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Robert, a lawyer, has been a background figure, emerging for family vacations and soccer games but otherwise somewhat preoccupied with work. Suddenly he's thrust into the role of full-time caregiver, for both wife and son. With the help of a live-in nurse he holds out for a year and half before Mary deteriorates to the point that she must be moved into a long-term-care facility.
Alex has long since disappeared into baseball, making two or three trips a week to the store to buy cards, the backs of which he memorizes. He has substituted the talk of appointments and treatments and medications for RBIs and ERAs and batting averages, trading the mystery of cancer for the knowable facts of a game. "I didn't know what to think. I didn't know about the disease," he says, looking back. "It was scary. I really didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know how to handle any of it."
Back in the gym outside Philly, Alex is on the move. As he makes his way across the floor, people call out to him. He's shaking hands, bumping fists, waving. He's stopped every few feet by a player or coach. "Oh, no," he says as one player approaches laughing, "look at this knucklehead." They greet each other with a half-hug shoulder bump. A few other players come over, and they all joke and talk conspiratorially. As Alex walks away he gets a text from a coach asking him what the players were talking about.
Alex hasn't yet found Dan Hurley, but he spots a power outlet along the near wall. (Hurley will get his man, Eric Fanning, the following week.) Alex plugs in the phone and slides into a plastic chair next to Steve DeMeo, the associate head coach at Hofstra. They run through the rosters of the teams playing before them. Alex helps DeMeo put names to the numbers, tells which schools are recruiting which players and offers his opinions.
"When it comes to evaluating, I don't trust anyone's opinion but mine and my boss's," says DeMeo, "but Alex can help cut through the process. He can point out some guys worth looking at, give you a feel if a kid's a good fit for you and if your school is the kind of place the kid would consider." As they talk, Alex gets a text from a Division I assistant asking him which players he should pay attention to in the game he's watching.
The news finds him now, and he tweets it out. He loves this—the information flowing through him, the long sweep of his BlackBerry bringing answers and information and a sense that he's at the center of a web that's forever expanding in a million directions. "I'm the world's biggest pen pal," he says. "I'll reach out to anyone. I see it as a triangle, with the coaches in one corner, the players in another and me in the third. In between is all this other stuff—NCAA rules, injuries and off-the-court stuff—and I'm trying to make the connections."
He has delivered. Davon Reed was an underrecruited 6'4" shooting guard after his freshman year at Princeton (N.J.) Day School. Alex began to tout him and tweet about him, and heading into his junior season, Reed, now 6'5", has 13 scholarship offers. As always, the player earned the offer and the coaches did their own legwork, but Alex pointed the way and brought urgency to the recruitment by keeping the player's name in focus with a series of updates. "Coaches will call about players and then actually recruit them," Robert Kline says with a hint of amazement. "Parents will call and ask for help. Kids have gotten an education because of Alex. He enjoys that."
One of the parents who reached out was George Briscoe, whose son Isaiah had not yet entered eighth grade. Alex was wary of getting involved with someone so young, but when he saw the kid play, he was blown away. Isaiah is now a 6'3" freshman point guard at St. Benedict's, a hoops powerhouse in Newark, and he has seven scholarship offers.
Alex wanted to take it a step further. He had gotten the basketball world to listen, but could he get it to come to him? "I wanted to run my own event," he says. "I'd seen it done. I had the connections. Why not?" Last year Alex spent six months putting together his own tournament of top-ranked high school players, working the phone, texting and using his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
For Alex, the day of the event was filled with stress and fear. Some players had canceled, others weren't sure how to get to the site, his high school gym in Pennington. It was terribly hot. Alex had no idea how many people, if any, would show up. For the first time in a long time the boy who had spent 10 years eliminating uncertainty, answering questions and battling feelings of abandonment didn't know how things were going to turn out. Would he be left behind again, wondering why?