St. Bonaventure guard Tatiana Wilson turned her phone off last Tuesday while she studied for a final exam later that day, so the freshman's first inkling anything was wrong came via a Facebook message instructing her to call home.
Only after she dialed her mom did she learn that her family's home in Queens burned down early that morning and that virtually everything they owned had been destroyed.
Almost anyone in Wilson's position would have been an emotional wreck for days, but she refused to allow the shock and helplessness she was experiencing to stagger her. Not only did she take her exam as scheduled that day and another on Wednesday, she hasn't even missed a practice or game since the fire.
"If I'd brought up skipping practice to her, she'd have looked at me as if I had six heads," St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley said. "It speaks to her toughness. She finds a way to keep coming even when things are as bad as they are right now."
The resilience Wilson has shown in the face of tragedy is especially impressive considering how terrifying an experience the fire was for her mother and five siblings. The family apparently awoke to thick black smoke and flames engulfing the lower story of their home on Tuesday morning, so mother Temeka Wilson quickly herded Tatiana's four younger sisters and 10-year-old brother to a second-story window overlooking a lower level of the roof.
They were climbing out that window when New York sanitation workers Joe Maneggio, 49, and Semi Nkozi, 48, drove up in their garbage truck at 6:15 a.m. after observing smoke from the fire while on their route.
Temeka Wilson sustained a broken back when she slipped off the roof while trying to escape, but Maneggio and Nkozi were able to coax the frightened kids to jump into their arms. Amari, 12, broke her leg and Shaina, 17, suffered third-degree burns, while Kema, 16, Destiny, 12, and D.J., 10, escaped unharmed.
"They were very afraid and frantic, but there were flames right underneath them," Maneggio said. "We saw flames in the window and we kept telling them, 'There's fire underneath you. Jump, and we'll catch you.' Once the first two came down, everyone came down one right after the other."
Firefighters needed 40 minutes to extinguish the blaze and are still investigating the cause, according to Crowley. Wilson's younger siblings are staying with one of her aunts while her mom recovers from her injuries and tries to figure out the family's next move.
NCAA rules prohibit St. Bonaventure from raising money for Wilson's family directly, so the school has asked University Ministries to serve as an intermediary. At St. Bonaventure's men's and women's basketball doubleheader on Sunday, fans dropped off 15-20 bags worth of clothes and school supplies and donated $1,679.50 in cash and gift cards.
St. Bonaventure declined to make Wilson available for an interview because she wasn't ready to talk publicly about the fire, but she released the following statement.
"I want to extend my sincere thanks to the St. Bonaventure community and everyone in the local area and beyond who has helped my family in this time of tragedy," she said. "My family is very appreciative of the outpouring of support and donations we've received already. Even if it is just someone coming up to me and offering a simple 'I'm sorry,' it means a great deal as my family and I move forward."
Wilson played three minutes off the bench in Friday's win over Niagara and cheered on her teammates in Sunday's victory over Marist. Her positive attitude and ability to move forward from the fire was no surprise to the St. Bonaventure coaching staff, which has witnessed those attributes from her frequently during her short time with the program.
From sporadic playing time, to new academic challenges to the unexpected death of her uncle, Wilson's character has been tested numerous times since she enrolled in college before fall semester. Each time she has responded with the steadfast belief that she can overcome any obstacle.
"You see freshmen all the time who struggle with things and hang their head and get down on themselves," Crowley said. "T.T. struggles with things like any freshmen, but she comes back. She struggles in class, so she goes and gets a tutor, studies more and does better.
"We have a kid on our team who's a very good shooter, one of the best in the country. She'll make some difficult shots in practice and TT wants to guard her every day. She got smoked five times one day and the next day she's back to guard her some more. I love that about her."
St. Bonaventure has organized a relief fund for the Wilson family to accept monetary donations or essential items such as clothes, toiletries and school supplies. Further information is available here.