How many free throws can Nowak '79 make at Madison Square Garden to aid charity?

Bookmark and Share

December 3, 2019

By Frank Rajkowski

basketball game
SJU basketball team reunion

Members of the 1978-79 SJU basketball team gather at a reunion (left to right) Ted Nowak, John Harvey, Paul Wotta, Pat McKenzie Sr., Coach Jim Smith, Dan Smith and John Patterson.

Ted Nowak ’79 was an All-MIAC performer during his time at Saint John’s University.

And he played a key role, alongside teammates like Frank Wachlarowicz and Pat McKenzie Sr., on the 1978-79 Johnnies basketball team that put together a 27-game winning streak and earned the NAIA District 13 title.

He went on to play professionally for two years in Europe, and continued playing in rec leagues until the age of 55 – seven years ago.

“I stopped when my joints started giving me trouble,” said Nowak, now 62. “I had knee surgery. Then, two years ago, Pat McKenzie (who has gone on to become the longtime team physician for the Green Bay Packers, and whose son Pat is now the head basketball coach at Saint John’s) did shoulder surgery on me.

“If I had any thoughts of trying to shoot a basketball again, that pretty much did away with them.”

Until, that is, a worthy cause convinced him to lace up his sneakers one more time.

For over 30 years now, Nowak has worked for Constellation Brands, a company that produces beer, wine and spirits – including such products as Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wines and High West whiskey.

He resides in Milwaukee and now serves as a market development manager, a role in which he oversees all of the company’s Wisconsin distribution.

For almost a decade, Constellation has been a huge supporter of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, which began in 1993 and was co-founded by the late Jim Valvano, the legendary college basketball coach who led North Carolina State to the 1983 national title.

Valvano’s battle against cancer became an inspiration to many worldwide. And his powerful speech at the first ESPN ESPY Awards Show, delivered a month-and-a-half before his death in April of 1993, is still motivating many today.

Because of his fundraising efforts the past nine years, Nowak was invited to this season’s Jimmy V Classic, which is scheduled for Dec. 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

On behalf of Constellation, he will present a check for $1.7 million – the result of fundraising throughout the nation with Corona distributors.

But he was also invited to take part in a celebrity basketball game, which will be played prior to that evening’s college basketball doubleheader – featuring Texas Tech taking on Louisville and Indiana taking on Connecticut.

Nowak’s presentation will come at halftime of the first game.

“Not too many people haven’t had a colleague, friend or family member who’s been personally impacted by cancer,” he said.  “I’ve had a lot of close, personal friends who’ve either had cancer or died from it. So it’s a very personal cause for me.

“And the key thing I’ve learned is how much progress is being made. That all comes from research. And that’s what the Jimmy V Foundation is about. They grant millions of dollars every year for research for all types of cancer. There are people living today, in fact more than 17 million, because of this type of research....research saves lives.

“And it’s the support of organizations like the Jimmy V Foundation that have made that possible.”

But Nowak wanted to find a way to take his support even further. So, with the assistance of the Jimmy V Foundation, he came up with a fundraiser of his own. At some point during one of the night’s two games, he will take to the Madison Square Garden court to shoot 10 free throws.

Donors can pledge a flat amount to support his cause, or they can pledge a certain amount for each free throw he makes.

His goal is to raise an additional $25,000 on top of the $1.7 million check he is already presenting. Thus far, he has already raised close to $19,000 and donations are still being accepted.

“I’ve been to (Madison Square Garden) before, but I’ve never been on the floor,” he said. “So there’s definitely going to be some pressure. But someone asked me the other day if I was nervous to be going out there in front of all those people.

“I told them I wasn’t nervous about that. My nerves really come from wanting to raise as much money as possible. And if I miss a free throw, that might mean $2,000 less that I raise. So that, to me, is where the pressure comes from.”

Of course, the game and the free throw challenge have meant Nowak has had to get back in the gym – a process that has been painful at times.

But he said that’s nothing compared to what the people he is raising money for are going through.

“It’s not always the easiest thing in the world to push myself to get out there,” he said. “But then I think about what people suffering from cancer go through – and the impact it has on their families. That helps make a lot of the aches and pains go away.

“Just knowing you have the chance to help not only people you know, but millions you don’t know, is an incredibly motivating feeling.”