rack of basketballs labeled "Violets" in the new Paulson gym

All photos by Tracey Friedman.

Any given day in the life of an NYU student athlete is an exercise in time management. With practice up to six days a week, a full course load, and additional workouts and meetings, success requires discipline, top-notch organizational skills, and, of course, a genuine love of the game. For a behind-the-scenes perspective on that balancing act, NYU News photographer Tracey Friedman embedded with NYU men's basketball standout Zay Freeney (SPS '25) and his teammates on the day of their historic first game (against Manhattanville College) in the Paulson Center. That Wednesday, November 8, began with a 9:30 am class on the lower level of Bobst and ended with a 77-60 victory in the season opener. 

9:00 am: The Commute

Zay Freeney walking alongside Washington Square Park

Zay arrives at the Square after a short subway ride from his apartment on the Lower East Side. He moved to New York from his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, after only having visited the city once, for a high school basketball tournament.

9:30 am: Class Time

Jay Freeney walking down the Bobst steps

Zay's Media and Globalization course, taught by Steinhardt's James Wahutu, meets on the lower level of Bobst.

closeup on Zay's hands as he takes notes

A sports management major, Zay is particularly interested in sports law and is considering applying to law school someday, after his basketball career ends.

11:00 am: Focus Mode

students studying on the Paulson Center's second floor

Zay squeezes in a quick study session in the Paulson Center commons before heading down to the gym for weight training. "I hold myself to the highest standards, knowing the example that I have to set," he says.

11:30 am: A Snack, a Stretch, and a Lift

Zay on a bench on Paulson's 6th Floor eating a bowl of food

A bowl from Crave NYU, Paulson's 6th floor cafe, will fuel Zay's midday weightlifting session.

trainer stretching Zay's leg on a table

Zay stretches with an athletic trainer after the team workout. "Having the weight room, training room, and court to call our own all in one building on the Manhattan campus has been a huge step for NYU athletics," Zay says of the new Paulson facilities. "We don't take it for granted, not one day."

2:00 pm: Film Fest

basketball team gathered to watch footage of another team

After a break to rest, Zay regroups with the team to review footage of their opponent in the upcoming matchup.

2:30 pm: Shootaround Practice

NYU basketball players shootng hoops

The team hits the court to connect and build confidence ahead of the game. "I really learned a lot about leadership from the seniors who were captains my freshman year," Zay reflects. "It's about communication, making sure everyone is on the same page."

3:30 pm: Calories and Camaraderie 

basketball players going through a buffet line

Sharing a pre-game meal together is an important team ritual. "We have great chemistry and you can see that on the court when we play," Zay says. Afterward, everyone gets some downtime to reflect and refocus.

7:00 pm: Tipoff

basketball team huddling before the match

With a 1,500-seat capacity, the new Paulson court has inspired a more dedicated fan base for all sports. "It's really bringing the school together," Zay says. "Students and alumni have been talking to us after games, and kids come up to us for autographs. We're getting the full experience as athletes."

cheerleaders watching basketball game

"Being the first group to play on this court has huge meaning for us," Zay says of the historic opening game. "The alumni live through us, our families live through us. If this is your dream, you show that by putting in extra work."