Larger than Life
A basketball player’s struggle to overcome adversity to achieve his ultimate goal.
It’s July 28, 2012, and David Hatyina is drinking, smoking and enjoying his day on his boat, Purple Haze. Little does he know that his whole life is about to change.
It’s July 28, 2012, and the Borcia family is enjoying a rather normal summer day on their boat. Tony, the youngest of the Borcias, was tubing with his older brother Joe, at the time an incoming sophomore. Tony fell off the tube, into uncertainty.
It’s July 28, 2012, David Hatyina and Tony Borcia meet in a life-changing accident that will leave the Borcia family mourning for a lifetime.
“[Hatyina] didn’t really see my brother, but he was there is the water,” said Joe Borcia. “ [Tony] was defenseless. It’s different from drunk driving because in a car you have protection. In the water there is no protection. He was going 40, not looking where he was going, and unfortunately [Tony] was just wrong place wrong time.”
Hatyina was operating his boat, Purple Haze, under a haze of his own. Testing revealed that he was high and intoxicated while driving his boat that fateful summer day.
Hatyina was charged with 22 different counts in court, including the wrongful death of Tony Borcia, and this past June, Hatyina was sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbing the Borcia family of their youngest child.
How does a family overcome the loss of a child?
It’s not easy. The family struggles on a daily basis to cope with this tragic event. However, tragedy can bring those affected closer, as is the case for the Borcia family.
“We were a very close family before the tragedy, but even closer now,” said Mr. Jim Borcia, while explaining how he and his family, son, Joe; daughters Kaeleigh and Erin; and wife Mrs. Margaret Borcia, have reacted to this tragedy. “Our love for each other, including our love for Tony and Tony’s love for us, has helped us survive this unimaginable event. We love each other more than ever and our Angel Tony in Heaven is helping us stay together and live our lives in his honor and in his memory. We are a family that does things together and are involved in each other’s lives and support each other.”
While the mourning process will never be over for the Borcias, each has found a different way to deal with the loss and Joe turned to something he already loved: basketball.
“On the court, it’s a therapy to me,” said Borcia. “We all have our outlets to get the anger out. Basketball was really the only thing where I didn’t think about it.”
Because of his six-foot-nine-inch frame, at first glance anyone in world would assume that Borcia is a basketball player. Last year, he was the starting center for the LHS varsity boys basketball team, and with his dedication and competitive attitude, it’s no surprise.
Borcia was introduced to the game by his father at a young age and has been playing ever since.
“We started playing in our backyard when he was 3-years-old,” said Borcia’s father. “He loved to dribble even before he could shoot — I would also bring him to my men’s league games and he would dribble and shoot during intermissions – then he started with the Libertyville Park District Double Dribblers Program when he was only 4 – I signed him up early; you were supposed to be 6 years old, but he was so big that no one questioned his age – although he played other sports, basketball was always his favorite.”
Mr. Borcia is an LHS alumni who played basketball at LHS from 1979-1982. He loves supporting his former school and having his son follow in his footsteps brings him a sense of pride.
“It makes me very proud,” said Mr. Borcia. “I am very fond of our school and the fine education and the principles it stands for, both on and off the court – we have a very good history of basketball at LHS that we are trying to continue and help grow.”
The father-son relationship is a two-way street for the Borcia men. Mr. Borcia is very proud of his son, and Joe draws much of his basketball motivation from his father.
“I would say my dad [is my biggest motivator],” said Borcia. “He works very hard and expects the best from me. So that is what I expect from myself. He played basketball. He just wants me to be the best.”
The motivation Borcia receives off the court drives him to get better on the court. He spends, according to his dad, 22-30 hours a week doing some kind of basketball training. Whether it is working on his flexibility, getting stronger in the weight room or just practicing drills, Borcia does it all.
“I have always told him to try to be the best and don’t settle for just being good,” said Mr. Borcia. “There are a lot of good basketball players, but very few great ones – I have urged him to work on his game outside of his team practices, and to especially to work on his weaknesses – lately I have been urging him to work in the weight room to improve his strength and agility.”
As far as weakness goes, Borcia has very few on the offensive side of the ball. Boys varsity head coach Mr. Scott Bogumil and Mr. Borcia both agree that Borcia is a very talented passer. Borcia’s size also allows him to take advantage of smaller defenders and score easily. When he meets a defender his size, Borcia uses his jump shot or his post moves to get easy points.
“His best quality as a player, it’s a lost art nowadays, is his passing for a big guy,” said Coach Bogumil. “He really sees the floor well. He does have really good post moves and that will get better as he gets stronger. He has really been improving on his outside shooting, which will make him hard to guard. I’m really impressed with the progress on that. He’s been working hard at it.”
On the other side of the ball, Borcia and his dad both agree that he needs to work on his defense. At six feet nine inches, it can be tough to get low into the defensive stance and move with an offensive player, but Borica is hoping all of the extra work he put in this off season will help him make strides on defense.
“Offense really came easy to me but I know defense is what our teams needs,” said Borcia. “That’s why I am working on it. I worked on my speed and my flexibility. I go to a personal trainer for my flexibility because [my speed] and my lateral movement were not that good.”
When deciding on which weaknesses he will work on, Borica looks at what his team needs most. He puts his team in front of his individual success and that is what drives him to get better every time he steps onto the court.
“Last year I was all-conference as a sophomore,” said Borcia. “It was pretty humbling but I don’t really play for individual awards, I play for my team. I get better to make my team better. I don’t play for individual awards. I want to help my team win.”
With a willingness to put his team before himself, Borcia emerged as a leader on the young varsity team last year. He put in work every day and earned extended minutes-he played almost all game, every game-toward the end of the season after only playing about half the game at the beginning of the year.
“He is definitely one of leaders,” said Coach Bogumil. “Even though he is only a junior, he is our leader. Kids are looking to him to bring stability to the team offensively and defensively.”
The whole team looks to Borcia as a leader, according to senior teammate Johnny Vernasco. Though the team has a wide range of ages, sophomores through seniors last season, they all get along well.
Borcia also has another quality that helps keeps the team together: his sense of humor.
“Joe is a really funny guy,” said Vernasco. “If any of the guys have their head down he’ll make some comment that will make him laugh.”
Every team needs someone to lighten the mood when everything gets tough and that is one of the many leadership qualities Borcia possesses. His leadership qualities and his abilities on the court stand are what out to colleges.
When a college is deciding on what kinds of players it would like for its teams, usually big men are the hardest to gauge, according to Coach Bogumil. They often take the longest time to develop as players and colleges want to see how much taller and stronger the centers and power forwards will get before offering a scholarship.
“There is always a lot of interest in somebody who is tall in basketball,” said Coach Bogumil. “The other thing with big kids is you just don’t know, from a recruiting standpoint, who is going to come offer him a scholarship next year. With big kids, the schools always have an eye on them but are afraid to pull the scholarship offer out until they’re are really sure.”
Right now, Borcia is receiving college interest from quite a few teams, but the teams in biggest pursuit of his talent include University of Illinois-Chicago, Yale, Morehead State, Southern Illinois University, Cornell and Central Michigan. If given the opportunity to go to any college to play basketball, Borcia would choose the University of Illinois.
“My favorite school is Illinois,” said Borcia. “That would be a dream school. They haven’t talked to me yet. Realistically Southern Illinois would be cool to play at, Central Michigan too.”
Though Borcia hasn’t received any recognition from any top level basketball programs yet, Coach Bogumil still has hope for the young star.
“I think his skill right now, he could definitely play at a small division one school but if you ask me three months from now, six months from now or even going into his senior year, Big Ten schools could be calling him,” said Coach Bogumil. “But that’s a lot to do with how he continues to progress. I don’t see why this time next year he has a lot of offers on the table.”
What comes after college for Borcia? That all depends on how good he ultimately becomes.
“Yeah but [going pro] very hard to do,” said Borcia. “That’s thinking way ahead but that’d be a dream.”