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Jave Meade

March 9, 2004 Columns No Comments



Meade Gets His Chance And Runs With It

by Phil Kasiecki

All Jave Meade ever needed was a chance. A chance to play the game, a chance to play his natural position, a chance to go to a good college.

Meade recently played his final home game at Holy Cross. The native of Queensbridge, New York was honored as the team’s only senior, and at various times before, during and after the game the crowd chants his name in appreciation for all he’s done. Before he can get to the locker room after the Crusaders’ 72-57 win over Lehigh, he has fans greeting him and wanting autographs. He happily signs for all of them, talking with the kids as well, before dutifully returning to the locker room with his team. Then after talking with the media, he comes right back out to be with his family and more kids that stayed around. The kids are so attracted to him, and he clearly loves talking to them while signing.

Asked, jokingly, if he feels like he’s a celebrity, he gets a good laugh and just says he appreciates the people who supported him his entire career, of which there were plenty. He got emotional during the pre-game ceremony honoring him, and even a little while talking to the media and thinking about his four years. He’s done so much winning – three Patriot League championships in a row and the team is peaking at the right time to try to win a fourth – but it wasn’t always clear he would get to this point. That’s probably why he appreciates where he is now more than anyone, and he talks about it right away in thinking back to what stands out about the last four years.

“Just Coach Willard giving me a chance,” he says, seemingly fighting back tears. “He gave me an opportunity to play as a freshman, and it was very special.”

Meade wasn’t originally a player who figured to play a lot of minutes right away for a Division I school. Although he played at national power Christ the King High School, he wasn’t heavily recruited, partly because he played out of position. Clearly a point guard now, he played shooting guard and even some small forward there, partly because he played alongside Omar Cook. Head coach Ralph Willard says he jokes with Meade about that, saying, “I told him – I always kid him – you took a lot of great pictures in high school.” He then spent a year at Northfield Mt. Hermon Academy, a solid academic school not known for having elite basketball talents. It was there that he started to blossom, getting to play the point for head coach Bill Batty (who was at his final home game) and averaging 15 points and 11 assists per game.

“He really was not heavily recruited, because nobody knew what his position was,” Willard reflected. “But I saw his intelligence from the beginning and his ability to control the basketball, control the game. He grew into the point guard role – he wasn’t a pure point guard when he came.”

Meade came in and played over 25 minutes per game as a freshman, making the Patriot League All-Rookie team. He averaged 7.3 points and 3.1 assists per game as the Crusaders went 22-8, losing to Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He also led the team in steals, which was the start of a trend: Meade is the Patriot League’s all-time leader in that category with 240 entering the Patriot League Tournament.

He has started every game since then, leading the Patriot League in assists, steals and assist/turnover ratio the last two seasons. This season, he was second in assists, and teammate Kevin Hamilton was one of two who topped him in steals, but he posted a career-best 3.04 assist/turnover ratio to once again lead the Patriot League. For his career, he has a 2.24 assist/turnover ratio, and enters the Patriot League Tournament seven assists shy of 600. He is the only player in the league’s history to score 1,000 points and hand out 500 assists.

Defense has long been Meade’s big staple, and it’s not just about steals. Troy Bell, the all-time leading scorer at Boston College and now a member of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, said that Meade was the toughest defender he played against in college. His dad was his first coach, and he set the tone for Jave’s career by stressing defense. It didn’t hurt that one player he grew up playing with was Indiana Pacer forward Ron Artest, long known for his defense.

“I’ve been playing with him since I was nine, and that’s all he cared about was defense,” Meade says of Artest. “If you weren’t playing defense, he would scream at you in front of everybody and throw you off the court.”

When he wasn’t taking on his older brother, who he says still beats him one-on-one, Meade was honing his game with and against the likes of Lamar Odom, Craig Claxton and Cook. He grew up surrounded by the many New York talents, making it easy for him to slip through and be a late bloomer.

This season at Holy Cross, there has been a New York connection in the backcourt. Meade has been joined by two freshman, Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons, each of whom has shown that they have good careers ahead. Simmons is from Kingston, a little upstate from New York City, but played with some of the area’s talent in AAU. Both have immensely benefited from Meade’s leadership this year, with Thomas already having a battle scar.

“If you see my left eye, that epitomizes everything,” Thomas says as he points to the eye. “I got six stitches in my eye from Jave. He’s a battler, a warrior; I just learned so much experience and court savvy and court awareness that’s unmatched by any other guard. I’ve got one of the top guards in the east that I play against in practice every day. I try my best to battle him every day in practice, and it’s been a great experience, an experience that you can’t match.”

“I look up to Jave a lot, he’s done so many things for this program,” Simmons adds. “I joke with him – I call him the poster boy, because you can’t talk about Holy Cross basketball without talking about Jave Meade. I’m sad to see him go, I only got one year with him, but I’m glad I got this one year. It’s definitely going to help me with my career.”

Could the school find a better poster boy? Besides his play, Meade is humble, soft-spoken, articulate and very likeable. Willard says the old clich√© about him being a better person off the court, and you can’t help but think it really is true. Talking to him is like watching him play the game – enjoyable and pleasant. He’s a player you can’t help but want to see succeed on the court, and you just know he’ll be successful off the court, where the senior Sociology major would like to follow in his brother’s footsteps working in schools. His brother is a teacher and about to become a principal, and he thinks back to his background as a prime reason he would like to make a difference with young kids. It’s surely one more reason he enjoys all the kids he interacts with after the game.

“I came from a very, very, very rough neighborhood, and to be in this position, other people have had to help me come from where I’ve been,” he reflects.

Willard is one of those, for recruiting him and giving him his chance at Division I, and constantly pushing him to be better. He’s certainly been rewarded for it up to this point.

“I love him, he’s just a special person,” Willard says. “You just can’t say enough about him. He’s the consummate team guy, the consummate winner. His whole philosophy is to make everybody else around him better, and he’s done that for four years.

“I told our guys, I told him, it’s no secret that our success and his coming here coincided. He’s been such a great team player for 4 years and he’s meant so much to our program in terms of how unselfish he is, how much better he makes everyone else.”

The end of the season won’t be the end of his affiliation with Holy Cross basketball, although it will be in the background. While talking to the crowd on Senior Day, he noted the support of alumni, among others. He mentioned that teammates from his early years such as Jared Curry, Ryan Serravalle and Brian Wilson have kept in touch to find out how the team is doing, and he plans to do the same thing.

Considering how his coach and teammates feel about him, that doesn’t seem like it will happen with a feeling of obligation. Willard has particularly enjoyed this group of young men, and it’s a prime example of things starting at the top – from Willard, the coaching staff and Meade on through the lineup, it’s a group of fine young men on and off the court.

“This is a really good team – they love each other, they really respect one another, they care about one another, and they love Jave,” Willard says.

The players love him, the fans have loved him all along, and those who have watched Meade have loved the way he plays the game. Life after Jave won’t be the same, but players like Thomas and Simmons are well-prepared for the rest of their careers. Holy Cross has a long tradition of basketball achievement, so there will be more players who go on to achieve greatness. But it seems that few will leave behind what he will: a great career on and off the court, loved and respected by those who cross his path, and leaving such a lasting imprint.

Jave Meade got his chance, as he and the entire Holy Cross basketball program are all the better for it.

     

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