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Foss: Former Schenectady basketball star Willie Deane is ready to give back

Foss: Former Schenectady basketball star Willie Deane is ready to give back

Now retired from pro basketball, he starred on one of Schenectady's greatest teams ever
Foss: Former Schenectady basketball star Willie Deane is ready to give back
Willie Deane with his book "Love" at The Open Door Bookstore.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Every night, Willie Deane's daughter asked him to tell her a bedtime story. 

And he was happy to oblige, spinning tale after tale of his own invention. One night, she asked him to repeat one of his stories. 

"She enjoyed one of the stories so much she requested it again," Deane recalled, when I met him for coffee in downtown Schenectady in late February. "That's how I knew I needed to start writing my stories down." 

Deane, 39, is well known to Daily Gazette readers for his starring role on the 1998 Schenectady High School varsity boys basketball team that went undefeated -- 28-0! -- on its run to the state championship. 

His talent eventually took him to Purdue University in Indiana, where he became one of the most prolific scorers in school history, and then overseas, where he enjoyed a successful professional basketball career, winning championships and traveling the world. 

Now Deane is back home in the Capital Region, retired from basketball and looking to give back and explore other longtime interests, such as writing. 

Deane has a new book out, titled "Love."

It tells the story of a little girl -- named Sara, after Deane's grandmother -- who learns the true meaning of the word love. 

Brightly illustrated, the engaging and heartwarming story contains a touching and valuable message, about how there are different ways to express and recognize love. 

"Love" was inspired by Deane's daughters, who are 8 and 4, and he considers the book a vehicle for sharing a powerful message with his children. "The book gave me a way to teach my daughters through characters," he said.

Now other children can learn from it, too.  

Deane has been visiting local schools to share "Love" and talk to students, and he will be doing a book signing at The Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady on March 30, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Deane told me that he has always loved writing.  

"Reading was a challenge for me in the early stages," Deane said. "Comprehension took time. But once it clicked, books were able to take me beyond borders, into places I'd never even thought of." 

"I was always a writer," Deane continued. "Writing was therapeutic to me. It was a way to get things off my chest." 

That said, Deane admitted to being a bit surprised that he can now add children's book author to his resume. 

"I never would have thought I'd come out with a book," he said. 

And he hopes to come out with more. 

"This is not a one-off," Deane said. "I have other books written." 

When I spoke with Deane, he expressed a desire to get more involved in the community and indicated that we'll hear more about his plans in the near future. 

"Schenectady has a special place in my heart, being the place that I was born and raised," he said. "No matter where I was in the world, this was home."  

Deane isn't new to volunteer work -- for years, he has returned to Schenectady during the basketball off-season to assist his father, Willie Dean CQ, with a summer basketball program for youth at Jerry Burrell Park in Hamilton Hill. 

The program, which I observed a couple years ago, gives kids plenty of time to hone their basketball skills on the court, but it also promotes education and tries to instill in interest in math, English and other academic subjects. 

"We teach through sports," Deane said. 

One of the things Deane enjoys sharing with youth is his "global perspective" - his stories and experiencing from playing basketball in Russia, France, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Italy and a number of other countries. 

"As a child, I never thought I'd see the Great Wall of China or the Acropolis," Deane said. "A lot of kids just know what they know. ... I want to spark intellectual curiosity in a young kid's mind. I want to encourage them to seek new information, to explore." 

That's a worthy project, and Deane's compassion and breadth of experience make him well suited for it. 

For now, Deane, who lives in Altamont, is enjoying spending more time with his wife and daughters and working on his master's degree in business leadership and innovation. 

He told me that he probably could have played professional basketball for one or two more years, but that the time away from his loved ones - what he termed "the sacrifice" - no longer seemed worth it. 

"I felt it was time to begin the next chapter of my life," Deane said. "You can't play basketball forever. It's going to end." He added that while he anticipates "being back in the basketball realm" eventually, he's been keeping busy with his family and other projects.  

"I haven't had time to miss basketball." 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.    

 

 

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