Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Senior nights happen every year, at every school.
For those directly involved, maybe to the more invested fans following a team or even to some of the media covering the sport, the symbolic culmination of basketball journey and the turning of the page for the young men and women playing in the games are genuinely emotional, special events.
But the reality is they’re also rather repetitive. And the stories are often full of hyperbole and clichés about how this player, more than any other, was truly special in how they overcame adversity and persevered.
Those stories only seem to take away from the ones like that of Saquan Singleton.
As the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old UNM Lobo senior guard makes his final walk down the Pit ramp on Saturday night, honored before the team’s home finale against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, there surely will be a huge smile on his face and a whole lot of people wondering how this kid from the Stevenson Commons Apartments in Bronx, New York, found his way to the brink of becoming his family’s first college graduate and moving on to a professional basketball career.
“I’m just happy to be in this position to play one more game in the Pit,” said Singleton, whose journey just since arriving at UNM a year ago includes enough twists and turns to make some think twice about continuing.
He and the teammates he’d just met spent his entire junior season living in hotels outside of the state due to COVID restrictions in New Mexico. They won only six games. The head coach he signed to play for was fired by February.
A new coach took over the program with no promises made. He started his senior season by catching COVID and developing an irregular heartbeat as a result that kept him from even practicing for two months and not knowing for sure that doctors would allow him to play again.
And none of that compares to the road he traveled just to get to UNM – a school 2,000 miles west and a world away from the courts at 131 Park where he played every day, fell in love with basketball and had at least three of his closest friends shot and killed.
“Ahhh… Those apartments – it’s tough. It’s tough,” Singleton told the Journal in an interview late in the 2021 season. “I’m just happy I’m on this platform just to show little kids and people are looking out to me like there’s a way out, you know? It’s not easy coming where I come from. If it was easy, everybody would have been able to do it. …
“I’ve been through it all. I’ve been through every level. People done turned their back on me – thought basketball was over for me. They labeled me as a street kid. But I blocked everything and I kept working hard, put my head down. Now I’m here. And I’m just so thankful. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be here at all.”
Aside from friends in and out of jail or dying by gun violence throughout his teenage years, Singleton found out shortly before starting college on scholarship at Manhattan that he did not qualify academically, nearly derailing the basketball journey before it even reached the college level.
He moved to New Hampshire, where he attended prestigious Notre Dame Prep for only a couple months before it was determined he still wouldn’t become a qualifier through attending the prep school.
After a month back home thinking basketball might be over for him, Singleton got a call from Jay Cyriak, an assistant basketball coach at Hutchison (Kansas) Community College.
Singleton spent two years in Kansas – becoming a star guard who chose UNM over offers from other finalists like TCU, Alabama and Kansas State, and also becoming Division I eligible. He never once went back to New York in those two years – not over summer, Christmas or spring breaks. He kept in touch with friends and family, but focused on academics and basketball just to get a shot at doing it all again for two more years at UNM.
Mentors, coaches and advisers helped him at ever step – people like his brother, Nukov, mentor Kashif Pratt, Cyriack, Lobo assistant Dan McHale, who got him to Albuquerque, and many others.
It’s why now he seeks leadership roles with the Lobos and feels such a responsibility to show kids back home there was nothing that stopped him from getting his degree and pursing his dream.
And, despite the scarce wins not being what he anticipated at UNM, and the games played in the Pit being far fewer than he ever expected, he has no desire to think about regrets.
“Not at all. Even what we went through last year, the fans were still with me, you know? DMing me, hitting me up on Twitter, showing me love” Singleton said. “That’s a fan base right there. That’s a fan base you want – you need. They rolled with me, so I’m happy with them.
“I’m happy to wear ‘Lobo’ across my chest – to wear ‘New Mexico’ across my chest.”