Leap of Faith

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

With only 47 seconds left on the clock in UCSD’s season-ending 79-87 loss to Humboldt State on Feb. 26, senior guards Jordan Lawley and Tyler Acevedo walked to the bench for the last time in their Triton careers. They recieved a standing ovation from the RIMAC Arena crowd.

With a familiar blast from the scoreboard buzzer — the same one that signaled the beginning of their careers four years ago — the collegiate curtains were drawn on two of the most influential standouts in the recent history of the UCSD men’s basketball team.

The final walk to the bench was bittersweet for Acevedo, who said he attributes much of his success to the people he played with throughout his collegiate career.

“It was mixed feelings — sad and happy,” Acevedo said. “I just sat there in my jersey, reflecting back on my career. I had a lot of great times. I just hugged my teammates, thanking them.”

But now, their collegiate careers behind them, Acevedo and Lawley are confronting the same dilemma all students face on the cusp of the real world: What next?

For both Triton standouts, the answer is, hopefully, a career in professional basketball.

“I’m going to play basketball as long as I can,” Lawley said. “Just keep playing until my clock runs out.”

However, Lawley — who was named to the 2009-10 California Collegiate Athletic Association first team and led the league with a 20.2 points-per-game average — acknowledged that the jump from UCSD to the European professional leagues would be a massive one.

Both he and Acevedo will be entering an elite pool of basketball talent. Although incomparable to the NBA, the international curcuit has a talent standard far above the Division-II NCAA.

Lawley said he recently hired an agent to help him score a spot in a European league, and is currently looking at professional leagues in Germany, Turkey, Australia and the Baltic countries.

But regardless of which league he ends up in, Lawley said his agent wants him to play in the first division — against “the big boys” — a move that will require him to improve many aspects of his game, including his physique.

“I’m a little scared,” Lawley said. “I will have to change up my game and become either a [shooting guard] or a [point guard].

However, Lawley — who is currently training in the off-season to meet the increased demands of pro ball — said he remains sure of his abilities.

“It’s more a physical than a mental issue,” Lawley said. “I think I can handle it mentally, but physically, I need to get my body stronger and faster in order to be able to play.”

Acevedo, who said he plans on exploring opportunities in European and Puerto Rican leagues, will face similar challenges. But even if he doesn’t make a team, Acevedo said he knows he wants to stay involved in the sport, even if it means working in youth camps — like the LeBron James King’s Academy, which visited RIMAC Arena this past summer.

Lawley and Acevedo both said they have recieved full familial support for their decision to pursue professional basketball careers; Lawley described his parents as “stoked” on the idea. Perhaps equally committed to their welfare is their mentor and coach of the last four years, head coach Chris Carlson.

“I have the confidence that I can play international ball, but I’m just scared of going over there all by myself,” Lawley said. “I will be leaving a lot of people behind.”

Both players were standout seniors in high school — Lawley at Tokay High School in Lodi, Calif., and Acevedo at Agoura High School in Agoura Hills, Calif. They had several options for playing ball in college, yet both chose UCSD — a school not especially well-known for its athletic program.

Lawley said there were three major pulls to becoming a Triton: the school’s academic prowess, La Jolla’s great weather and the caliber of people involved in the basketball program.

“When I looked at the school, I saw a great group of guys,” Lawley said. “They made me feel welcome and want to play with them.”

After meeting the team and spending time with Carlson, the prospect of a blue-and-gold Triton jersey became increasingly attractive.

Acevedo said that while success at UCSD was rarely easy to come by, he came out on top thanks in a large part to Carlson’s mentoring.

“There is less time to study, less time to freelance and less time to explore majors,” Acevedo said. “Coach was always telling us to manage time and keep up on our studies, and he really helped guide me and the rest of the players so we could handle basketball and school.”

As many UCSD athletes can attest, Acevedo and Lawley have found the academic responsibilities that come with attending a top-notch public university difficult to balance with a full-time athletic career. Student athletes must juggle road games, home practice and workouts with their studies.

Because UCSD doesn’t hand out athletic scholarships, Carlson said there is added pressure on Triton athletes — obligated to perform highly both academically and athletically while, in some cases, working a part-time job.

“I try to stress success in the classroom to my athletes every day,” Carlson said. “Because they must be both exceptional athletes and exceptional students, I make sure they stay on top of tests, papers and all their other assignments.”

Under Carlson’s tutelage, Acevedo has already fulfilled the unit requirement for a degree in communications, and Lawley is finishing up his last quarter as an economics major. Both are set to graduate in spring.

“Jordan and Tyler were both great guys,” Carlson said. “They had to balance school, work and basketball, and they were extraordinary at it. I firmly believe that both of them will be successful beyond UCSD.”

In the more far-off future, Lawley and Acevedo said they plan to utilize the education they received at UCSD to launch post-basketball careers.

Acevedo said he plans to couple his degree in communications with experience in the pros to get involved in the business or coaching side of the sport.

Similarly, Lawley said he hopes to eventually pursue a career as a sports agent. He is currently looking into a joint graduate program in business and law.

“I am going to take the LSAT soon,” Lawley said. “I want to be an agent. That will allow me to stay close to basketball even after I can’t play.”

Both Acevedo and Lawley said the fulfillment they derive from their sport greatly outweighs the stress of an uncertain future.

“Stress? Yeah there is some stress,” Acevedo said. “But I wouldn’t trade [basketball] for anything.”

Readers can contact Wesley Cox at [email protected].

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