MORRIS: Card still playing his hand

rmorris@ thestate.comJanuary 25, 2013 

JODY CARD WAS two years removed from Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High near Orangeburg. Still in search of purpose in his life, Card was between attempting to extend his basketball playing days in college and entering the military. He worked as a cook at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

In December 2005, he sneaked his way to the arena’s basketball floor, where he hoped to meet with Raymond Felton, then a rookie point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats, who were playing in New York.

“He recognized my face immediately,” Card says today, and a 30- to 40-minute conversation with Felton followed. Three years earlier, Card was the Hunter-Kinard-Tyler point guard who faced the unenviable task of matching up against Felton, the Latta High point guard, in the Class A state championship game at the Carolina Coliseum.

Felton and Latta won that battle, and Felton continued his playing career first at North Carolina and now in the eighth year of his NBA career, this season with the New York Knicks.

As for Card, he is a 29-year-old father of two and sophomore walk-on at Hofstra (N.Y.) University after attending three other colleges and following a three-year stint in the Army where he served in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Japan and Korea.

“Jody certainly is somebody who provides many of our players, and even our coaches, with unique life lessons,” says Mo Cassara, Hofstra’s third-year coach who welcomed Card to the team as a walk-on in December following the dismissal of four players and a season-ending knee injury to another.

For now, the 6-foot-1 Card is mostly a practice player as he learns Cassara’s system and becomes accustomed to playing with and against stiffer competition. He has yet to appear in a game, but that fact does not take away from what has been an incredible journey.

“I’ve lived a lot of lives,” Card says, “a lot of lives.”

He has lived so many lives, that he even changed his first name along the way. Known as Brian while in high school, Card wanted to be known as Jody once he entered the military.

So, it was Brian Card who was reared in both Harlem, with his father, and The Bronx, with his mother, six brothers and two sisters, with the purpose of escaping life on the New York City streets.

“I always had basketball as kind of my gateway to get away from things that surrounded me,” he says.

Card began playing AAU basketball with the famous New York Gauchos at an early age. In part, to take his game elsewhere, Card decided to move closer to his grandmother in South Carolina. The surprise arrival came to Hunter-Kinard-Tyler coach Aric Samuel prior to Card’s freshman season.

“When he came in, he gave us outstanding leadership on and off the court,” says Samuel, now the coach at Hartsville High. “He helped put our program together.”

After Hunter-Kinard-Tyler it appeared Card was headed to a college basketball career, only to be derailed by the economic reality of paying his own way to school. He first enrolled (briefly) at Holyoke (Mass.) Community College, then at Dean (Mass.) College. Neither school worked for Card, who soon was the father of two daughters — Jada and Jiya — and went to work at Madison Square Garden and as a security officer at Grand Central Station.

The offer of having his college education paid for when he completed his service made the military an attractive option. Card joined the Army in October 2007, fully prepared to deal with service in Iraq and Iran.

“I’m from New York, so I got a chance already to see violence up close,” Card says. “The military was just a little broader. Some people can cope with seeing things we see in the military, and some people can’t. For me, that wasn’t a hard transition. Being from New York, dealing with violence is a daily thing.”

Card also got the chance to hone his basketball skills while in the Army and played on several military all-star teams. When he was discharged in August 2011, he was ready to pursue a college degree and, perhaps, extend his basketball playing days.

Card first participated in an open tryout for walk-ons at St. John’s and was selected for the team. But the NCAA did not clear him for eligibility, so he remained a student. St. John’s officials then recommended that he attend Hofstra, where he might have a better chance of gaining eligibility.

Card headed to Hofstra with one year’s worth of course credits on his resume. Upon enrolling, Card began dropping by the Hofstra basketball office — almost daily — to inquire about trying out for the team. Even when told that Hofstra was not accepting walk-ons, Card continued to talk to the coaches.

“He just wanted to basically be a part of the program and part of the team,” Cassara says. “That is credit to his hard work and determination.”

Finally, the opportunity presented itself in December when defections allowed an opening of five roster spots. Tryouts were held for walk-ons, and Card made the team. Cassara says Card has been a tremendous influence on and off the court for the younger players.

No team member keeps a neater locker area, according to Cassara. None wears the Hofstra uniform — and the American flag patch — with more pride than Card. And none likely works harder in practice than Card.

All Card needs to complete the story is a little playing time.

“He certainly deserves it,” Cassara says, “and the opportunity will certainly present itself, hopefully sooner than later.”

Then Card, no doubt, will enter into a new phase of his many lives.

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