Stevie Mejia graduated from Hofstra last May, fulfilling the student portion of student-athlete.
Now working toward a master's degree in higher education, Mejia is anxious to have his collegiate basketball career conclude on a successful note after a frustrating start.
Mejia, in his second season with the Pride, sat out the 2010-11 season after transferring from Rhode Island. A persistent hamstring injury limited him to 13 starts last season. "I think he had a really, really tough year," coach Mo Cassara said Thursday at the team's annual media day. "He got hurt three games in and then never really recovered until the end."
Mejia dedicated himself for the upcoming season. "He lost almost 15 pounds," Cassara said. "He's back to what I think can be one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. He feels good physically. I think we're going to see the guy we brought here from a leadership standpoint and a playing standpoint that's really going to help us win some games."
That is exactly what Mejia is thinking, too. "Coach has trust, knows my ability," said the 5-9, 165-pound player from Hyde Park, Mass. "He knows that I have been working hard to get where I'm at now. He has trust in me to lead a team. Patience, savviness to run a team, really just to have poise when things go wrong in a game and not to fold. I'm very anxious just to win games and show people my ability, but to win games is most important."
Mejia said a key for him was losing weight. "It wasn't that hard, but it takes discipline," he said. "I used to eat whatever when I was a little kid." His favorite meal is spaghetti. "I still eat it," he said, but the late-night snacks are out: "I stop eating by 9 o'clock."
On a team likely to see several different lineups during the season, Cassara said Mejia's status is cemented. "I think it's the safest of anybody," he said. "He's the guy that's going to fuel the engine. I text him almost every night: 'You've got to stretch, ice, take care of your body, get some rest. You've got to be able to play 40 minutes if we need you to play 40 minutes.' "
The team embraces Mejia's energy. "Stevie has so much enthusiasm, there's never a dull day with him," senior forward David Imes said. "You can't go into practice not being excited with Stevie as one of your leaders because he makes sure that everyone is involved, that no one is down . . . He changes the whole aspect of the game. His dedication is big. Stevie is the team."
And a student of the game.