by Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Saturday, Luis Colon says will be "... the biggest day of my life."
The Wildcat won't be in his customary No. 15 Wildcat jersey, but instead will be in a cap and gown graduating from Kansas State University.
"My mother (Madeline Rivera) encouraged me to have graduating in four years as one of my goals, and I made it," said Colon, a native of Carolina, Puerto Rico. "I have cousins and nieces who started college, but I'm the first to graduate. That's big."
Colon is graduating this weekend with a criminology / social science degree after arriving in the Wildcat Nation with little to no command of the English language.
Now four years later, earlier this month he received the Keith Amerson Academic Award, which goes to the Wildcat demonstrating a determination to reach his potential on and off the court, and, the Gina Sylvester Memorial Award that goes annually to an Arts and Science student who has progressed toward graduation using the advising system to overcome challenges.
"Big ... very special. I never believed I would ever get an academic award," said Colon. "To award me with that kind of trophy is very special. It will always be in my house as a memory that I can have for life.
"It's something I will have to tell my kids about dedication on and off the court," he said. "You can be a good basketball player, but also be dedicated in the classroom."
Colon gives full credit to the K-State tutoring system, coach Frank Martin and his teammates on learning the art of the English language.
"I came here and nodded, but I didn't understand," Colon said with a laugh. "Coach taught me how to say things because he knew Spanish, but my teammates also helped me a lot."
Saturday, Colon will join KSU teammates Denis Clemente and Chris Merriewether as Wildcat graduates.
"A proud day," Colon said. "I put a lot of hard work into the classroom. Now, I'm leaving with an education. If something happens in basketball where I can't play, now I can secure a job and have a good life and help my family financially.
"I will always tell people that I came to K-State as a little kid and I'm leaving a grown man," Colon said. "It's sad to leave. It was a great time. I will always be a Wildcat. It was the greatest four years of my life."
TALK ABOUT A ROAD SCHEDULE!
Shortly after K-State's season ended with the NCAA West Regional in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 27 with a loss to Butler, Colon shifted from the purple and white of K-State, to the silver and blue of Mets de Guaynabo of the professional BSN League in Puerto Rico.
Since mid-April, he's been flying home for weekend games, but returning to the K-State campus for a mid-week Tuesday/Thursday class.
"I think I've made the trip four times," said Colon, adding that it's a 10-hour jaunt.
Colon played in a game Thursday night, arrived in Manhattan at 3:30 Friday, will go through graduation ceremonies on Saturday, and return for a game on Monday.
His team, which also includes ex-Big 12 standouts Marcus Fizer (Iowa State) and Andre Emmett (Texas Tech), is 10-14 with Colon averaging 3.0 points and 3.3 rebounds.
"It's a more physical game, and I like that," said Colon. "There's a lack of athletic big men here. Bigs here are 6-6 or 6-7, so I hope to reach my dream of being on the Puerto Rican Olympic team in the future."
As for Colon's career game plan, he says, "I want to play until the legs can't go any farther. I just love playing, and now I get a check for it that can help my family. I'd play my whole life if I could, but I'd sure like to play 10 or 15 years. Scott (Greenawalt, KSU's strength and conditioning coach) worked me hard to get me ready for this."
The Puerto Rican season will end later this month, and then Colon says he will explore the opportunity to play in Europe, where salaries are higher than the $200,000 that top players receive in his native country.
But for now, his focus is on returning to Manhattan and the K-State campus where he will accept his diploma.
Colon offered, "I'm proud of myself. I thank all the people who never gave up on me ... Frank, Bob Huggins, my teammates and the K-State fans with all of those 'Loooous'. All of that helped me become the person I am today."