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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Emanuel Neto: Fan Of The Year

Two years ago, Emanuel Neto transferred to Stony Brook from San Jacinto College to further his basketball career. Early in his first semester, he said, he felt like an outcast because of his appearance and “wackadoo” attitude.

“Everyone was scared of me. They all thought I was crazy,” Neto said, who stands at 6’10”.

But shortly after hearing the sound of a whistle coming from Kennth P. Lavalle Stadium, he became the face of Stony Brook’s entire athletic program.

Neto said the whistle was blown by a referee of a women’s soccer game. When he heard the sound, he decided to look inside the stadium. When he saw that it was from a soccer game, and his favorite sport, he said became a new person.

“It was a turning point for me,” he said. “I watched the game and went crazy rooting for the team. I haven’t missed a game since.”

After that night, Neto began attending volleyball games, tennis matches, and swim meets, where he also made his presence known.

“He knows how to get your adrenaline going,” said Nathan Fleshman, a member of the men’s swim team. “I remember one time during a meet he got up on the three-meter board to get the crowd going.”

Shirley Strum Kenny, president of Stony Brook University, has also felt his impact.

“One moment I remember is the recent pep rally, when he ran with the huge Stony Brook flag, bounded up the stairs carrying it, and waved it for all to cheer,” Kenny said. “That enthusiastic participation spoke of a pride in his university, even as Stony Brook feels pride in him.”

Jim Fiore, athletic director of Stony Brook, says Neto has “brought great spirit, pride and energy to both the athletic department and the university.”

Neto’s intensity and love for Stony Brook was also evident on the basketball court. He led Stony Brook’s men’s basketball team in both rebounding and blocks in both seasons he played for the Seawolves. In his senior year, he was a captain of the team. “He brought fire and energy to the team,” said former teammate Andrew Goba.

Their coach agreed. “He was the emotional leader of the team and gave everything he had to Stony Brook,” said head coach Stephen Pikiell.

Pikiell recalled that Neto incurred many injuries during his two years at Stony Brook including injuries to his knee that led to surgery mid-season.

But his biggest challenge was overcoming the death of his mother last December.

“I hit rock bottom when she died,” Neto said. “I wanted to quit school and give up.”

He did not face this challenge alone, however. On hearing about his loss, Neto’s fellow athletes came together to help him through his rough time. On the day she lost her battle with kidney disease, Stony Brook held a service in her memory.

“Nearly every athlete showed up to the service,” Pikiell said.

“It was very touching to see how much everyone cared,” Neto said. “It was a hard time for me, and it was great to see everyone there to support me.”

“We’re family,” said Brooke Barbuto, a member of the women’s soccer team. “He supports us on and off the field, so we supported him through his tough time.”

“He supports me, I support him,” said Fleshman. “I love Manu.”

Later on the day of the memorial service, Neto played in his team’s game against New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he helped his team win 62-53.

After the game, Neto flew home to Angola to attend his mother’s funeral. While he was gone, the team played Long Island rival Hofstra, winning 77-74 in his honor.

“It was an emotional game for the guys,” said Pikiell. “The second the game ended, the first thing any of them wanted to do was call him that they won the game for him.”

“The team won for him,” Goba said. “He was on our minds the entire game.”

After her death, Neto honored his mother by becoming a member of Team Darfur, a coalition of athletes who use their spotlight to raise awareness about they call “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Growing up in Angola, Neto witnessed similar violence, so he joined Team Darfur to help the ravaged region, he said.

“I saw 9-year-olds trained to use a gun,” he said. “I can’t tolerate injustices. So much needs to be done.”

His affiliation with Team Darfur, however, led China to ban him from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where he was supposed to play basketball for Angola’s national team.

As he was getting ready to leave for China, Angola officials delivered the bad news.

“Right before the Olympics they called me and told me, ‘We have your plane and hotel tickets ready, but China won’t give you a visa,'” Neto said.

Although disappointed, Neto doesn’t regret his decision to support Team Darfur.

“No way,” he said. “I would do what I did every time.”

After Neto finishes his undergraduate sociology degree this month, he hopes to continue his basketball career on a professional stage. He hopes that by being on a big stage, he can continue to help those in Darfur.

“I’m proud of him,” Pikiell said. “He has other opportunities, but he decided to stick it out and finish his degree.”

Neto, 24, is excited to graduate because that means he’ll be able to return to his home in Texas and rejoin his wife, Andice, and two daughters, Faith and Eva Prestine.

“I miss them and think about them all the time,” Neto said. “I’m the proudest daddy ever.”

Neto carries around a stuffed frog, named Ginobili, that his daughter gave him.

“I’m Manu, and he’s Ginobili, like the basketball player Manu Ginobili,” Neto said. Manu Ginobili plays for the nearby San Antonio Spurs.

But until he graduates, Neto plans to enjoy his remaining time in Stony Brook. He said he’ll still attend every athletic event even though he is no longer a member of the basketball team.

“You may be a student for four years,” Neto said, “but you’re a Seawolf for life.”

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