This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Nate Minnoy developed his goal of earning a college basketball scholarship early on in his playing career.
The Hales Franciscan senior shooting guard remembers being captivated by kids older than him as they grew from youth standouts to high school stars to college recruits. He followed the careers of Chicago products like Georgia Tech senior Will Bynum, Duke junior Sean Dockery, University of Toledo sophomore Florentino Valencia and even University of Idaho freshman Jerod Haynes.
Minnoy watched. And then he carved out his own place in line.
"I think a lot of my drive to be competitive came from seeing people go to college and be successful and play on TV," says the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Minnoy, 18, who is bound for Purdue next season on a full scholarship. "All those Chicago kids were guys I looked up to."
To be perfectly accurate, Minnoy has carried himself like a big-time prospect for some time now. Not in an arrogant way, mind you. But in the physical nature of his game, which is now complemented by a slick tactical approach.
"Physically, he's got the strength to come in and bang in the Big Ten next year," says Spartans head coach Gary London, 48. "He was already good when he got here because he would exploit his physical edge even then. But the biggest change in his game is his knowledge of the game. He knows right away now what a defense is giving him, where to get his shot off and how to find the open man."
London got a good sense for the skills he was dealing with early in Minnoy's Hales Franciscan career.
After playing his freshman season at Mount Carmel, where he helped the Golden Aces to the regional finals, Minnoy showed an ability to take over a game almost right away at Hales. At the holiday season Big Dipper Tournament as a sophomore, he averaged 30 points per game and dropped 33 on Bloom in the title contest to earn tournament MVP honors.
A third team Illinois Basketball Coaches Association honoree as a sophomore and second team Chicago Tribune All-State selection as a junior, Minnoy averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game during his sophomore campaign and upped those numbers to 19 and 12 last season.
What's more, Minnoy has made sure to develop every aspect of himself as a player. He is media savvy. He knows what he wants to say and how to articulate it. And the media have caught on. Both the Chicago Sun-Times and HighSchoolElite.com have enlisted him to keep a public player diary.
Minnoy is extremely articulate and profoundly respectful. And he's deadly serious about basketball. He treats his career like a shop owner treats his business. With TLC.
"I've felt a lot of pressure all the time over the past three years," says Minnoy. "I wanted to go to school for free, and I got up every day thinking about that. My intensity for keeping my game tight hasn't changed a bit since I committed (to Purdue) either, man. There are good players out there who don't have scholarships yet who are coming at you every night. I'm always gonna play hard, man.
"I'd have to say I'm a two-faced person, in a way," he continues. "I have my life and I have my basketball life. I consider my basketball life my livelihood, and it's something I hope will put money in my pockets and food on my plate."
In addition to the pressure he's placed upon himself, Minnoy has faced external burdens as well.
At the end of his sophomore year, just months after leading the Spartans to the first Class A state title won by a Chicago school since 1985, Minnoy watched coach London receive a suspension for half the 2003-04 season for what the Illinois High School Association ruled was a violation of organizing a scholastic squad outside the season limitations and for a violation of anti-recruiting rules. The Spartans were placed on probation for all of last season and were unable to defend their state title because they were ineligible for postseason play.
To make matters worse, Minnoy was suspended for three games earlier this season after he entered the stands to confront a heckler at the Big Dipper, the same tournament he'd dominated two years earlier. To Minnoy's credit, no punches were thrown, though both he and the heckler were officially charged with breach of the peace.
After years of feeling the pressure, Minnoy boiled over in a momentary lapse. There's no need to remind him it was a mistake. In the first five minutes of an hour-long conversation, he reveals himself to be smarter than that.
"You've really got to think about the good things that basketball brings to you and great attention that it brings to you, and you have to channel the good parts of those things," says Minnoy. "That's something I can't forget. When you're always in the limelight, you're not a regular person anymore. You end up having to act different. You just have to be true to yourself."
Above all else, Minnoy stays true to basketball.
"With a lot of guys, if you don't see them working on their game, you imagine they're home playing video games," says London. "If Nate's not here, you know he's in somebody's gym. He's got a unique work ethic and love for the game."
Minnoy is also grateful he's been able to keep his eyes on the prize. He's been able to reach out and grab that free college education and blue-chip status he's coveted for so long.
"To make it this far, you really have to learn how to play the game in every way," says Minnoy. "I don't say that to be corny. You've got to be a player, but you've also got to learn how to approach people, you've got to develop a personality on and off the court, you've got to understand the business-world part of this game. You've got to learn how to carry yourself. But you can never stop being yourself."