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There were no bells, reindeer or jolly men with white beards in sight. But two Saturdays ago in a little dorm room in Washington, Santa Claus' sleigh landed early for college freshman Tony Taylor.
It came shortly after George Washington had polished off visiting Harvard 78-63, helped by 11 points and four assists from its new starting point guard. After the game, parents Tony Sr. and MaryAnn staged an impromptu mini-Christmas for the former Stepinac star.
There was no snow, no tree with trimmings and no whiffs of breakfast sizzling in the kitchen. But there were presents, and it was as good a time as any.
Taylor won't have Christmas at home this year. He and the Colonials are scheduled to stay in Hawaii in preparation for the Rainbow Classic, which runs from Saturday through Dec. 30.
Many local athletes away at college are forced to squeeze the holidays into their busy schedules. A few such as Taylor must make the sacrifice of missing them altogether.
Taylor, for one, didn't grasp the ramifications of playing in his new home, not until he arrived on campus this summer.
"I was upset at first, but it's a one-time experience to go to Hawaii and play basketball," Taylor said. "It's OK. I have great camaraderie with my teammates. It's going to be like a family atmosphere anyway."
For most families, atmosphere has as much to do with the holiday season as egg nog and mistletoe. But they sometimes must make do without one of the elements.
Last December, Putnam Valley grad Kristi Dini left for the airport on Christmas afternoon. The Boston University women's basketball team had a game at Kansas on the 27th, and Dini, who is now a senior, had to meet the team in the heartland Christmas night.
Dini won't have to rush quite as much this year. She will head back to Boston on Friday morning for practice.
"It's always in the back of my mind," she said of her basketball commitment. "I try to enjoy the holiday. Last year it was kind of tough having to leave at 3 in the afternoon. I have a little brother. It was kind of sad."
Not only do athletes have a shorter holiday season; they can't gorge themselves, either. Second, third and fourth helpings do not apply.
That's especially true for wrestlers. They must maintain their weight during the holidays, or at least something within range of the target.
Former East Ramapo star Jonny Bonilla-Bowman won't have to stray far from the Hofstra campus to find the comforts of home. He said the break will give him time to recharge for the rest of the season, but he could not afford any slipping. Not on the treadmill or weight bench, or at the dinner table.
Moderation is the key.
"You eat what they're eating, but you scale it down," the redshirt junior said. "If you're eating an entire chicken breast, I may eat half. I eat what everyone eats, just less."
Bonilla-Bowman has off from the Hofstra team for almost a full week. But from last weekend until he returns to practice Friday, the 157-pounder intends to stick to a strict workout regimen. And he's one of the lucky ones who controls his weight.
To keep his wrestling skills honed as well, Bonilla-Bowman planned on going to Ramapo High School this week for workouts with former coaches. Of course, that's when he's not running or lifting weights, which he intends to do on Christmas Day.
"You have to keep working out," Bonilla-Bowman said. "If you don't, your weight will get out of control."
As always, there's another competition calling. The reigning Continental Athletic Association champ will compete in the Southern Scuffle in Greensboro, N.C., beginning on Monday, so he is due back to practice a day after Christmas.
Rushing back isn't even an option for Mount Vernon's Kevin Jones, the West Virginia freshman who can't come home at all. Coach Bob Huggins scheduled practices on Christmas Eve and Christmas, leaving Jones and his teammates in Morgantown, W.Va., for the week.
So Jones' family paid him a surprise visit over the weekend. That should make his spirits bright while he and the Mountaineers work through the holiday in advance of Saturday's game at No. 16 Ohio State.
There, Jones will find himself in a similar situation to Taylor. What Division I athlete would turn down a date on the Hawaii of college hoops TV - CBS?
There's always next Christmas. This one's booked.
"It's very tough, but it's just mainly something I have to do," Taylor said. "My parents understand that."
In some small way, they probably should. Not every college kid has the chance to trade a fuzzy red cap for a lei.
"(The school) is really good at making sure we have a good time when we're away," Taylor said. "I'm sure we'll go out to a nice dinner. We might even have a luau."