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From PGC to DC: Getting to Know Basketball Athlete Colin Smalls

Any time you go to an AU  Men’s Basketball game you can expect to see this Maryland born and raised player dominating the court, do you know who it is? 

If you guessed player #3 Colin Smalls, then you shot the 3-pointer. Colin Smalls [@colsmals] is a sophomore attending American University, majoring in business administration at the Kogod School of Business, and a player on the Men’s Basketball team. The DMV native’s inspiration starts with the time spent at his grandparents ``always having some kind of ball in…hands whether it was a basketball, football, or soccer ball”. Smalls grandfather took the time, ardor, and flexibility  to “sit on the couch and toss the ball back and forth” because of the imbued spirit for basketball Smalls carried as a child. His grandfather “eventually found a park nearby and practiced shooting lay-ups to jump shots, shoot with both hands, dribble around, and play one-on-one” that built the stepping stones for Smalls’ humbled spirit and fervor for the game. Along with Smalls aspirations to continue to grow and refine himself, his inner child is one of the primary inspirations that keeps him going today  Smalls expresses that “even on the days when…doesn’t want to play” Smalls younger self  “is fired to be here, playing division one basketball, doing what…loves at this level”. Smalls’ determination and investment into himself  even when he’s “hurting, had a bad day, doesn’t want to go to practice'' refers to his younger self and “what he’d think'' because Small’s primary goal is to “make the next version” of himself proud. The most principal experience which defines Smalls is understanding of the ins and outs of being an athlete at a PWI like American University is through the ability to navigate the intersectionality of being a Black man and an athlete. Luckily for him he feels like “people are accepting of everybody so I don't feel like there’s a difference between that or not fitting  into the community… I feel a part of the community.”Smalls strives to immerse himself into campus life and socialize with his basketball teammates and other acquaintances as he “likes to interact with other people, other students on campus, so don’t try to box myself in.” 

As American University’s Black community has grown there has been a large influx of Black men on the campus which has increased traction and motive to create insular and positive organizations and environments for Black men to congregate and join in brotherhood. For Smalls “there is an importance to have Black community at a PWI so you don’t lose yourself in an environment like this, so we’re like a family, all from the same racial background, it’s important to stay close knit and have that commonality with other Black people on campus”. Smalls’ strong sense of his Blackness and camaraderie translates to the self-awareness and dichotomy that Black and white men encounter in America “it’s important to have Black community for Black men because Black men, we go through things in life that white men don’t, it’s important to have that sense of community, that you can trust in so we can stay together”. The most important part of Black men solidarity is the opportunity to deconstruct and breakdown the immobility that has been dealt to Black men and allow for vulnerability and conversation that pertain to Black men’s health to exist, the most important being mental health awareness and attention for Black men. Mental health awareness is even more important for Black men in spaces where they are the minority within the minority in a PWI and being an athlete, Smalls’ acknowledgement brings awareness and remedies towards the overview of handling mental health as an athlete and as a Black man, and his form of coping is through basketball “feeling like the court is therapy as an athlete, when it’s empty, to get some shots up, turn on some music, and just let go. As a Black man dealing with mental health, talking to other Black men who can relate helps because they understand and connect”. Formulas like using basketball as a healthy mental health mechanism extends itself into further conversation about the priority of a Black man’s mental health in America and at AU and how “ a Black man’s mental health is not prioritized in certain places at school or in general because in society nobody really cares for your mental health because everything is like a business to society so as long as you’re getting your job done, completing your task that proves your value to somebody then no one really cares about how you're doing, they just care about what you can offer to them”. 

Fortunately for Smalls, he’s thriving at AU whether its on the court or off because of his self described “charisma, attentiveness, ambition, and being well-rounded” continues to translate his personality from on and off the court  as he “tries to keep a level demeanor throughout the game as games don’t always go how you like them or sometimes they do, so it depends on the court and flow of the game, talking to my teammates, and if we get down I try to build them up and get them excited”. Smalls’ consciousness and care for others on and off the court translates to his character being a humble individual is all inspired by the NBA player he looks up to, Damian Lillard. Similar to Lillard, Smalls “he [Lillard] wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, went to a major low D-one schools and went out and performed and got his shot in the NBA by making the most his opportunity”, Smalls “feels the relation thought not following the same footsteps but same storyline” combined with the “standup guy class act and leader on and off the court” of Lebron James. Smalls’ dynamic disposition draws from both NBA legends and exhibits such character enables him to maneuver between the versatility of “going to public school all the way up until 10th grade in Prince George’s County, Maryland that was all Black and then transferred to St. Andrews in Montgomery county that’s completely different and majority Caucasian” he says he, “had the best of both worlds”. This means that Smalls’ adjustment to the AU community wasn’t unfamiliar, he accumulated once enrolled at the university. 

Besides basketball, Smalls’ passions for entrepreneurship, business management with aspirations to become an agent in different industries or sport entertainment and sundry styles of Alternative, Hip Hop, Gospel, and R&B music from the old school influence of his childhood to the new school independence of his own. Artists that keep Smalls going throughout the day consist of Billie Eilish, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, Pooh Shiesty, NBA Youngboy, Lil Wayne, Micheal Jackson, and Alicia Keys. Small's top song is Rock My World by Micheal Jackson with Chris Tucker.

Gospel music plays an important form of remedy and therapy for Smalls especially during his pre and post game day hype music. The incorporation of songs like “Victory” by Tye Tribbet, “Take Me toThe King” by Tamala Mann, Donnie McClurkin, Anthony Hamiliton, and Kirk Franklin are a few of artists and songs that are apart of the “morning pre-game before going to the gym” but when Smalls is “ready to lock in , getting ready in the locker room, and on the court with airpods, I always turn on Voice of the Heroes by Lil Durk and Lil Baby”. On the other hand, as a student, Small's everyday routine consists of “waking up naturally around 8am but alarms for 9-9:30am, pray, get some food, head to class with normally two back-to-backs, head to practice, sometimes get treatment, and go do homework”. Such a simple daily routine can become repetitive so with D.C. being a large basin of connections and exploration, he enjoys  the versatility of clothes, shopping, sneakers, graphic design, and from time to time music production. Though, within five to ten years his objectives are to “be happy doing something and whatever it is to do it for me and not for somebody else who wanted to steer me in a different direction” other than materialistic avenues that many students and athletes are trained and programmed to trail, Smalls wants “to be happy”. 

As Smalls continues to dominate the court with his quick plays, fast passes, and tunnel-visioned demeanor at American University, only time will tell about the possibilities he’ll possess, the accomplishments he’ll attain, and his dreams only a star away; but one thing for certain is that his humbleness, attentiveness, and charisma are simply keys that will unlock many successful doors for him in the future.



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