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Vol. 58, No. 3 • February 2020 • .pdf version
Toney's journey leads to Most Courageous Award
By MATT KARNER
New Jersey City University's senior forward Sam Toney, this year's recipient of the USBWA Most Courageous Award, spent much of his life in and out of foster homes before finding stability and becoming a Division III All-American.
"I just want to be successful at whatever I do and basketball was a big part of that," Toney said. "Basketball was kind of my way to escape some things that I'm struggling with or going through. Playing basketball was my way to relieve stress and clear my head."
Toney estimated that he has lived in 50 foster homes.
The 6-foot-4 power forward has averaged 15.8 points throughout his career. Toney earned the New Jersey Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year award as a freshman.
As a sophomore, he was named the NJAC Player of the Year, averaging 20.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. Toney's drive and passion have made him the player he is today, but more importantly, have helped shape him into the man he has become.
Toney failed to make his high school team as a freshman and, after earning a spot his senior year, quit midway through the season. He never gave up. His positivity and determination always found a way to break through. Through a co-worker, Toney was taken in by Marvin and Toni Woodson.
Toney was then observed by Butch Ingram, who organizes a private league. Ingram's special interest in Toney led him to NJCU and its coach.
"The level of coaching he has received while he's here (NJCU) from Marc Brown has been extremely beneficial for him. It's brought him stability," said Shawn Tucker, the university's associate vice president and director of athletics. "When you're going from a life where you don't really have stability but now you are able to go to an institution for multiple years ... You have a coach (who) stays with you for multiple years and you build a bond, you build a relationship."
Toney entered college as a 23 year old.
"He's a pretty driven guy," Brown said. "He's been beaten down a little bit in his life, especially early on, and he's always stood tall and he's been doing that with me for the last four years."
Toney's passion, determination and drive come from within. Through his struggles, he has found the will to win.
"Understanding that life sometimes throws you curveballs, but those that are able to withstand those curves and are able to stay within the box," Tucker said. "Eventually you get some hits, you get some doubles, you hit a home run. He's hit a home run here at NJCU."
After graduation Toney hopes to play professionally, but his connection to NJCU and Brown will last forever.
"He came in with respect for me as a man because I'm that one guy that gave him an opportunity," Brown said. "That's where our bond lies. I told him our bond will never be broken, I'm gonna be there for the rest of his life and the rest of my life."
Toney plans to help others overcome circumstances similar to what he had to face throughout his adolescence.
"One of my goals is to also help other people to understand, to be able to get through the situation that I've been through," Toney said. "Because there are a lot of people that are similar to me – maybe not as bad, maybe not worse, maybe some of the same – but there are people like me everywhere.
"I've experienced a lot, and to me, that's what makes me the person I am. That's why I'm able to not dwell on the past, not think about the past."
Matt Karner is a graduate assistant in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.
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