Lasallians Unfiltered – From homeless, to finding a home at Manhattan College…
“I was lost. I was pretty much alone…Sometimes I just don’t believe it. I’ll wake up and I can’t believe I’m here…”
The wheels went up. Some seats went back. New York slowly faded from view.
The Manhattan Jaspers were sailing over the Atlantic Ocean to the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland, and Pauly Paulicap was leaving his home country for the first time.
He didn’t have to worry where he would sleep that night. He didn’t have to wonder if he would eat that day.
He already had traveled so far.
“Sometimes I just don’t believe it. I’ll wake up and I can’t believe I’m here,” Paulicap said. “I was homeless. I had nowhere to go, and I was walking around carrying a duffle bag. I barely had any clothes.
“Life hit hard.”
At Manhattan, the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward has become one of the nation’s best shot-blockers, and the Steve Masiello’s first ever first-year captain, but growing up on Long Island, Paulicap didn’t play sports and was frequently in trouble at Elmont High School.
When his mother, Marie, and his stepfather separated, the family struggled to pay the rent, and was forced to move multiple times. Paulicap’s relationship with his mom grew rockier. A landlord evicted him from his brother’s apartment when he learned Paulicap was staying there without paying. A friend’s uncle demanded he leave their house, believing Paulicap to be a bad influence.
He didn’t know where to go. The school suggested the Nassau Haven group home, which provides housing for runaway and homeless youth.
It became his only option too many times.
“I was lost. I was pretty much alone,” Paulicap said. “My mom was going through her own stuff, and couldn’t keep up with the bills, and things started getting difficult. She was around, but she really wasn’t. My brothers were around, but they really weren’t. I didn’t have the support I needed at the time.”
That was until the family of one of Paulicap’s closest childhood friends opened their home to him. He still resides there when he’s back from school.
“His parents kind of knew something was going on. I didn’t have food, so I would always eat over there, and they would give me money on the side,” Paulicap said. “When I stayed with them, I had food. I had a bed. They bought me clothes, and it allowed me to focus more on basketball and school, and that support made me really realize how talented I was in sports.”
That year, Paulicap picked up a basketball for the first time in his life. With no experience, but exceptional athleticism, he joined JV basketball — in addition to volleyball and track — as an 11th grader and decided he wasn’t going to be like many of his siblings, who never graduated high school.
He wasn’t going to be like he had been.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was a knucklehead. I was with the wrong crowd and doing stupid stuff,” Paulicap said. “My brothers didn’t have a great reputation, and everyone expected the same thing of me. They said, ‘Pauly’s always getting suspended. He’s gonna end up just like his brothers. He’s not gonna graduate. He’s not gonna do anything.’ That’s when I said, ‘I got to get my life together. I can’t not be anything.’
“When I started playing basketball, everybody looked at me as if I was a joke. … I was really bad. I’d never played before. I had no skills. All I could do was dunk. But not even that, I was the class clown type of person. No one really thought I was serious about basketball, but nobody knew what I went through, and that was my drive. Nobody really understood.”
As a senior, Paulicap was an All-County selection, and earned a spot at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., where he finished sixth in the NJCAA in blocks last season. He then chose Manhattan over Cal State Northridge.
In his first month in Division I, Paulicap has averaged 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, and already has become one of the most unique players of Masiello’s seven-year tenure.
“He just plays so hard all the time, and when you meet him, he’s just a special young man and very selfless,” Masiello said. “He’s everyone’s fan favorite. He’s infectious, and he’s probably the first player I’ve had that has more energy than I do. The way he is in the locker room, the way he is on the bus, he’s got a personality that’s bigger than 20 people. He’s probably the most independent young man I’ve coached. He’s a self-starter. He’s a self-motivator. He has great pride in everything he does. He’s really changed our program.
“He’s given us a presence that we haven’t had in a couple years and I think our guys are really feeding off that. … The fact that he has three years left is really scary. I think you’re looking at someone that can be a three-time defensive player of the year, possibly a defensive All-American, and someone who can have a long future in this game.”
Paulicap doesn’t think that far ahead.
He has a meal plan and a bed. He has Under Armour gear and in his dorm he has hot water which can’t be cut off by an angry landlord.
He has more than he expected — and far more than he needs.
“It’s really crazy,” Paulicap said of the changes. “I think about it all the time. That’s my No. 1 drive, to not end up back where I was. That was a very depressing part of my life. With that happening, that puts me in the mindset that I have to push as far as I can, so I never have to look back in the past.
“This is a blessed experience. I’m so grateful for it.”
For more photos, visit the New York Post >