Foye refuses to let tough childhood keep him down

Updated: March 25, 2006, 7:13 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Randy Foye was exhausted, so tired from playing the entire bruising, physical game against Boston College he wouldn't even have the energy to eat afterward.

While his teammates came and went, getting much-needed breathers on the bench, Foye wouldn't think of coming off the court. Every game he plays these days could be his last in a Villanova uniform, and he's not ready for it to end.

And no matter how much his legs hurt or how badly his lungs burn, the physical pain of a basketball game will never compare to the scars left by a childhood spent dodging gunfire and the self-destructive temptations that were everywhere in New Jersey's Prince Street projects.

"There is definitely something God-given in him that enabled him from a young age to pick the right people to listen to," Villanova coach Jay Wright said Saturday. "I was explaining to some of our freshman today, you have that confidence to lead like that when your mind is free of any guilt, of any worries. You are just free. You are out there free because he just does the right thing all the time.

"I'm not saying he is an angel," Wright added. "But he tries to do the right thing all the time academically, with his friends, with his family, with his teammates. He just is always trying to do the right thing."

That Wright could say that about any college student is impressive. That he can say it about Foye speaks volumes about the senior guard's strength, determination and character.

The 22-year-old was an orphan before he started first grade. His father, Tony Zigelo, was killed in a motorcycle accident when Foye was 3, and his mother, Regina Foye, walked out on him and his younger brother a few weeks after Foye finished kindergarten. He was raised by his grandmothers, Ruth Martin and Betty Foye, shuttling between their houses in Newark.

"When I got tired of one neighborhood, I would go to the other one and make new friends," Foye said. "I just kept on going back and forth."

Though each house was filled with love, the streets outside were not. Martin lived in the Prince Street projects, one of New Jersey's worst. The lights in the hallways were always smashed out - making it easier for the local thugs to rob people - and Foye was 9 when he saw someone get shot in an elevator.

There were opportunities to self-destruct everywhere he turned. Yet somehow, he never did.

"I've just surrounded myself with people, good human beings that I saw from a young age, people that were doing the right thing," he said. "I could have been directed into the wrong direction, but I wasn't. I just tried to keep myself, my little circle, surrounded with great people."

Besides his grandmothers, that circle includes Zegale "Z" Kelliehan, a neighbor in the projects who took the young Foye under his wing despite being eight years older, a high school guidance counselor and his AAU and high school coaches.

It was Kelliehan who helped nurture Foye's love for basketball.

"I just always watched him and his brother play ball," Foye said. "They had a team where an older guy would pick a younger guy, and he'd always pick me. As he grew up, he was playing Division III basketball. I didn't know the difference, I just knew he was playing in front of crowds. I always wanted to be there, so he took me to watch."

Go to any playground, though, and there's a story or 10 about supremely talented kids who fell by the wayside. While his grandmothers and Kelliehan looked out for him on the streets, Maria Contardo and coach Bryant Garvin helped guide him through East Side High School.

Contardo was his academic adviser, badgering him relentlessly about going to class. Garvin was the one who pared Foye's ego down to size, helping him learn what it really took to win.

"Coming from high school to college, if I'd kept the same attitude, it probably would have been something like what T.O. does," Foye said, laughing. "I would have been arrogant and I wouldn't have let anyone tell me anything."

Instead, he's become an unselfish leader who's helped return Villanova to basketball's elite. Though he leads the team with 20.4 points, he also ranks second with 5.7 rebounds. In Friday night's 60-59 victory over BC, he rallied the Wildcats from 16 points down, scoring 21 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime.

He and fellow senior Allan Ray have combined to score 123 points in Villanova's first three tournament games. The Wildcats play Florida on Sunday, trying to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning the national title in 1985.

"When you talk about college careers and guys in the Big East, and you put not only their numbers and their stats, but add on top of that the fact that they have won as much as they have won, I think you can throw them in there with any guards that have played in the league," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who knows a thing or two about the league from his playing days at Providence.

That's pretty good company, considering the list includes guys like Mark Jackson, Allen Iverson and Ray Allen.

But when his college career finally does end, the lasting memory of Foye will be his perseverance. Too many people from far easier circumstances let bitterness control the rest of their lives. Foye has used it to make him a better man.

He turned 22 last September, and celebrated by getting a tattoo of the mother who left him on his chest.

"If my mom was here today, she would probably be the most important person in my life," he said. "I know how I treat my grandmother and I put my grandmother in her place on a pedestal. I just felt as if I needed something of her attached to me, so I just put her over my heart."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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