I'm at peace. No matter what happens this season, I'm at peace. I don't know if I could have always said that in the past, as I am chasing my dreams, but this offseason helped put things in perspective.

During the summer I went with a group of student-athletes from Marquette over to Costa Rica. The country was beautiful - filled with plants and animals I've never seen before. But while their nation is plentiful in its ecology, many of the people in Costa Rica live in poverty. It's something that when you see it, you don't forget.

The organization we traveled with was called Courts For Kids, and our goal was to help build basketball courts for impoverished villages. We went to a town called Juanilama, and the experience was incredible. Interacting with the locals and building that relationship with the kids was really cool. They didn't know all the rules or much about the game before we got there, so for the kids it was love at first sight.

In many ways it takes me back to when I was their age, picking up a basketball for the first time.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics)

The other cool thing was that it put my mind in the right place as we enter the new season. I understand that there is a lot riding on what happens this year or next, but these kids reminded me that I don't need money to be happy. They didn't have air conditioning or clean water, but that didn't keep them from smiling. When we were out there on the court, those kids weren't thinking about their draft stock or about what they didn't have. They were enjoying just picking up a basketball and spending time with their friends.

Our trip was important for another reason as well...it helped me grow in my faith. Before I worked on the courts each morning, I decided to do a Bible Study. And since the other student-athletes on the trip were also Christians, I asked if anybody would like to join me. After seeing how encouraging and uplifting the Bible Study was in Costa Rica, my friend Nick Singleton and I decided to begin an FCA chapter here at the Marquette campus. Nick, who plays on the lacrosse team, talked to the administrative staff about it and got approved. We're averaging about 15-18 people each meeting, and spreading the message through an athletic perspective has been a total blessing.

The results have already shown. We've had people who weren't really religious try it out, and if I can impact one person, then it's definitely worth it. I want to use my platform as a basketball player to inspire other people and bring them closer to God. I just hope that my game can grow in the same way my faith has, because expectations for this season are high. And yet at the same time, no matter how high we get ranked, I'll never lose that underdog mentality. When you're 5'11 and the smallest one on the court, it's almost a necessity.

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Thomas Hager