My wife, CeeCee, and I have been fortunate to travel and experience the NCAA men’s basketball team’s successful 2003-2004 season. We are season-ticket holders and attended the home games. We also “rode the wave” of March Madness starting at the A-10 Tournament, buoyed by the games in Orlando and further encouraged by the games played in Atlanta.
While we applaud the team’s results, we write this letter to you to highlight an individual. This young man excelled on the basketball court; however, he should also be complimented on his personal attributes.
This person is Justin Cage.
As I mentioned, our family witnessed much of the 2003-2004 men’s basketball season. Our most recent trip to Atlanta included our entire family (including three children ages 2 to 7 years old). On the Saturday of that weekend, my daughter, age 7, and son, age 6, noticed Justin Cage sitting with his family. They were anxious to say hello and possibly, sheepishly ask for an autograph. We were armed simply with an XU basketball cap but no pen.
My children approached Justin. They sheepishly said hello. He politely asked if we had a pen for an autograph. When we replied no, he graciously obtained a pen from one of his family members and signed the ball cap.
The remainder of the interaction is one of more impressive encounters I have had with an athlete, much less an athlete who is 18 or 19 years old.
Justin offered to take the ball cap and have the rest of his teammates sign. He offered to return the ball cap prior to our departure on Sunday. Justin took our name and hotel room number and he stated he would figure a way to accomplish getting the signed ball cap back to us.
Later on Saturday as I was watching our youngest child nap (and watching one of the semifinal regional games conclude), our hotel room phone rang. I answered. To my amazement, the person on the other end said, “Mr. Collins. This is Justin Cage. We have a team dinner and meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. I will take the ball cap with me and get my teammates to sign it.” He indicated that 11:00 p.m. might be the earliest he could return the ball cap. He worried that this time would be too late but I assured him that this time would be fine.
Our children were ecstatic. They told anyone that would listen to them. They called both sets of grandparents.
We went to dinner. Our children talked about the incident and wondered if this could really happen.
We returned from dinner. The children struggled to stay awake, but 11:00 p.m. was a little late for them after a day of swimming and running throughout Centennial Park.
At near 11:00 p.m., the phone rang. My wife answered and Justin politely told her that he was on his way to deliver the ball cap. He did arrive with the ball cap in hand (no small feat considering all the elevator banks one had to cover at the Westin.)
Unfortunately, our older children were not able to wake up.
More unfortunate was that Justin was not able to see the look on our children’s faces when they first saw the ball cap adorned with all the team members’ signatures the next morning. Christmas in March in Atlanta.
We certainly enjoy and appreciate the winning ways of the 2003-2004 men’s basketball team. We are more appreciative and impressed with Justin Cage and the young men that Coach (Thad) Matta is helping to produce. Jim, CeeCee, Morgan, Cameron and Calvert Collins