Hughes’ college experiences taught him valuable lessons

Photo courtesy Juriad Hughes Sr. Juriad Hughes Sr. and Jr

Editor’s Note: This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with Juriad Hughes, a former St. Paul Central boys’ basketball player from 1987-89, and how the sport of basketball influenced his life. This week he discusses his journey in detail and how he wants to pass his lesson onto his son, Juriad Hughes Jr.

Former St. Paul Central boys’ basketball star Juriad Hughes Sr. talked with the MSR about his journey and how the sport of basketball, and the experiences he had with it, prepared him for life.

During this interview at Jimmy Lee Recreation Center this past September, Hughes Sr. went into more detail about his collegiate experience, what it taught him, and what he hopes to pass on to his son, Juriad Hughes Jr., an aspiring sophomore student-athlete at Irondale High School who started as a receiver for the varsity football team and excels in track and basketball.

Related Story: Hughes uses lessons learned from the sport he loves

In 1989, Hughes graduated with nearly every honor one could have. He was all-conference, all-metro, all-state, Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, and a finalist for Mr. Basketball to name a few.

According to Hughes, it was in college that he realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as high school, for good reason. “Getting to college, I ran into a brick wall,” he said. “Everything I had done, I hadn’t worked hard enough for it,” he continued. “It was just enough to get by.”

He realized that, as good as he was, there were others just as good or better. “In college, you realize that there’s a player that’s bigger than you, that’s better than you, and the coaches do not care,” he stressed. “You winning those ball games is all they care about.” 

Hughes also stressed that it was time for him to grow up. “They [coaches] do not care,” he reiterated. “If you don’t get it done, no matter what you did at Central, you were a kid then and now it’s time to be a man.”

Because he didn’t take academics as seriously as he could have, he turned down a chance to play for Georgetown University and legendary coach John Thompson to avoid sitting out a year for Proposition 48. 

“I was 18 years old,” he said. “I wanted to play. I didn’t want to sit out a year, so I went JUCO [junior college].” After an All-American two-year career at Casper Community College (Wyoming), Hughes chose to play at New Mexico State University.

“Things were going great,” he said. “I was averaging 18 points a game. Then my whole world changed.”

Hughes tore his Achilles tendon the first game of the season and missed his junior year (1991-92). After extensive rehab as a redshirt, he was back for the 1992-93 season, but things didn’t turn out like he had hoped.

“I was back but I wasn’t 100% physically or mentally,” he recalled. “I had my chance during a crucial point of a game, but I was nervous. I choked and never got another chance. I rode the pine the rest of the season.”

Then Hughes Sr. got news no player wants to hear during the summer of 1993. “Coach [Neil McCarthy] told me that they were going in another direction,” he said. “I was devastated. I lost my confidence. I became very depressed.”

McCarthy had his assistants call other schools for Hughes Jr., and he landed at South Dakota State. He averaged 24 points per game in his only season as a Jackrabbit. Professional basketball opportunities presented themselves, but Hughes Jr. chose to come back home to help his mother, who was battling lupus at the time.

One of the most important accomplishments Hughes Sr. stresses is that he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in hotel management and tourism. It is something he stresses to his son, who is also an honor roll student.

“Your education can never be taken away,” Hughes said with emphasis. “Basketball can.”