Tim Pace went from New York to California before becoming a senior leader for the Hannibal-LaGrange men's basketball team.
Tim Pace wasn't certain what to think when he was first approached about the opportunity of playing basketball at Hannibal-LaGrange University.
The main disconnect boiled down to unknowns.
“I had never heard of Hannibal or this school,” Pace admitted.
Missouri often was flyover territory for the Staten Island, New York, native — a state halfway between his childhood home and Cuyamaca College in San Diego, California, where he played two years before looking for another school to complete his collegiate career.
HLGU coach Jason Durst went to California to meet Pace during his final junior college season and made a pitch as to why the lanky guard would be a fit with the Trojans.
Knowing he had an uncle nearby in St. Louis, it didn't take long for Pace to make up his mind.
“When he (Durst) was talking about the school, first off he said it was small, which I liked because I can get attention from teachers and focus on grades,” said Pace, a criminal justice major. “Then when he said it was Christian, that got me, because I'm a Christian. As soon as he said that, I felt it in my heart that I was probably going to end up going to this school.”
Pace, a 6-foot-4 presence, leads HLGU (4-5, 4-1 American Midwest Conference) with 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in his third season with the program.
His basketball journey has taken him all over the map and forced him to overcome an array of obstacles, but the fifth-year senior would have it no other way.
“It's different,” Pace said of his stay in Hannibal, which he expects to end upon graduation in May. “I knew it was going to be different. But I figured I might as well come somewhere I've never been and experience something new in my life.”
Pace grew up around the game.
Everywhere he turned in the Bronx, where he lived until moving to Staten Island at the age of 12, there were people spending hours on the basketball courts.
“Growing up in New York, you play basketball,” he explained. “It's there. You go to the park and everybody is playing basketball. My mom did her best to keep me out of the streets and put me in basketball to keep me busy.”
Pace remembers getting his first taste of the sport playing with an older cousin and his group of friends.
“That's where I got the intensity,” he said.
Pace's mother, Hilary Alvarez, raised him along with his two younger siblings.
“Growing up, it was just me, my mom, my brother and my sister,” Pace recalled. “She was really raising us on her own. It was tough the environment we lived in and providing for all three of us. But my mom is a very strong woman and I appreciate her for that.”
Pace played three years at Tottenville High School but figured his playing days were over upon graduation in 2012.
“Once I graduated, I was going to be done in basketball,” he said. “The only way I was going to go to college was if I had a scholarship for basketball, and that didn't happen.
“I was really stuck.”
Then something happened that changed his life.
“I wasn't able to go to college so I had a year off,” he said. “I was hanging out with my friends, helping my mom with certain things. I didn't really know what my next step was going to be until I met my dad for the first time ever when I turned 18.”
Pace didn't meet or talk with his father once throughout his childhood. But in January 2013, the son reached out to Michael Pace on Facebook hoping to connect.
“I will never forget,” Pace said. “He (my dad) was just telling me how he's been wanting to connect with me and that he lives in San Diego.”
Soon the connection grew beyond just the internet.
Michael offered to put Tim through college, and fewer than six months after their first interaction, the son moved across the country to San Diego County to enroll at Cuyamaca.
“My mom was supportive of it,” Pace was sure to point out. “I just went.”
Not only would Tim begin pursuing his degree, but he had a place on the men's basketball team.
“I'm just blessed that I met my dad at the right time,” Tim said. “He wasn't there for 18 years, but I met him at the right time to where I could start my adult life by going to college and just work my way from there.”
Tim came of the bench in his first season with the Coyotes before delivering 13 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in his second season to earn first-team Pacific Coast Athletic All-Conference honors.
“I had that edge, that chip on my shoulder, from New York with me everywhere I was,” Tim said of playing at Cuyamaca. “That's how I played. I'm going to work hard and I'm going to come to play. I just had to take full advantage of the opportunity and not go back the same.”
Pace didn't waste any time making an impact for Durst's Trojans in the 2015-16 season. The newcomer, now 100 miles away from his father's brother, averaged 12 points per game to complement teammates D'Avonte Garland (14.5 ppg) and De'Shawn Terrell (12.6 ppg).
The Trojans finished 5-21 but returned many key pieces for the following season.
Pace was the star of the show through the first four games last season, scoring 22 points per game to help HLGU start the winter with a 3-1 record.
Then everything spiraled.
Pace suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the campaign as the Trojans went 8-18.
Perhaps the only good news to come from the injury was a medical hardship that allowed Pace to return as a fifth-year senior this season.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Pace said. “God has a plan and I'm just following that. I just had to realize I got another year and I've got to take advantage of that. It went from a negative to a positive.”
Although he is only playing at “80-85 percent,” Pace has brought leadership to the Trojans so far this winter. He scored 17 or more points in each of the first three games.
The Trojans have appeared stronger than the preseason AMC poll, which had them ranked 11th, may have indicated.
“We took that as a little disrespectful,” Pace said of the ranking. “We've been competing with these teams. Our start in conference has been good for us for confidence.”
Lessons along the way
There were times on the court in New York neighborhoods when Pace was more concerned with his own numbers than whether his team won or lost.
Those days are over.
“My big thing is helping the team as best as I can to get wins,” Pace said. “It really doesn't mean much how many I score if we lose. My focus is just winning. If my numbers come, they come. If they don't and we lost, then I have to improve to see what I can do for us to win.”
Pace hasn't forgotten about his roots.
Once his playing days conclude, he wants to use his degree to embark on a career to give back to children who come from a similar background to his own.
“I want to help kids,” he said. “Growing up in New York, the inner city, there were a lot of bad kids. I just want to help them. I was once one of those kids so I feel I just have to give back somehow.”
According to Pace, basketball has been the means by which he has learned important lessons that extend far beyond the court.
“You meet people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and everybody grew up different,” he said. “Just taking into consideration that everybody is not the same as you and they approach the game differently than you do, you need to have respect on another level.
“Basketball took me all over the place and I got to meet different people, so I'm thankful for this game.”