For those who had the pleasure of witnessing former Terrier Dammy Mustapha soar through the air in his award-filled high school track career, many would have thought that playing college basketball would be the last thing on Mustapha’s radar when he was deciding where he would attend college.
Even Mustapha, who was a two-year member of the Terriers boys’ varsity basketball team, thought that if he was going to continue his athletic career in college it would be on the track instead of the court.
"I didn’t really think about playing college basketball until my senior year," said Mustapha. "But I decided that I could always fall back on track so I gave it a try."
Although Mustapha eventually set his dreams on playing basketball at the next level, his high school stats did not spark many college coach’s interest and thus Mustapha had to sell himself if he was going to find a team willing to give him a shot.
It was at this soul-searching period that Mustapha found the perfect match in Castleton State College, a place that he had not even considered until his mother convinced him to at least take a visit.
"I contacted the assistant coach at the time and we talked about the potential for me to play basketball," said Mustapha. "I didn’t have it in my mind that it was a place I wanted to go until I went up there and met the players and saw how nice the campus was."
Even after Mustapha had made his decision, he had a long road ahead of him if he was to make the Spartans’ squad. Current Spartans’ coach Paul Culpo had recently been hired and there was very little preference given to Mustapha when he began pre-season workouts. "I basically walked on," said Mustapha.
However, Mustapha, who until his freshman year in college, had always relied on his sheer natural gifts, never touching a weight, he was able to impress his coaches by sticking it out through a tough pre-season, where many potential players quit, a perseverance that gave Mustapha his shot.
"Dammy is one of the most improved players I have ever coached," said Culpo. "He serves as a great example of what putting in the time and sticking with something can do for an athlete."
Fast-forward to four years later and Mustapha’s stats speak for themself, as after struggling for playing time his freshman and sophomore year, Mustapha played a significant role in the Spartans’ recent success, which included a NAC championship in 2012 and a trip to the NCAA national tournament and an ECAC birth this year, averaging 7.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game in that two-year span.
"The coaches gave me a role that they wanted me to fill," said Mustapha. "They wanted me to lead the team in rebounding and to play with a lot of energy. Once they told me that, I gained a lot of confidence knowing that I was an important member of the team."
This role was never more valuable to the Spartans than in their first round ECAC game against Wentworth at Spartan Arena on Feb. 27.
The Spartans, who trailed by one point with 8.5 seconds remaining, drew up a play that did not involve Mustapha taking the shot, however when the Spartan shot rolled around and fell off Mustapha, who had crashed the weak side, elevated in his typical track athlete fashion and tipped the ball home, giving Castleton a one-point victory.
"My freshman year I probably would not have made that play because I didn’t have the basketball IQ to know where that ball was going," said Mustapha. "With so many practices under my belt, I was able to read the shot and know where I had to be to make a play."
Beyond his accolades on the court, Mustapha has realized just how important college athletics can be in preparing young adults for the real world.
"I have learned how important time management is," said Mustapha, who had woken up early to be interviewed and to conduct some last-minute review before his test in the afternoon. "It’s a situation where you work hard in the classroom and then you get rewarded by playing a game that you love."
In just 10 weeks Mustapha will receive his Bachelor’s degree in business marketing and although he has received several job offers, Mustapha is not quite sure where life after college will bring him.
However, there is one thing that Mustapha is sure of, he wouldn’t trade his last four years for anything and wants to pass on to young athletes the importance of them pursuing their own dreams.
"There were people who said I would never play college basketball, but I did," said Mustapha. "I would tell any kid who has set their dreams at playing at the next level to never let anyone convince you that you can’t, if you work hard you can achieve anything."