A typical Wednesday for Tareq Coburn begins by arriving for practice at 7:20 a.m. followed by class from 10:40 a.m. until 5 p.m. He will then study until he goes to bed.
And Wednesdays are more manageable than the rest of the week. Other days, St. John’s will practice in the middle of the day, and Coburn will have to race from class to practice to class, sometimes leaving workouts early.
The talented shooting guard from Queens is attempting to do something no other basketball player in the history of the school has ever done, play on the team while being enrolled in the school’s challenging physician assistant master’s program.
“No free time,” the grad transfer from Hofstra said at Tuesday’s media day with a smile. “It’s very difficult … [sometimes] pulling almost all-nighters. But I’m doing it, I’m getting good grades and I’m playing well in practice.”
Following a strong career at Hofstra, during which the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter helped the Pride win the 2020 CAA Tournament and averaged 15.1 points a year ago, he was planning to move on from basketball. He was admitted into the master’s program at St. John’s last December, one of 40 students accepted out of 2,000 entrants. When Hofstra fell to Elon in the CAA Tournament in March, the southpaw thought his career was over. Playing professionally overseas didn’t interest him.
But once he began orientation in the summer and saw his course load at St. John’s, it wasn’t quite as demanding as Coburn anticipated. He spoke to people in the program, and was told playing basketball may be difficult, but not impossible.
He entered the transfer portal, with the intention of attempting to play for St. John’s, the school he grew up following. His high school coach, Ron Naclerio, reached out to Red Storm coach Mike Anderson. St. John’s had an open scholarship, and Coburn, a career 40.1 percent 3-point shooter, was the type of player Anderson felt could help his team.
“Why would you turn it down?” Coburn asked.
Soon, he was on full scholarship. Now he’s juggling the two, chasing two different dreams at once. Managing both is difficult. He had to miss a few practices last week due to midterm exams. Anderson’s practices are notoriously draining and the Big East is a significantly higher level than he’s accustomed to. The physician assistant program is a grind. One of his midterms included memorizing a few hundred power-point slides.
“You just got to make a huge sacrifice in your life, and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Coburn, who graduated from Hofstra with a 3.74 GPA, a degree in community health and was a two-time CAA Scholar-Athlete of the Year honoree.
Early on, he has impressed his new teammates and coaches. On Tuesday, Anderson said the newcomer is a better ball-handler than he realized, someone capable of making plays for others and not just himself. He had adjusted practice times to accommodate Coburn, who has in turn made sure to communicate with his teammates about anything he misses. Junior star Julian Champagnie, the reigning Big East leading scorer, believes Coburn is the best shooter on the team, a court-spacer capable of creating room for returning stars Champagnie and Posh Alexander.
“He’s going to help us a lot this year,” Champagnie said.
In all likelihood, this will be Coburn’s final year of basketball. He wants to put all of his energy into his medical career after this. He isn’t sure what exactly he wants to do in medicine, but becoming a surgeon is one of his long-term goals. His mother has worked as a physician’s assistant for more than three decades.
“I’ve been exposed to it since I was a little,” he said. “With COVID-19 and everything, I feel like there’s more of a need. I want to help and give back to other people. I love this field.”
He also loves basketball, and plans to enjoy every moment of his final season, hoping to be a key part of a breakthrough season for St. John’s. Despite winning the CAA Tournament, Coburn never got to play in the NCAA Tournament, since COVID-19 wiped out the dance that year. He will do everything he can to experience it this March, even if that may mean some sleepless nights and challenging days.
“It’s my last year, I just gotta make it count,” Coburn said. “I’m just excited to be a part of doing something that nobody’s ever done before [at St. John’s].”