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Heart over Height: The Mindset of Basketball Underdog Michael Lugo

The Long Island Nets open tryouts were a step in his journey


Among the 120 pro basketball hopefuls who took part in the open tryouts for the Long Island Nets G League team at LIU Post last Saturday was Michael Lugo.

He is a 21-year-old junior at Hofstra University studying exercise science. Not the tallest—5-10. Not the biggest—150 pounds. With limited competitive experience—Bayside High School and one year at Monroe College in the Bronx before transferring to Hofstra. But passionate and determined.

“Only the strong survive,” said Lugo. “I am trying to stay strong mentally and physically. I am mentally focused and always believe in myself that I can do it.”

He took up the sport in the eighth grade. He works out with members of the Hofstra men’s varsity and is a practice player for Hofstra’s women’s team. He continues to chase his dream to somehow reach the NBA.

“I knew coming in [to the Nets tryout] that there’s going to be ex-college players, overseas players, players that tryout for these multiple times,” said Lugo. “I know I’m a little undersized but if I play smarter than them, then hopefully I can make my dream come true. They’re all going to be taller than me, bigger than me but, I came in here and my one mindset was to play smart.”

During Saturday’s tryout, Lugo drove against taller competitors and, after making a contested layup, finished with a scream of emotion.

“I know a lot of people always say short people can’t make it. Well, I’m a living example of it,” said Lugo. “A lot of people told me that I couldn’t play varsity [high school] basketball because of my size but I played all three years. People said I couldn’t play college basketball because of my size. I still played.”

He did not make the cut Saturday, but said, “I know I’m not going to give up. This is just another obstacle I have to face.”

“All the motivational talks that my parents give me really helps me mentally and keeps me going and going and going. As long as I have my family, I can achieve anything,” said Lugo. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t be where I am at today.”

And he still expects to play professionally some day.

“Yes. Yes, I will,” he said.

 “Always believe in yourself,” he said. “You don’t need no one else to believe. As long as you believe in yourself, anything can happen.”