Monroe takes advantage of extra year

Brockton center uses time to raise grades for college
By Jake Seiner | January 24, 2010

BROCKTON – Standing to the right of the free-throw line, staring down the basket in front of him, Mario Monroe bobbed his head coolly to the song playing over the public-address system. His lanky frame hidden under a red, long-sleeve Brockton High warm-up jersey, the 6-foot-8 center corralled a basketball at his right hip and watched as his teammates tossed in layups in their pregame routine.

When the lane cleared, Monroe paused momentarily, then went into motion. He glided through the paint and effortlessly lifted himself to the cylinder to flick in a graceful two-handed slam.

Monroe tossed in a few more dunks as he cruised through warm-ups, each throw-down smoother and more natural than the last. Just going through his routine.

But his journey to suiting up for the Boxers this season has been anything but routine.

After attending West Roxbury High as a freshman and sophomore, Monroe transferred to North Cambridge Catholic. Last spring, after two years at NCC, he did not have enough credits to graduate and his athletic eligibility, seemingly, had been exhausted.

Determined to earn his diploma and play basketball in college, Monroe moved in with his mother, a Brockton resident – he’d previously lived with his father – and enrolled at Brockton High School during the summer. Once enrolled, Monroe applied for a fifth year of eligibility with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, but his request was initially denied.

The Monroe family appealed, pointing to a knee injury that kept him sidelined for most of his freshman season at West Roxbury. The MIAA heard the appeal and granted an extra season of eligibility earlier this month.

“At first, it was hard because I got denied,’’ Monroe said. “I was kind of depressed because it’s my last year. What was I going to do?

“It was frustrating because it’s like, ‘I’m going to the gym, but what am I going to get out of it? Am I going to be able to play?’ ’’

Thanks to the MIAA waiver, and his improved work in the classroom, Monroe is now focusing on playing college basketball, possibly at Robert Morris, a Division 1 program in Pittsburgh.

“His grades have improved since he came here to Brockton,’’ Brockton athletic director Tom Kenney said. “I think this was a good move for Mario as a person.’’

For now, Monroe is focused on helping the 10-1 Boxers roll into the state tournament.

Last Sunday night, he made his much-anticipated debut for the Boxers in a nonleague matchup against visiting Andover.

When he stepped onto the court with just under six minutes left in the second quarter, he was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the Brockton crowd.

“It felt good – it’s kind of a big weight off my shoulders,’’ Monroe said about returning to the court. “The community’s been great. They welcome you, and if you need anything, they got you.’’

Monroe quickly put his talents on display to the faithful. A minute in, he posted up and knocked down a textbook jump shot about 12 feet from the basket. The ball barely moved the net as it fell through the rim.

Monroe grabbed four rebounds, netted two points, and blocked one shot in a four-minute second-quarter stint. Brockton outscored Andover 16-5 during that span.

In 10 total minutes, Monroe registered six points and six rebounds as the Boxers rolled to an 82-44 win. As the center becomes more accustomed to Brockton’s style and gets back into game shape, Boxers’ coach Robert Boen anticipates he will become a regular part of his squad’s rotation.

“In the first half, he did a really nice job,’’ Boen said. “He was very smart on defense, I thought. He realized he could sag off his man and give some help, and I thought that really rattled Andover to just suddenly have that big guy standing back there protecting the basket.’’

Monroe offers Boen flexibility. The tallest player in the Boxers starting five on Sunday was 6-foot-4 junior Shane Sims, and with fleet-footed guards Leonardo Medina and Kyle Houston on the floor, Brockton has had the ability to play with fast-paced, guard-heavy sets.

With Monroe in the middle, 6-foot-3 Jahleel Moise and 6-foot-2 Traece Macklin can play forward, allowing the Boxers to go big.

“He’s fit in very nicely,’’ Boen said. “For a kid who’s getting a lot of attention, he’s been very nice and humble and just coming to work hard.’’

“If I could change it – do it all over again – I wouldn’t, because it taught me a lot about life,’’ Monroe said of the path leading to Brockton. “Everything’s not going to go your way; the question is what you’re going to do with it when it doesn’t go your way. God made it happen that way for a reason.’’

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