Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint
By David Cordova
On a late August day in the North Bronx, plenty of young youths came out to an asphalt adjacent to the Edenwald Projects on 225th Street & Laconia Avenue called, “The Turf,” to learn some basketball drills and have a good time with two of the community’s native sons who made it out, and are continuing to prosper.
Emmanuel “Emmy” Andujar & Dayshon “Scoochie” Smith were kids that grew up in the community that achieved basketball stardom, beginning at the Baychester Community Center and then becoming standouts at the now-defunct Rice High School in Harlem, just a few years ago.
Both went on to star in college, with Andujar leading Manhattan College to two NCAA Tournament appearances as a junior & senior and Smith leading the University of Dayton to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the Elite Eight as a freshman.
This summer, they put together a “Stop The Violence” basketball camp in their old neighborhood as a way to give back to the kids in their old stomping grounds and give them something constructive to do in the dog days of summer.
“You know, [the mission is] just to keep the positivity, just trying to give the good vibes to the kids, get them prepared for school and have them have a successful future,” said Smith.
“It’s all about the younger kids and the younger generation, you know. We just want to give them hope, let them know that it’s possible. It’s a big world out there with a lot of opportunities, so they should stay focused, and everything will be fine,” said Andujar.
The Edenwald Housing Projects, has been a breeding ground for plenty of talent over the years, but has also been one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods in The Bronx. In a place like that, anyone can fall astray when they’re not doing the right thing.
“I mean, growing up in any projects is tough,” said Andujar about growing up in Edenwald, “You know, you don’t have many opportunities, but if you stay strong and [with] a strong mindset and stay in the books, everything is going to be great.”
“Growing up here, it wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst,” said Smith about growing up in Edenwald, “I think it made me who I am today, it helped me build toward being a better person, you know a lot of kids is going to be built the way I was built, just being brought up in the Edenwald projects, so, you know, being able to give back today, it just means a lot.”
When asked if basketball was a sort of refuge from everything that was going on in the neighborhood, Smith added: “Yeah, a little bit, basketball, my family, you know, just to stay close, listen to the people you trust. In Edenwald, you find a lot of people who could’ve made it, so they tell you their stories and you just gotta go by that, and try not to do it as wrong as they did.”
The fact that both Smith and Andujar both gave back to their community reinforces the fact that even though both have attained success playing professional basketball, they never forgot about their old stomping grounds.
“It feels great to come back to my neighborhood after everybody’s been watching me over the years, trying to keep up with me, to be able to keep up with these guys and let them be me for a day is a wonderful feeling,” said Smith.
“It feels great doing this event with Scoochie, you know, just giving these kids hope and just giving them a lot of giveaways, and things like that. College is the next thing, you know, we have them go to college, even if they’re not playing basketball, just to go to college is inspiring,” said Andujar.
At the current time, Andujar plans to find another basketball opportunity after playing professionally in Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico. As for Smith, who just finished playing for the Canton Charge of the NBA Gatorade League and Cairns Taipans in the Australian National Basketball League last season, he is now in training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, trying to make a roster spot.
When you’re from a rough area like Edenwald, the odds can be stacked against you. But when you work hard and have a strong belief in yourself, the rewards always come through. For both Smith and Andujar, the rewards continue to come through.