Team mom knows best
McCrea's mother, Shannon Nash, helps players deal with pressures of being a student-athlete
There's an old African proverb: "It takes a whole village to raise a child."
Shannon Nash defies that saying every single day.
No doubt about it, Nash - the mother of Javon McCrea, the star junior forward on the men's basketball team - is the team mom. She is one of the many moral fibers who provide the thread of the men's basketball program - she lends support, discipline, even food and a home for athletes who are unable to go home during holiday breaks.
Even though she primarily deals with the people closest to McCrea - including "the five," which consists of McCrea, junior guards Jarod Oldham and Corey Raley-Ross and junior forwards Auraum Nuiriankh and Cameron Downing - she spreads her wisdom to everyone on the team.
It's much-needed relief for players who come from all over the country and all walks of life.
"With myself, coming from Illinois, coming all the way to New York, it's pretty far for my parents to always come out," Oldham said. "My mom can't come here to talk to an administrator or a professor if I have any problems, so my 'New York mother' would help me out.
"Javon's mom opened her arms to all of us, and it just clicked. You can't go wrong with that."
Nash makes sure they are well taken care of during the holidays. For kids who don't have the opportunity to go home during break, she brings them to McCrea's hometown of Newark, N.Y. It's an opportunity for the guys to unwind and relax from the stresses of the daily grind of school and basketball.
"We have a little bit of fun," McCrea said. "We only have a few days, so we use that time to relax."
Last Thanksgiving, the guys had an intense game of Pictionary. The players, competitive in everything that they do, tried to outdo each other.
"It got very comical when they were trying to draw," Nash joked. "But that's how they are. Those are the silly moments you'll get with them."
Nash has a special touch in terms of her culinary prowess, according to the players. When she cooks, the guys drop everything and chow down.
They each even have their own special dish that Nash will happily prepare, turning holiday meals into a potluck-type feast with a multitude of tastes to fit the multitude of palates.
"They have their own requests, but they'll eat whatever," Nash said. "For example, Cameron will request shrimp, and no one else will want shrimp, until I make it for Cameron. Then they'll eat Cam's shrimp."
Even though she brings out her best during the holidays, Nash is always ready, willing and able to provide a meal for the guys when they need it most.
"Its not only Thanksgiving or Christmas," Oldham said. "She throws down every week. That's how we keep this weight on, with some home-cooked food."
She doesn't just provide a place for the holidays. During the school year, she keeps on top of their studies and makes sure they don't get behind. Education is something that is a very serious topic for Nash, and McCrea knows that firsthand. Growing up under her rules has made him the person that he is now, and he is happy to share that with his fellow teammates.
"She takes care of me a lot," McCrea said. "And she takes [looking after the other guys] very seriously, like they're her kids. She asks them about their grades, makes sure they're good, too, just like she would with me."
There's usually no trouble on that end, but Nash has a warning for them if they slip up.
"I'll probably kill them," Nash said jokingly.
She gives tough love to the boys - but where does it come from? Nash said the motivation comes from her own childhood. Her parents gave her the structure to not only succeed, but to pass it on to a young Javon growing up.
"With my mom, she instilled education in me, and with my brothers we saw how important it was to her, so we just had no other choice but to follow suit," Nash said. "But I saw when kids become teenagers, they tend to gravitate toward whatever is popular. I have to reel them back in and teach them what life is like without education."
Head coach Reggie Witherspoon truly appreciates Nash. As a coach who is a family man himself, he understands having an extra voice doling out love and support is important for his student-athletes.
"She's been great, just really being there not just for Javon, but his teammates," Witherspoon said. "Being there to provide a family atmosphere and support, that's the thing I look at the most with her. We talk about a family atmosphere a lot, and it's something that we value. It makes being on a team special. It's something that we have a tremendous amount of appreciation for."
Her presence isn't only limited to Western New York. No matter where the road takes them, whether it's Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana or anywhere in between, chances are she will be right there with them, providing that same support that is needed in tough road environments. She cheers on not only Javon, but also her other 'sons'.
It's also an opportunity to meet up with the other moms, as combined, they give road trips a touch of home.
"It's great when you have that encouragement when you travel," Witherspoon said. "When you go into those hostile places and you see them and you hear that kind of encouragement, it's tremendous, because you don't get that. Our games are so far away and we seen her in arenas that are very long trips, so it's great to have that kind of support."
This Thanksgiving, Nash will have to set a few extra placemats to the dining room table. Two new freshmen will get a chance to experience Nash's cooking, games and life in Newark. Guard Jarryn Skeete and forward Andre McPhail are learning on the fly how to deal with the pressures that come with being student-athletes, as well as the pressures of dealing with Nash.
"I'm sure they had to prepare them for me because there's a lot of things that I don't tolerate," Nash laughed. "And I'll just say that, regardless of how they feel about it, they had to prepare the freshmen for me."
It's tough love, but Nash feels it is needed. She aims to give that extra push they need to succeed in whatever it is they do - on and off the court. To her, it's completely worth the extra potential stress.
"These kids, I love them just like they're my own," Nash said. "I told them when I met them that I won't let nothing happen to them as long as they continue to be productive individuals. They've exceeded that by becoming great men. It's easy to help them and take a liking to them because they're just great kids."