Today, Dan Cross
is trying to help a group of people who many assume need no help - former athletes struggling to find a way to assimilate in society.
"It's not some experiment," Cross said.
I'm just trying to help a lot of people."
is in the middle of his
own experience of dealing with a new world.
After starring at Florida and leading the 1994 Gator team to the Final Four, he
has played some professional basketball, most recently in Israel where he
suffered the injury.
While rehabbing, he
has accelerated his
plan to form a company that will help former student-athletes.
is starting with Florida athletes and Florida alumni, but plans to expand the idea and his
non-profit organization throughout the country.
Connecting people with a common fight song can be as simple as making one phone call or bumping into the right guy at a golf course.
Part of Cross' plan is to get around and do plenty of networking.
, who lives in Orlando, spent the last two weekends in Gainesville.
Daniel Cross - Champion
manages to combine reserve with intensity to create a persona of driven peace.
is a champion in both senses of the word - as a winning athlete and as an advocate for student athletes transitioning from sports to the business world.
sits fully relaxed in his
easy chair as we talk, but he
radiates empathy and understanding for what most sports figures find to be a difficult tumble.
has lived that ragged fall himself, discovering the empty gap between cheering crowds and the silent after burn of a sports career.
Rather than succumbing to bitterness, he's
taken up the banner for yesterday's forgotten heroes.
Daniel is founder and CEO of Athlete Connections, a non-profit organization that helps "athletes complete their career," as Daniel puts it.
"There are no failed athletes," he
tells me. "Just to be able to play basketball, baseball or any sport at the college level defies all the odds.
Take basketball, for instance.
Less than 3% of all students can make the claim to have played in NCAA sports; of those, barely 1% goes professional.
That's 44 players out of 60,000 who play NBA ball.
To even get close to that is the best kind of success.
With all their focus on being part of that 1%, and the adulation they receive along the way, when their last game is played, entering the "real world" is the greatest challenge student athletes face.
organization want to be there for them.
comes by his
sense of responsibility honestly; Daniel
is the oldest of five kids raised in humble circumstances in Carbondale, Illinois.
tells me his
story, it's clear he
has mined it for every lesson he
intelligence is without question, so it surprised me when he
didn't get high marks in school, especially when he
told me his
father was both teacher and pastor.
As Daniel told me about his fledgling sports career, he couched it in transferable skills, like a good CEO.
Daniel came to the University of Florida through a hard-to-resist recruitment.
has the habit of pulling lessons from everything; his
student athletes are never far from his
"This routine possesses a lot of qualities that - even though they're not aware of it at the time - will benefit athletes later down the line when transferring to the business world.
Discipline, working toward a goal, playing under pressure, working in the public eye… it's the best time of your life.
was an integral part of the first Final Four team ever fielded by the Florida Gators, and with it he
was feted with numerous awards.
was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame
in 2006, he
was awarded the Regions Bank solute award honoring former student athletes from the South Eastern Conference operating successful business and is receiving a prestigious 2008 SEC Conference Legends Award.
The NBA loomed large in his
mind as friends, coaches and supporters all encouraged the dream.
"I would try out every year and always make it to the final cut, but it never happened."
That didn't mean he
wasn't a professional.
played professional basketball across the world.
"The longer I played, the more my family would say maybe it was time to consider the B plan, but when you're focused on the A plan, there's no time for B or C. Basketball was like an addiction to me.
No matter the problems or pressures off the court, when I was out there I was totally free.
It was magic.
Time waits for no one, not even athletes, and eventually Daniel
knew it was winding down.
"I decided to play in Israel.
It would be a chance to see the Holy Land, and I did; Jerusalem, Bethlehem, it was beautiful country, nothing like you see on TV.
led a team of non-English-speaking players and managed to pull them together despite the language barrier.
fought it, and determined to do something about it.
was founded to partner with schools and sports fans to bridge that gap that no one was spanning.
Whether it's learning to handle finances responsibly, discovering their transferable skills, or help in seeking employment, Daniel
board of directors offer hope.
I asked Daniel
if achieving professional status was only for a precious few, are college sports worth it?
can be found at www.athleteconnections.com.
Check it out!