In the fall of 2008 I was a year out of college and somewhat unemployed. After eight months of being wrenched from producers and relying on luke warm Ramen Noodles, I quit my low-paying job as a copywriter for Boston's NBC affiliate.
During this awkward phase, I was determined not to completely separate myself from a media related gig or hobby. I wanted to keep writing; maybe not as a job but for personal fulfillment and to challenge myself.
So naturally, I created a blog named after a forgotten college basketball player whose name resonates with only a small college basketball audience.
For those that forgot or just don't know: Billy Edelin was the sixth man on Syracuse's 2003 National Championship winning team. Playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, he was a talented point guard - an NBA prospect with first round pick potential - but a number of suspensions imposed by Jim Boeheim led to his abrupt departure from college basketball 20 games into his junior season. After college, Edelin played in a number of European leagues, and his career officially ended after a handful of games with the CBA's Great Falls Explorers.
In November of 2008 Searching For Billy Edelin was launched as a purely extracurricular activity between myself and childhood friend Matt Parsons, and boy does it come off as amateur hour when you look back on it. The blog name was derived from a combination of our own curiosity of what happened to Billy and friends who doubled as Syracuse fans or undergrads and assumed that our college basketball fandom kept us privy to the whereabouts of the game's has-beens.
But just six months into creating a guise we had even the slightest of clues, our commentary was garnering mild attention, and we were fortunate to be invited to join SB Nation. The ask validated to our friends that this was to be taken somewhat seriously.The off-the-wall name, at this point, could not be changed; we had to roll with the unconventional title.
Matt stepped aside when season one concluded, and I continued to slowly build brand awareness by cutting my teeth trolling through college basketball circles.
Never was SFBE created with the intention to connect with Billy or garner site traffic for no other reason than its quirky name, but this summer the ongoing joke that someday Billy or his family would reach out to me actually happened.
On June 22nd of this summer William Edelin Sr. emailed me, and he cut right to the point:
Mr. Fasulo, my name is William Edelin and I am Billy Edelin's father. I saw your site on SB Nation.
If you want to get the deal on Billy, I can help make that happen.
I have received probably a half dozen emails from people claiming to know the whole story of Billy. Some said they were Billy's old roommate, Billy's friend's cousin, or cut Billy's hair once back in 1997. I never put a lot of stock into their claims, but this was different. It was clear to me that this was Billy Edelin's father, and William and I spent the next two months talking on the phone every week, discussing everything from the misunderstanding of his son to the seedy AAU circuit, to even Michael Beasley.
William said that he had been familiar with the blog for quite sometime (he's now an avid reader), but never felt the need to reach out to me. A friend of his was adamant that he sue me for using his son's name, but William correctly assumed that I was not sitting on stacks of money, so there would be little for him to gain financially from such a petty lawsuit.
Throughout our phone calls, I learned about Billy's work with youth basketball players in the Syracuse area straight from the man who raised him. His interest in my blog seemed genuine, and William was offering a can't miss opportunity to meet and interview the former Syracuse guard.
After building trust and a level of friendship with his father, Billy first reached out to me in early September. We spoke for about 25 minutes, and the plan was hatched to take a trip to upstate New York to conduct only the second interview Billy has ever done since he left the Orange basketball team in 2005. Despite second guessing myself during the entire solitary 4.5 hour drive up to Syracuse about pursuing meeting Billy, the encounter actually went down.
I met Billy for the first time at the Community Center in Manlius, New York. It's a place we've all spent a Sunday afternoon while growing up. It's a dated, nondescript, multi-purpose building; eons away from big time college basketball. But this would be the setting where this weird connection between random blogger and national championship winning guard would finally come to a head.
Driving over to the center from my two-star hotel located in an East Syracuse, New York business park, it felt fairly normal that I was about to go meet Billy, even though from an outsider's perspective it has to rank as one of the more improbable interactions between two people.
Naturally, I arrived early. Sitting alone in that worn, ungulated gravel parking lot sent chills down my spine.
What if I was in the wrong place?
What if I had the wrong time?
What if Billy just doesn't show up?
I drove 300 plus miles to spend an afternoon with this guy, and it may simply not happen.
After about 15 minutes of checking my fantasy football score before the early games had even kicked off, and re-checking each of the community center's locked doors, around the corner came a red Ford Explorer. I looked into my rear view mirror and was immediately relieved.
My interviewee was riding shotgun.
It's been more than six years since Billy Edelin, 28-years old and originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, inauspiciously left the Syracuse basketball team and quickly fell off the radar. What he's been up to since then was really left to the imagination, as he's been almost entirely mute.
To date, only myself and ESPN Radio's Mike Bristol have had the privilege of catching up with Billy and then broadcasting that meet to the masses. Mike's interview from February 2011 delves more into allowing Billy to explain why he gets a bad rap, and why he missed all that time on the basketball court during his time as an undergrad at Syracuse University.
"Finding Billy Edelin" Coverage
CBSSports.com Podcast: The real Billy Edelin
I had another set of questions for Billy: I wanted to know how he's dispelling the myths surrounding him and getting on with his life.
"Two years ago, if you asked to meet Billy, he would have said no," said William Edelin Sr. the man who helped facilitate the meet and greet. "He has a hard time trusting people."
And why wouldn't he? When you experience a less than fulfilling college career - rife with bizarre sexual abuse and drug use allegations, no comments and no shows - on the heels of a successful prep career, it makes sense to avoid the media.
Whatever you thought of Billy up to this point, it's time for a makeover. If you thought nothing of him, well, this makes it much easier. In short, he's a phenomenal guy who really just loves basketball, and loves teaching basketball. Outside of his day job working at the Onondaga County Clerks office, Billy spends almost all of his freetime conducting individual and group skill clinics and coaching local basketball leagues to ensure every kid has a chance to at least appreciate the game as much as he.
What began as word of mouth at the downtown Syracuse YMCA and YWCA has turned into a 501(c) non-profit association called the Hoops Haven Gym Ratz. In addition to Billy, Gilbert Speights heads the program that is complete with board members and boosters to help rent out local gyms and also help subsidize inclusion for underprivileged kids seeking to improve their game under the watchful eye of a former high school All-American.
"What's up, man?" Billy casually says as he gets out of the car and approaches me. "Glad you could make it."
Immediately I felt like a putz. Here is this real person, and three years ago I thought it would be funny to name a blog after him. But he, like, exists and has a life. He's nice, normal, and wouldn't hurt a fly.
Man I am pathetic. The joke, if there ever was one, was up. I had to get the most awkward yet obvious question out of the way.
"So, um, when did you first hear about Searching for Billy Edelin, and what did you think about it," I stuttered while giving the ‘you don't think it's that weird, right?' look.
"Ha nah people always ask me about it, saying they were surfing on the Internet and found this website, asking if I've seen it," he said. "They act like I am supposed to get mad over it, but it didn't really bother me that much."
Doesn't care! Fantastic! I'm not even insulted. Relieved, actually.
As they enter the Community Center, Billy greets each of the paying customers and their parents with open arms and light jabs. On this particular Sunday, it's a group of eight middle school girls, many who have known Billy for more than a year.
If there was any question as to how his relationship with his former coach Jim Boeheim remained over the years, it must be quite all right. One of the "students" in attendance today is Boeheim's daughter Jamie, and her twin brother Jack also goes through drills with Billy on occasion.
From the moment the girls walk in the door, they have Billy's undivided attention. Whether he's asking them about school or checking in on how they're doing in their fall league, his warm personality is accepted by people half his age. The interaction is incredibly fascinating. This guy won a national championship alongside Carmelo Anthony, and here he is fully invested in the development of these girls basketball games on what would otherwise be an idle Sunday afternoon.
"[With the kids] Billy is phenomenal," says Dr. Pat Lynch, whose daughter, Brittany, has been working with Billy for more than a year. "They want to play with Billy. He's outstanding with the fundamentals. The dribbling, the shooting, everything is positive. If the kids show up and he can't be here for whatever reason, they're disappointed."
When Billy came out of Oak Hill Academy in 2001 ranked as a consensus top 40 player in the country - ahead of guys like Ben Gordon,and Salim Stoudamire - he was one of the best ball handlers and passers in recent memory. So naturally, the first 45 minutes of today's clinic are drills for the girls solely to improve just that.
"I can shoot hoops in the driveway with my daughter, but it's not really the same as this," says Jim Harris. "We call this Billy Ball. I'll tell my daughter, ‘Hey let's go, we got Billy Ball this afternoon." And she loves it."
Beginning with some simple up and downs with their non-dominant dribbling hand, building up to plyometric dribbling and sequential spin-move-to-behind-the-back drills, Billy makes sure he spends at least 30 seconds directly with each girl, offering either words of encouragement or constructively telling them how to get better with the ball. His genuine interest in getting kids to at least enjoy, if not excel, in the game of basketball is unwavering.
But the day is not over. Billy and Gil pack up and dart across town to West Gennessee High School, where the pair's 7th and 8th grade fall league team waits for coaching for their late afternoon game. We arrive about 15 minutes to tip-off, but Billy diligently tries to make up for lost time by quickly assembling his eight man roster. A brief tutorial on breaking a full-court press and words of encouragement in the lay-up line, and the game has started before I can even go snag a bag of Doritos.
Once again, I sit in a once familiar place: a rented high school gym with lots of sweat, empty water bottles, and the dreaded helicopter parents. Most of the crowd is directly related to the kids playing in the game, so therefore most of the crowd thinks they're the assistant coach. Billy's team falls behind early, and barking from the sideline ensues.
One of the parents starts telling his son what to do, because obviously only he can surmount his team's early deficit. Billy has none of it, ordering the player not to talk to anyone on the sidelines or find a seat on the bench.
He's the coach. He's the guy that was an assist and a rebound away from a triple-double back in 2004, and he's the guy who knows more about basketball than anyone else in the building.
The firm but not overly condescending tone is refreshing to see.
Throughout the game it was clear to me that Billy wants to turn his extracurricular work as an instructor and youth coach into a full-time job, which is co-signed by Gil with a nod of the head.
"I've been fortunate enough during my basketball playing career to have some great coaches," says Billy. "Boeheim, [Oak Hill Academy's] Steve Smith and my coaches that coached me [growing up], I just try to take a little bit from each of them and add it in to my own experiences."
This upcoming season Billy will be helping out with the JV squad at Nottingham High School, hoping for it to serve as a "stepping stone" to bigger and better opportunities. I have a feeling it will.
In addition to working with the next generation of prep players in upstate New York, there's plenty of guys already on-the-radar of top tiered Division I coaches that have been getting workouts in with Billy, most notably DaJuan Coleman. A consensus top 15 player of the class of 2012, Coleman will serve as the first soon-to-be household name that came out of Billy and Gil's program, a player who has narrowed down his college choices between Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse.
An even more fascinating revelation is that Billy's client list (non-paying in this case) also includes a number of current Syracuse players who routinely seek Billy out to play pick-up and work on their fundamentals. Scoop Jardine in particular has spent many hours this off-season with Billy working on becoming a better team facilitator. No word yet if Billy's unselfish philosophy of basketball has rubbed off on the quick-triggered ‘Cuse point guard.
When the day was over, my biggest takeaway was that we, well, at least everyone who knew of Billy Edelin between 2001-2005 but haven't heard from him since, were probably wrong. We were wrong about him as a person, and wrong to play the "What the Heck Ever Happened to Him" card when he came up in conversation. He needs to be removed from the undefined category of players with potential who allegedly made poor decisions and lost their way.
Despite disappearing from the eyes and minds of fans who likely have unfavorable perceptions and misjudgments about him, he's been front and center (adored actually) by a number of kids and young adults, offering hours of his free time to serve as a sort of evangelist on the game he loves, and give as many kids as he can the opportunity to excel in the game of basketball.
It was a very odd journey but I found Billy Edelin. He's doing just fine, and basketball is better for having it be taught by people like him.