a good spirit. From my perspective, he's doing a great job being a parent, as well as handling things on the court.”

        The McElroys were married in a courthouse with only immediate family and not a lot of fanfare. On June9, they plan to renew their vows and have a reception in Cincinnati.

        “I get on my knees and pray every day, thanking God for what I have and asking him to bless my family,” McElroy said. “And I just take it one day at a time.”


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