by Patrick Gustavson
Entering Central Connecticut State University’s first matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson, sophomore forward Joe Hugley was averaging just eight points per game. However, he broke through that night, scoring a career-high 32 points, thanks to making 50 percent of his attempted field goals and connecting on five three-pointers. In addition, he grabbed 12 rebounds in a career-high 32 minutes played.
However, if you ask him, he’d say his mind wasn’t even there. Just days prior to the game, Hugley’s sister, Christina, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 25.
“She was my only sister. We were tight; I’m the youngest of six. It was a surprise. We weren’t expecting it. I struggle with it, every day I struggle,” Hugley said. “It’s been tough on me and my family. It’s been really rough.”
Throughout the season, his mentality has always been to be a “sparkplug,” whether he was starting or coming off the bench and whether he was producing on offense or not.
“I start to focus more on defense and being the energy guy. I feel like I’ve been doing that the past few games. I try to do things that the stats sheet doesn’t show,” he said.
However, this was not the case during his breakout game.
“To be honest, my mind wasn’t there at all. I was there in body, but I wasn’t there in mind. I just went out there and played hard. The only thing I was thinking about was going out there and playing hard for her,” he explained. “My heart was heavy.”
Head coach Donyell Marshall believes Hugley’s performance was a representation of the kind of person he is.
“It says a lot that he’s willing to be there for family through thick and thin. When I say that, I mean he was here with this family [the team] to help us win, as well as go home to be with his family for his sister,” he commented.
Playing basketball and being a part of a team have been Hugley’s biggest distraction.
“When I get on the court, I’d be lying to say I don’t think about it, but I try to use it as a distraction and an outlet to not think about it. Life throws you things, but you’ve got to deal with them,” he said.
Hugley credits his teammates and coaching staff for rallying around him, while keeping a sense of normalcy.
“I didn’t want them to coddle me or anything like that. That would only make me think about it more. I wanted them to keep it normal, keep joking, keep it as normal as possible, so I don’t think about it. My teammates, my coaching staff, they’ve been there with me every step of the way, and I couldn’t appreciate it more,” he said.
Marshall echoed Hugley’s sentiments.
“He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him,” Marshall said. “He said, ‘Coach, I still want you to yell at me as if nothing happened.’ That’s made it easy. At first, you didn’t know if you had to tiptoe or be sensitive, but he said, ‘No, you need to coach me.’”
Hugley, who is dedicating the rest of the season to Christina, is just trying to take things “day by day, hour by hour.” Similarly, taking things day by day is the approach taken on by the Blue Devil team. Hugley believes the team has a bright outlook going forward.
“We’re a good team,” he said. “We’ve still got things to work on, but if we keep playing hard and working as a team, it’s going to be hard to stop us.”