|Coach Howie Dickenman has been impressed by Javier Mojica's maturation on and off the court. (AL BEHRMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Past not easy for C Conn.'s Mojica to open up about
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. -- When he steps on the floor tonight in Lexington, Ky., Javier Mojica won't be intimidated, not by the magnitude of the game (the first round of the NCAA Tournament), the opponent (Ohio State), or the setting (historic Rupp Arena). In order to get to this day, the Central Connecticut State senior guard has faced much bigger obstacles than Greg Oden.
"He came from the depths," said Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman.
Dickenman could be referring to the 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pound Mojica's transformation from unrecruited walk-on from Auburn (Mass.) High to 2006-07 Northeast Conference Player of the Year. That's a nice story, but Dickenman is alluding to something with greater gravitas than basketball.
You have to go back to the basement of a green ranch-style home in Milford, Mass., that Mojica shared with his mother, Nancy, his sister, Jasmine Falvey, his half-brother, Troy Johnson, and Nancy's abusive boyfriend. Two lives, maybe more, were saved that night.
Battered by her boyfriend, low self-esteem, and a pain-numbing cocaine habit, Nancy Mojica got drunk. She hung a rope over one of the pipes in the basement and waited to die. The kids weren't allowed in the basement and it was after midnight. Ten-year-old Javier was in bed, but something compelled him to go downstairs.
"It was God that sent him," said Nancy, 42. "I was running out of oxygen. I was really out of it, but I could hear his voice, 'Ma, Ma, don't do this! What am I going to do without you?' I came back and he helped me down. He was an inspiration for me. He gave me a sense of living. I couldn't leave my kids without a mother and a dad."
Mojica, now 22, doesn't like to talk about the incident, which came to light in a
Hanging up in the student center at CCSU is a picture of Mojica and his mother embracing after he scored 25 points in the Blue Devils' 74-70 victory over Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference tournament final March 7, a performance that helped him garner tournament MVP honors. A picture that almost never was, just like Mojica's college basketball career.
Violence was all around Mojica growing up; it followed him whether he was living in Milford, Framingham, Oxford, or Worcester. After Nancy split up with his father, Dennis, when Mojica was just 2 years old, there were a string of men who verbally and physically abused her. She did her best to shield him, but the little boy she nicknamed "Macho" was just as relentless then as he is on the court now. Nancy said if she locked herself in the bathroom, Javier would bang on it until she came out.
"He would lay with me and cry," said Nancy.
Mojica remembers seeing his mother get hit: "It's a crazy thing, especially me being young, I couldn't really do anything at the time."
Still, he was determined to protect her. "He said, 'Someday I'll grow up to be the man of the house and nobody will touch you,' " recalled Nancy. Mojica backed up his words when he was 12, telling one of his mother's abusive beaus, "If you hit my mother again, I will kill you."
"The guy left," said Nancy.
That history of violence finally caught up to Mojica in his junior year of high school. He had transferred from Auburn High to Doherty Memorial High in Worcester to get more exposure and further his dream of playing Division 1 college basketball. But it all backfired when Mojica and two teammates were arrested following a fight inside a club in Oxford, Mass. Mojica received a 12-game suspension and was expelled from school. He was allowed to return to class, and the basketball court, after his case was continued without a finding and he received 12 months probation.
"It was definitely a mistake," said Mojica. "I got into a fight. It was foolish. Tempers rise and you do stupid things."
Mojica had anger issues. He'd yell at referees and coaches, kick things when he didn't get his way. His combustible temperament overshadowed his play. After transferring back to Auburn High for his senior season, Mojica dominated. Playing center, he averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds per contest, and had four games in which he scored 40 or more points.
He got one letter, from UMass-Dartmouth, a Division 3 school. "I'm sure that coaches were not trying to take that chance of getting me into their school," said Mojica.
Dickenman is blunt: Bringing Mojica to CCSU wasn't some stroke of basketball genius. "We didn't find him. He found us," said the former University of Connecticut assistant, who is in his 11th season at Central Connecticut.
Dickenman accepted Mojica as a walk-on after watching him play at the Eastern Invitational camp in the summer of 2003. He wasn't particularly impressed with his talent -- neither were the other 249 coaches in attendance -- but Mojica's desire caught Dickenman's eye.
"If you had told me that this kid was going to be a Player of the Year, I probably would have asked you to leave the office or call a psychiatrist to try to straighten you out a little bit," said Dickenman.
Mojica wasn't academically eligible until a week before the first practice. He earned his way into Dickenman's rotation eight games into his freshman season, but his breakout performance came eight games later, when he had 18 points and seven rebounds in a 90-82 overtime win over Mount St. Mary's. Mojica started the last eight games of the season for the Blue Devils, who fell to Monmouth in the Northeast tournament title game.
Still, prior to this season, Mojica had career averages of 8.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Dickenman said it's been a maturing process for Mojica, as he's learned to harness his emotions and his talent. The cornrowed Central Connecticut cocaptain admitted he's impetuous, a trait he said he inherited from his mother.
"He really plays with such enthusiasm and energy and effort that at times it was detrimental to the team," said Dickenman. "Now, it's to the point where he's channeled that almost to a positive at all times."
Nancy has become a ubiquitous presence at Mojica's games. Reached by telephone yesterday, she said she was driving to Kentucky to watch Javier, after getting time off from her job as a certified medical assistant for a dermatologist in Worcester.
"There's nothing better than to be alive, especially seeing my son," she said. "I sit out there and make a fool out of myself. I want to show him I'm his No. 1 fan."
She has already missed too much of her son's life. Nancy's drug problem had her going in and out of jail, and forced Mojica to bounce from home to home. He lived with his grandparents, with his half-brother's father, and for his senior year at Auburn High and his first two years of college, with his godparents, Sue and Bill Leary.
As recently as 2004, Nancy was charged with possession of crack cocaine, giving a false name to police during arrest, and identity theft after she gave police her daughter's name when she was arrested at a Shrewsbury, Mass., motel. She was sentenced to six months behind bars. She said she is clean now.
Despite her troubles, Mojica views his mother as an inspiration.
"I look at my mom as being a soldier and being a warrior, especially with all the stuff that's she been through with her abusive relationships and the drugs," he said. "She's overcome a lot."
So has he.
"The ability to be as strong as he is -- strong-willed and strong-minded -- it just shows the type of guy that he is," said fellow cocaptain Obie Nwadike, a senior forward who is Central Connecticut's leading rebounder. "Him and his mom, they have a great relationship now. We were actually all over there [last Saturday]. He's accomplished things that nobody really thought he'd be able to accomplish."
Few think the 16th-seeded Blue Devils can topple South Regional top seed Ohio State, which ended the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. Mojica, Nwadike, senior center Jemino Sobers, who has played through shin splints and a stress fracture, and guard Tristan Blackwood, Central Connecticut's leading scorer, will try to lead CCSU to a historic accomplishment. No 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed.
"We're not going to go in there just to lose and say, 'Oh, we made it to the tournament. We have no chance,' " said Mojica.
It wouldn't be the first time that Mojica has beaten the odds.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.