Kern: Biggest assists for La Salle's Stukes come off the court

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La Salle guard Amar Stukes (2) is known for his community service and leadership.

LA SALLE COACH John Giannini has no shortage of Amar Stukes stories. Many of them have nothing to do with basketball. This one is maybe his favorite, mostly because it's about the individual and not just the player.

"This got back to me from Jack DiMatteo, who runs the team Bible study," said Giannini, when asked to best characterize his fourth-year junior guard. "He wanted each kid to take five dollars and see what happens with it. And Amar sees a person who's down on their luck outside a Dunkin' Donuts. So he invites him in for breakfast. It's not that he had breakfast with the man. It's that at the end of their time together, after talking for, like, 30 minutes, the man said, 'You know, I haven't had a 30-minute conversation in at least 30 years.'

"That's who he is."

And it's been that way for as long as Stukes can recollect.

"That's how my parents raised me," said the middle son of Leslie Green and William Stukes. "They always taught me that if you're able to do something to help someone and you don't, then you're not taking advantage of what God gave you. That was one of the main values they instilled in me. It's just something that's part of our family."

His brother Nadir, who's three years older, played for Division III Rosemont College and is now pursuing a master's degree in forensic science. Younger sibling Jarrod is a senior on the La Salle High team that Amar once suited up for.

"They're the same way," Stukes said. "I mean, I guess I took it to a different level a little bit. But they know about community service.

"I guess I'm on a bigger stage than they are. They do it behind the scenes . . . I try to do mine behind the scenes (too)."

That's harder to pull off after you've been nominated for the 2017 Allstate NABC Good Works Team, which honors outstanding student-athletes who represent the sport's finest at all levels in the areas of community service and leadership. He was among 97 so recognized, even though he didn't make the cut for the final five. But that's hardly the reason last year's Big 5 Scholar Athlete winner does his extracurricular work.

"It's just the satisfaction I get out of it," said Stukes. "The more you do, the more you want to do. It keeps me going. It's not so much what I get out of it. It's what (those he's helping) get out of it. If I can change one life, I feel like I can change the world."

He's a four-year Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative. He led the Safe Choices Workshop to improve the health and safety of women in abusive relationships. He's participated in Bringing Hope Home, which raises money for families affected by cancer. He's volunteered to feed the homeless at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. And he's been part of teamwork discussions with third-graders at public schools.

"If I had to choose between basketball and helping others, I'm sorry to my coaches, but I'd definitely choose helping people," said Stukes, an accounting major who wants to be a CPA. "They'd understand. When I can do them both in one day, that's probably when I'm the happiest.

"Sometimes I'll be super-tired from practice and you have to put things on hold. But whenever I have a day to do something, I'm not turning it down."

At times, even to the point that it might have impeded his hoops progress. Stukes, who grew up in Germantown, was a third-team all-stater as a high-school senior. He redshirted his first year at 20th and Olney, then was steady but not really up to the expectations. His play has noticeably improved this season, especially in the last six games since Pookie Powell went out with a knee injury. Stukes averages 8.3 points, 3.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 31 minutes a game, while shooting 52.3 percent overall, 80.3 from the foul line.

"It was a little frustrating," Stukes acknowledged of his earlier struggles. "I felt like I was letting the team down. That's what hurt the most. I don't think I was being aggressive enough. Now I've got more confidence. I put in a lot of work in the offseason. I can take the shots that I wouldn't before, and make them. I think the team has more confidence in me."

Giannini said he thinks Stukes just needed time to mature.

"I think he came in with some older guys (already here) and was content to stay in the background," said Giannini, whose Explorers (13-10, 7-5 Atlantic 10) visit St. Bonaventure (15-9, 8-4) Wednesday night. "Even without knowing it, he was holding back a little. I think it was a bit out of unselfishness. And he struggled. He's hard on himself, to a fault.

"We used to be amazed. He'd work on his shooting for an hour after practice, then not take a shot in the game. By choice. It's huge, that he play well for us . . . He never does anything wrong. I've never seen him make a bad choice. Not only that, he makes a lot of great choices. Like anything in life, what's most important is consistency. I can be a great guy today. That doesn't mean I'll be a great guy tomorrow. Amar Stukes is completely consistent, in terms of being as high in character, not only as anyone I've ever coached, but anyone I've known."

Stukes started caring about those around him as a youngster. In elementary school, he volunteered at a local church, St. Vincent's, which had a soup kitchen. So he cleaned plates and served food. And never thought twice about wondering whether he was missing out on something.

"At first, it was small stuff around the neighborhood, like giving some money to a homeless person or helping someone who was struggling with their bags," he said. "I never really hung around people who did the wrong things. But I saw it. My brothers were my closest friends. If I was with them, I was having a good time. I wasn't worried about what else I could be doing.

"People will judge you on how you played last night. They kind of get preconceived notions of who you are because of that. That's not who I am. That's me as a basketball player. Sometimes I wish more people could know me off the court. But you get used to it."

He wants to make enough money to be comfortable. Once that happens he plans on "donating" himself to doing way more.

"Anybody who's, like, struggling, I want to raise so much money for that," Stukes insisted. "I thank God every day. My family doesn't come from a lot of money. But my parents did the best they could to make us feel like we were spoiled. I have the opportunity to play basketball on a full scholarship. A lot of people don't get that chance."

He tries to get his teammates involved, especially the younger ones. He talks at elementary schools, so he can try to influence youngsters when they're still impressionable. He wants to show them the importance of keeping a balance between athletics and academics, and what kind of difference a college education could mean. He prefers to aim high, even if there are only 24 hours in each day.

"You can instill stuff that can last a lifetime," Stukes said. "Kids look up to us as role models. So you have to be on your P's and Q's, know what you can do and what you cannot do. When adults see me doing that, maybe it'll kind of rub off. It can only be better if more people want to help . . .

"I didn't know about the (NABC) award. I didn't know that people noticed I was doing anything. I just thought it was something so small, people weren't paying attention to it. I don't even know who nominated me. It was a shock when I saw the article. Of course, that's not why you do it. I don't know if my teammates knew what I do. We each have our path."

He's chosen one worth following.

kernm@phillynews.com

@mikekerndn