Off-Campus to Off-Broadway
Four starters from Cornell’s surprising 2010 Sweet 16 team reunite as roommates.
Fifteen months, a Sweet 16 appearance and many, many miles ago, Cornell varsity basketball players Louis Dale, Jeff Foote, Jon Jaques and Ryan Wittman all shared a three-story, 15-bedroom house in Ithaca, NY, with 10 of their teammates. Partially credited for their incredible on-court chemistry and deep Tournament run in 2010, the house—or at least fond memories of it—stayed with Dale, Foote, Jaques and Wittman as they went their separate ways and played overseas this past season. At some point during their winter apart, spurred on by nostalgic thoughts and lengthy video chat and BBM sessions, the foursome, all of whom started for the Big Red, decided to reprise their roles as roommates when they returned to America for the summer—with one notable difference: instead of living off-campus, they would live off-Broadway.
“My season ended pretty early,” says Jeff Foote, a 7-0 center who spent his first year out of college playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and then Mellila in Spain. “So I was able to get here and look around, and I found this place.”
Located on 47th Sreet, between 8th and 9th Avenue, “this place” is the cozy midtown Manhattan apartment that Foote, Dale, Jaques and Wittman ended up leasing, sight unseen by all except Foote, for the summer.
“We kind of took his word on the place,” laughs Ryan Wittman, the sharpshooting son of a former NBA coach, who played for Forli in Italy this season.
“Jeff said we even had an extra room to fit somebody,” says Dale, the 5-11 2009 Ivy League Player of the Year, who played for Gottingen in Germany this past year.
“My mom wanted to come visit,” Jaques, a native of L.A. who played for Ironi Ashkelon in Israel, says, getting in on the make-fun-of-Foote fun. “She never did, though—which is probably a good thing.”
“Hey,” Foote, shrugging his shoulders, cuts in, “this was my first time [apartment hunting].”
Cramped and cluttered—with beds and chairs, desks and tables crammed into every nook and corner—dingy and dirty—with discolored walls and broken light switches with faulty wiring—the haunt is exactly what you’d expect from four young bachelors living in a short-term rental. The only visible identifying markers are scattered oversized Boston College—where their coach at Cornell, Steve Donahue, now coaches—and Big Red basketball gear, and an iron on the living room table. But though they live in a spectacularly unspectacular edifice, the tenants inside are anything but.
It’s not often that, 12 months after graduating and parting ways, two college roommates—let alone four—decide to become real roommates in a city that’s foreign to them. It’s not often that four professional basketball players decide to live together in the offseason. But, than, it’s not often that friendships form as thick as the one that Dale, Foote, Jaques and Wittman share. And that almost-familial friendship, and not the fact that they’re all athletes, is what makes the hovel on 47th street a home.
Early one late July morning, the foursome sat down on a rundown couch to discuss their living arrangement. Three of the four still had sleep in their eyes, yet the conversation flowed. Known for their great chemistry and teamwork while on the court together, it’s just as evident in their undersized hardwood living room. They laugh at each other’s bad jokes; they finish each other’s sentences; and they never interrupt one another mid-thought. No wonder they were such great teammates. No wonder they’re still such great roommates.
Even when not in the apartment, the four—or at least two or three of them—are often together. They attend yoga class at the 92nd street Y as a group. They play pick-up basketball and lift weights at the same gyms. And on nights when Foote and Dale suit up in the Nike Pro City league at Baruch College, Wittman and Jaques often can be spotted cheering in the stands.
All of the time together, the time discovering Manhattan and working out, has served as a much-needed respite to what were long overseas seasons for all of them.
“Being a pro overseas is completely different,” says Jaques. “College basketball is so much more fun that being a pro, even though you’re making money to play.”
“It’s tough,” Dale adds. “It’s not like living over here. It’s a different world.”
“You can lose one game one week and it’s the end of the world,” says Wittman. “But if you win the next week, everything’s golden, everyone’s happy. But if you lose the next week, it’s the end of the world again.”
Explains Foote: “If you lose one game, it’s like you’re about to get cut and it’s probably not even your fault. You could put up 20 and 20, but if you lose…it’s always the American’s fault.”
“Us all going from living in the same house together to living by ourselves in foreign countries, that was one of the biggest adjustments,” Wittman concludes. The others nod vigorously in agreement.
With the summer winding down—“it went way too fast,” says Dale—the foursome are set to fork off in different directions again. For Dale, that means returning to Germany and his one-man apartment with a non-existent kitchen. For Jaques that means settling down in New Jersey, where he hopes to catch on somewhere as a full-time journalist (he’s been writing for SLAMonline for the past year–Ed.). And for Foote and Wittman, that means weighing their best offers and deciding what country to play in this coming season. For all, though, summer’s end means leaving New York City—and each other.
“This is it, man,” Dale says sadly, eyes wandering around the apartment that they’ll all be vacating shortly. “It’s like college all over again. Like that last week where you graduate and it’s like, Man, I won’t see y’all for a while.”