Paper Tiger: Mui's unsung decision

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”Teddy Wenneker” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]

Junior Korey Mui passed up a chance to play varsity boys’ basketball this year to focus instead on schoolwork.
Paper Tiger is a weekly column focusing on this school’s athletics.
by Kristian Lundberg

In a sea of blinding orange, junior Korey Mui was wearing a black sweatshirt.

He was there on Senior Night last Friday, nestled deep in the crowd, partially obscured behind a gaggle of students dressed appropriately enough for a hunting expedition. He was there with his fellow fanatics in the 6th Man student section, all of them screaming at a poor Wellesley team whose only error was to fuel boys’ basketball’s ruthless winning machine.

He was there. But he almost wasn’t.

He could have been playing down on the court instead, helping coach Paul Connolly’s Tigers improve to 14-0.

He could have decided to skip the whole affair–although it was certainly his team last year, things may have been different this time around.

But he chose to do neither, so he was there.

From a distance, it seemed as if Mui was stuck in a painful no-man’s land. He was happy, no doubt, and he was cheering his basketball team on, but it’s hard to sit back, relax and enjoy the show after being so accustomed to participating.

Last year he was a sixth man, coming off the bench to spark the Tigers as they advanced all the way to the Sectional Finals. This year, Mui finds himself as a part of another 6th Man.

Decisions, decisions.

If I were to tell you that a player passed up a leading role on the fifth-ranked basketball team in the state so that he could focus on schoolwork, you might be pretty surprised. But then you probably haven’t met Korey Mui.

Mui made varsity as a sophomore but played mostly mop-up minutes, with an occasional start or two thrown into the mix. He bade his time, paid his dues and did whatever other cliché you could put here, until finally a spot opened up for him to earn more minutes junior year. These minutes, by the way, would be for a team that has a legitimate shot at winning the State Tournament.

Instead, Mui made the humble and possibly sage choice to put school over athletics. It was one hell of a decision, but why?

“I knew junior year was going to be hard, and I was taking some hard courses,” he said. “I could have played, but my grades would have slacked, and at the end of the day, I chose school.”

His choice was a lot harder than he just made it sound. Mui went to tryouts on the first day, but, once he revisited the “mental and physical toll” a season of basketball takes, he wanted to reconsider.

“I just couldn’t balance the intensity level of basketball and the intensity level of school. I really wanted to play, but it was important to get my priorities straight,” he said.

“This season, coach Connolly expected a lot from me, either to be a potential leading scorer or a potential starter. All of these things were going through my head—it was like you knew the status of being on the team, and this would be a year where I would dominate a little bit more.”

Mui made his decision the night after tryouts, after struggling with it for a while. The day after tryouts, he notified his teammates and met with coach Connolly, whom he said was “very supportive.”

“It was hard, and it got really emotional, but I couldn’t have asked for a better person to talk to,” Mui said.

“The thing I’m going to miss the most is being with a team of great guys. It was really tough, because you develop a strong bond with your Newton North teammates.”

So where did he find the resolve to choose school over sport?

“I always knew that I was smarter than I was good at basketball,” Mui said, selling himself, as usual, ridiculously low on both fronts.

Sometimes, the hardest decisions to make are the ones no one else gets to see.

Even though Mui’s decision came with much to regret, it also offers some tangible benefits. For Mui, the real payoff comes in the midst of late-night homework sessions.

“Overall, I can’t say I regret not playing,” he said. “I still follow the team closely, so it’s sometimes difficult to handle, but I’ve had moments where I’m doing homework really late and I think, ‘How could I survive playing basketball?’”

Whether Mui made the right choice or not is something that only he can determine, but his willingness to forgo playing basketball speaks volumes about his character. Although his choice isn’t the right move for everyone, there’s something to these little decisions, the ones that can’t be seen on the court. And although athletics most certainly has its place, and a crucial one at that, maybe some of the most important decisions don’t have to be retweeted.

“I think it really depends on the athlete or example,” Mui said. “If you’re really serious about basketball, and I wasn’t, then following your dreams isn’t that bad. Though you don’t want to be foolish, dedicated athletes with a real talent should definitely pursue their goals.”

Meanwhile, following the Wellesley game, Connolly appeared pleased to hear about Mui’s attendance.

“It’s great that he was here, and he’s a terrific kid,” Connolly said. “There’s a time commitment with basketball that isn’t for everyone, and my sense was that he was at a crossroads with schoolwork and athletics.”

While the orange-clad fans left the building, as did a junior in a black sweatshirt, he added, “It shows you the kind of student he is.”