His character gets praised first. Then his off-court development. Basketball follows.
Desure Buie may be Hofstra’s best player, its leading scorer and playmaker, the key to the CAA-leading Pride reaching their first NCAA Tournament in 19 years, but it isn’t what defines the redshirt senior from The Bronx. Basketball is only part of who he is.
“He’s an incredible person,” coach Joe Mihalich said.
He’s a member of the 2019-20 CoSIDA Academic All-District 1 First Team, a scholar athlete who is on pace to receive his master’s degree (higher education leadership) in May with a near-perfect GPA, a doting father and an exceptional leader. A year ago, he earned his undergraduate degree (linguistics) with a 3.32 average, becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college.
On the court, he’s having a memorable senior season — leading Hofstra (20-7, 11-3 heading into Saturday) to the top of the CAA, posting career-highs in minutes played (36.7), scoring (18.1), assists (5.6), rebounding (3.5) and field-goal percentage (45.3).
It’s all been about development, on the floor and off. Buie has worked relentlessly in the classroom and on his game, the two emphasized equally.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” said Buie, who is one of 30 student-athletes nationally selected for the Senior CLASS Award, given to a senior who excels in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. “Most kids where I come from, they don’t go to college like this.”
Coming out of Wings Academy in The Bronx, he was a quality three-star recruit, an undersized point guard with a keen understanding of the game. Back then, basketball was his life. He nearly didn’t pass the NCAA Clearinghouse, which gauges academic eligibility, needing to finish strong. Even then, to get into Hofstra, Buie had to be a special admit with presidential approval, since his cumulative GPA was below the university-mandated 2.5.
“His first semester, it was a case of just surviving,” said Rachel Peel, an associate dean for the Center for University Advising who also works individually with student-athletes.
That first semester changed his outlook on life. He was taking writing composition and clashed with the professor, who Buie felt was unnecessarily hard on him. She would make him rewrite his work, demand more from him. He took it as a challenge.
“It made me want to do better,” he said. “I’m like I can get through anything if I can get through her.”
The 5-foot-11 Buie needed help in the classroom, needed to learn how to take notes, how to properly focus. That’s where Peel fit in. The two would meet for 10-12 hours a week, frequently after practice. He saw how hard she worked with student-athletes to keep them eligible, how much she helped him at the start and he wanted to make her life easier by doing well himself.
They developed a bond, talking about everything, from basketball to life to school. She stressed the importance to him of thinking beyond the game. Peel would make road trips with the team, and it wasn’t uncommon for the two to be the only ones up on late-night bus trips, studying together as everyone slept. His first semester, Buie got a 2.8. But he wasn’t satisfied.
“I want to get a 3.0 and be on the Dean’s List,” he told her.
Meanwhile, on the court Buie had a quiet freshman year, averaging just 3.0 points as a backup. He tore his ACL eight games into the following season, creating a crossroads on the court.
A full year of rehabilitation followed. While he was out, Hofstra brought in Kenny Wormley, a junior college point guard. The coaching staff wasn’t sure it could depend on Buie to run the team. At the beginning of his long road back, he became a father. At 19 years old, he didn’t know if he was ready. Then he held his daughter Jada. That joy he felt changed him.
“My numbers [in physical therapy] went up, I went so hard,” he recalled. “My daughter put me on the right track.”
Jada sits with her mother in the same spot behind the basket at every home game. During pregame introductions, Buie makes eye contact with her.
“It gives me goose bumps and I know, ‘Here we go,’ ” he said, smiling.
Buie replaced Womley as a starter halfway through the season, helping the Pride finish third in the CAA. Last year, alongside close friend Justin Wright-Foreman, Buie was the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year, as Hofstra won the regular-season crown and reached the conference title game.
Looking back now, Buie is happy Mihalich brought in Wormley.
“If he would’ve just handed me a spot, maybe I wouldn’t be the player I am now,” said Buie, who turned 23 on Friday.
“He’s a prove-’em-wrong guy,” added Hofstra senior Eli Pemberton, who also played AAU ball with Buie. “He’s done it all his life.”
As well as Buie has played this season, his leadership qualities are what everyone points to the most when it comes to Hofstra’s emergence as the CAA’s best team. It goes beyond basketball.
Mihalich has a story he likes to tell from a few years ago, when a motivational speaker met with all 350 Hofstra student-athletes. Mental health became the topic, and everyone started opening up. One student stood up and admitted he once considered taking his own life, pointing a gun to his head. Buie got up, walked up to the student and gave him a big hug.
“The guy said, ‘Do you know him? Are you friends?’ ” Mihalich remembered. “Desure says, ‘Honestly, I never saw him before, but we’re going to be friends now.’ Who does that?”
It’s part of the reason he is universally respected by teammates. He’s quiet by nature but the kind of person who will turn heads when he speaks. His leadership style is simple — get to know people first and don’t treat everyone the same. Some teammates need tough love. Others have to be coddled. Pemberton believes Buie oozes positive energy, always knowing when to speak up.
“He kind of makes the team with his leadership,” Pemberton said.
Soon, Buie’s college career will be over. He hopes it will include an NCAA Tournament berth, after finishing one win short twice. But if it doesn’t, it won’t lessen his impact. He will have left a lasting impression with how far he has come — as a player, as a person and as a student.
“He arrived bright-eyed, scared to death, a deer-in-the-headlights. You can use any of those terms,” Peel said. “Now he’s ready for anything.”