There’s a little girl’s chant coming from somewhere in the house in the Bronx. Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
That’s three-year-old Jada, and she’s looking for her father. The one who led Hofstra basketball to the NCAA tournament that never happened.
“She has so much she wants me to do,” Desure Buie is saying over the phone. “That’s the best part about it. Even though I went to Hofstra, 40 minutes from my house, I wasn’t able to come home so much. I was playing basketball and I had to work on my craft. Spending time (with family), there’s nothing like it.”
When last seen in a Hofstra uniform, Buie was scoring 20 points in the Pride’s 70-61 win over Northeastern in the CAA championship game. What a night it was in Washington D.C. The NCAA bid would be Hofstra’s first in 19 years, and Buie was named tournament's Most Outstanding Player — a fitting tribute for a senior who had barely made it into college with shaky academics and uncertain prospects, and transformed himself into an honor student, team star, and father to boot. Buie accepted the MOP award, handed it to his mom for safe keeping, and celebrated with his teammates, looking forward to the memorable NCAA tournament dance to come.
“I never thought,” he said, “that would be my last game in a Hofstra uniform.”
That was March 10. We all know what happened next.
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By the time the team got back to its New York campus the next day, the coronavirus was beginning to hit full-force. The state would quickly become the country’s epicenter of the crisis. The NCAA tournament was cancelled the day after that.
Buie had nothing left to do but go home to the Bronx, stay put in the safety at home and make sure his family did the same. He had lived a fairy tale — a stellar basketball career as a 5-11 guard, helping Hofstra basketball to a place it hadn’t seen in a generation, earning his degree in linguistics and then completing a master’s with high grades. But suddenly, it was over.
“Now all I do is sit in the house, play video games, spend time with my daughter and work out,” he said. “At first, I’m not going to lie, it was very tough. That’s something I’ve dreamed about, playing in the tournament since I was a little boy. We were able to get over that hump. I’d won the (regular season) conference three times, and my third time was the charm. So it was so hard not to be able to play in that tournament."
“But I understood. I felt like the way I went out was good enough. It hadn’t been done in 19 years. I was able to play our conference tournament, I earned my ring. I left as a winner, so I’m very thankful for that.”
He found a gym where he could work on his game with only a couple of family members, but has played in one true pickup basketball game in the two months since. When in his life has he been away from basketball for so long? “Never.”
But this is no time to be reckless. So many college athletes around the country had to leave campus in March, but Desure Buie was headed home to a hot spot, to be with his parents and sister and niece and nephew. And Jada. There’s been a lot of death outside his door in New York City.
“It is very scary. I have older parents. In New York it’s hard to keep everybody inside. This thing is very serious. Everybody has to want to do right thing, and that’s very hard in New York, when you have so much going on.”
So far, his family has not been directly affected by the coronavirus — “Thank God” — and he has tried to stay in the best shape he can, hoping a shot at professional basketball somewhere is in his future. After that, coaching. And when he’s not working out, there’s Jada. “Chasing her up and down the halls,” Buie said.
His Hofstra days are over, but they still echo in his home in the Bronx. There will be times he walks into a room and his mother and father are watching replays of the Northeastern game. A lot of teams never got the chance to play in a league tournament in March. Buie will always have that, anyway. He’ll always have the 26-8 senior season for Joe Mihalich’s soaring program, always have those 141 career games for the Pride — the most in school history — and always that wonderful night in Westwood last November, when Hofstra stunned UCLA, and he scored 29 points in Pauley Pavilion.
“I’m mad that the coronavirus is so big and stopped the whole world, because I never thought anything would do that. But I’m not mad at the fact of how it ended. I’m satisfied with winning that tournament because it hadn’t been done for so long. I’m good about that. It’s more about where I started, to be the person I became on and off the court, being a respectful young man. I went to Hofstra as a kid and I left as a grown man with a daughter in this world. I look at how it started, more than how it ended.”
That’s a lot to cherish, but there will also always be a frustration about the one thing missed. He was nearly Jada’s age the last time Hofstra played in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ll definitely wonder what that would have felt like. People say the air is different out there when you’re playing in the NCAA tournament. I would have loved to have experienced that and felt that pressure because those things are what you live for.”
He has other things to live for now, too. One of them is three years old.