In a way, José Alicea, a native of Puerto Rico, has had everything a university student could wish for.
At 22, he is pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree at Texas A&M International University on a basketball scholarship and has made history as the first intercollegiate basketball athlete to complete four years in TAMIU’s basketball program.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from TAMIU with a minor concentration in Business Administration and maintains a solid, 4.0 GPA in his classes. Being bilingual, he converses easily in both English and Spanish. In addition, he has been named NCAA Division II Heartland Conference Academic Athlete of the Week of Feb. 15-21.
But Alicea, scheduled to graduate this summer, is quick to shrug off any notion that his accomplishments are due solely to his efforts. Instead, he thanks God and his family for guiding him through life.
He also says he feels propelled to excel as both a student and an athlete because he knows he is fulfilling the desire of many Puerto Rican youths who wish to study in the United States, but are unable to do so because of language and financial limitations.
“Puerto Rico is a paradise island, but it’s overpopulated with almost 4 million people and a relatively high crime rate,” Alicea explained, “So, given that, you know people struggle. Going to America and getting a university degree is some people’s dreams there, which are never accomplished.”
Hailing from Dorado, a small town in the northern coast of Puerto Rico, Alicea himself knows what struggle means.
His single mother of two earns a meager, $17,000 yearly salary as an assistant elementary school teacher. With that, she has supported Alicea and his older sister alone.
He says it is his mother’s support, coupled with that of his grandparents, family and friends that kept him from becoming discouraged even when he severely injured his knee during his 2006 season at TAMIU, thus having to stay off basketball for a full year.
“When you are faced with challenges, you always fall back and see what your family did to push you ahead in difficult times,” Alicea said, “So you keep pushing ahead because people’s dreams are reflected upon your overall success.”
On Saturday, Feb. 27, Alicea and another student, Christopher Swan, will be recognized during Senior Day, when TAMIU’s men’s basketball team plays its last home game of the season against St. Edward’s University at 4:30 p.m. That will also be Alicea’s and Swan’s last game at TAMIU.
Alicea, however, said he does not ruminate about the closure of his days as a University athlete.
“Right now, I am focused on having a great year as a team and I don’t think about this being my last year,” he said, “What I think about is maximizing myself so I can help maximize my team.”
Alicea, who also works on campus as a graduate teacher assistant, said his athletic and academic life compliment each other harmoniously.
“When you play basketball, you have a competitive thing in you,” he said, “Wherever you are, you want to succeed, and that also includes inside the classroom. Even though playing basketball made me physically tired at times, I had that competitive edge over other students. I challenged myself to be excellent in both the basketball court and in the classroom.”
At TAMIU, Alicea said he learned how to think critically.
“Investment in higher education, right now, is one of the most important investments in your life because it not only gives you a degree at the end, but it also helps you to mature as an individual,” he said, “Out of 163 University credits and everything that I have done here, what I’ve learned the most is the ability to think critically. This skill has helped me, and I am confident it will assist me greatly in the future when I am faced with tough decisions.”
He said he also learned that respect for others is the key to success.
“I have learned that when you work hard, when you do things right, and compliment it with true honesty, people will see that,” Alicea said, “That, in turn, makes them want to help you and push you forward.”
Upon graduation, Alicea said he has several options he would like to explore. They include returning to Puerto Rico and opening a small business as well as entering the Puerto Rican professional basketball league. Also, returning to TAMIU to apply for admission in its Ph.D. in International Business Administration program is one of his long-term goals.
As TAMIU’s veteran athlete, he also said he has parting wishes for the University and its Athletics Department.
“In the future, I would like to see TAMIU grow as an institution and be among the top teams of all sports in the Heartland Conference. As far as basketball, I would like to see TAMIU win an NCAA Division II National Tournament and in 10 years, grow into a Division I institution.”
For current students wishing to excel, he said he has some advice.
“My advice for success is to respect others,” Alicea said, “Always be honest, stay focused, work hard and keep yourself humble at all times. That will really get you where you want to be.”
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