Everyone who knows Emmanuel “Emmy” Andújar has one tragic day in April of 2012 forever etched in their minds. It was the day Andújar, a former Manhattan College basketball star, lost his brother, Jose, to an unthinkable tragedy, leaving him speechless.
His teammates and coaches remember where they were when Andújar needed them the most. RaShawn Stores, Andújar’s teammate and Manhattan’s point guard, became numb when he was told to leave class and rush to Draddy Gymnasium. Both Stores and Andújar gained a new brother that day. Not by choice, but out of need.
“None of the coaches could get him to calm down and they called me and I didn’t know what was going until I got there,” Stores said. “I saw him screaming and I had to calm him down.”
In 2012, Andújar was in the midst of his freshman year at Manhattan when his world flipped upside down. As Andújar describes it, the entire year or so after his brother was killed by two men was filled with so much grief that basketball had to take a backseat. Andújar had no idea really what the future had in store, or if basketball was in his plans after college.
“My whole sophomore year I wasn’t thinking about basketball,” the 30-year-old Andújar says now. “It took me a while and I really had to think if I wanted to play basketball after college.”
All the while, Andujar remained a fixture in the Jaspers’ lineup. He was too good of a talent out of the Bronx to ignore, which is why then first-year head coach Steve Masiello chose to recruit Andújar during his senior year at Rice High School.
At Rice, Andújar was named to the All-CHSAA Second Team his senior year among the standout players at Catholic high schools around New York City. It was a memorable season all around for Andújar and Rice, who won the 2011 CHSAA class AA championship game.
“He came to see me at my championship game and I had a crazy good game,” Andújar said of Masiello’s first recruiting visit with him. “Staying close to home was a no-brainer for me so I made my commitment to Manhattan.”
Stores was a constant presence for Andújar, as he navigated every ounce of adversity thrown at him. They went to the scene of the crime together where Jose Andújar was killed. With every passing day, Andujar felt included in everything Stores did. He was more than just a teammate. Andújar describes Stores as humble and down to earth.
“I only knew Ray from Catholic school and playing against him, but we never really hung out or anything like that,” Andújar said. “I always knew of him because he was the starting point guard for years at All Hallows.”
Stores’ path to where he is now, the interim head coach of his alma mater, had more valleys than peaks at times. He was ineligible his freshman year so he had to redshirt. He had to plead Masiello just to bring him on as a walk-on when the head coach thought he was over his head.
Through it all, Andújar stood by Stores and believed in his potential.
“I knew how bad they wanted Emmy and how much he endorsed me,” Stores said. “It felt like home and family.”
Things began to take off for the duo in the 2014-15 season, which ended in a 71-68 Metro Atlantic Championship Game victory over Iona at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Stores, then a sophomore, earned a scholarship and was assigned the brunt of the starts at point guard that season.
Andújar was named to the MAAC All-Tournament Team as Manhattan broke through for its first title in 10 years. When Iona came to Draddy for the penultimate game of the regular season, Andujar delivered a career-high 28 points in an overtime win for Manhattan. It cemented his legacy as an Iona killer after hitting a game winner on the Gaels the year before.
The Jaspers qualified for the 2014 NCAA Tournament where they led fourth-seeded Louisville early in the second half before falling to the reigning national champions. No matter what, Stores says, nothing will ever take the experience of competing on the highest stage with an underdog mentality. Counting Stores and Andújar, that team had nine players from New York, and a deep pride for where they came from.
“We had chips on our shoulder,” Stores said. “When you come from New York, you have to have that chip on your shoulder.”
Not that the first title wasn’t special, but Andújar remembers breaking down when the Jaspers hoisted the trophy in 2015. According to Andújar, no one seemed to give them a shot of knocking off Iona again, but this time it resulted in a 79-69 victory. Andújar and Stores were crucial in keeping that team together after losing important contributors from the year before.
“When we won the first one I didn’t even cry,” Andújar said. “Don’t get it twisted it was a great feeling, but the second time I actually shed tears because people doubted us.”
And yet, no MAAC Championship could have prepared them for the heartbreaking phone call in 2018 when Andujar revealed to Stores he had cancer.
Andújar received the diagnosis while playing professionally in Mexico and after reporting a sharp pain in his abdomen. Stores advised him of his only option: return to New York to start chemotherapy treatmentwhile surrounded by family and friends.
“I think I was one of the first people he called in Mexico and he was like ‘what should I do?’” Stores said. “And I was like ‘come back home.’”
Andújar listened to that advice and returned home. Stores accompanied him to every chemotherapy session and was the voice in his ear during the darkest moments of the recovery process. Kendrick Lamar’s “Love.” would play on the radio in Stores’ car as the two traveled to the chemotherapy sessions together, trying to pretend everything was okay even when things weren’t.
“There were days he didn’t want to eat and I’m like E you have to drink,” Stores said. “I would like at him and say ‘don’t worry, we’ll be fine.’”
At chemo, Stores noticed the numerous patients who had no one there with them. He promised Andújar he didn’t have to worry about being in the battle alone.
“There were rough days and some people are in there with nobody,” Stores said. “I wouldn’t let him be in that fight by himself.”
It only took Andújar around a year and half to get back on the court. He still wanted to accomplish what he initially set out to do, like winning Puerto Rico’s Baloncesto Superior Nacional first division title in 2019, returning to the Puerto Rico national team, and, most importantly, starting a family with his wife, Jocelyn, and their two kids.
“I’m blessed that God gave me all that ability to keep going,” said Andujar, whose career includes stops in Spain, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.
Andújar truly believes good things happen to those who wait, seeing that manifest now through Stores being appointed interim head coach at Manhattan. Stores bleeds Jasper green, as Andújar knows best, which is why the last few months have been a whirlwind for the second-youngest coach in Division I basketball this season.
“Ray was always the most vocal guy on our team since day one,” Andújar said. “His first year he may not have played but he practiced with us and he was traveling on his own meeting us at the games with his family, so that’s how dedicated he was and how much of a leader he was.”
It’s always been about family for Stores, who even hired former teammate Rhamel Brown as a special assistant. If he wasn’t playing professional hoops, Andújar says the bench may be calling his name too.
“If I’m not playing basketball I would be on that staff right now,” Andújar said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about being there with them and inspiring kids in the Bronx that the sky’s the limit.
Stores is giving it his all to turn around the Jaspers’ culture, like he and Andújar played a hand in doing so during their careers. He has already built a strong base of his supporters, led by his wife, Callan, and their 7-month-old daughter, Raylan.
“The thing that is most noticeable to me is the job I see him feel and impart to others,” said Callan, an assistant coach for the Manhattan women’s basketball team. “I think he is falling even more in love with this game that he has loved all his life.”
Basketball means everything to the Stores family, and it’s what introduced their relationship. Callan says there is a lot of “Jasper Basketball talk” at home when they can catch their breath from raising their daughter.
“Family means everything to Ray,” Callan said. “The way our daughter smiles at and looks at him confirms that.”
The Manhattan Athletics Department will have a decision to make on the future of the men’s basketball program, but for now, Stores is enjoying the ride and, along with Andújar, can picture more moments like the atmosphere on January 20th at Draddy when his Jaspers lost a nail biter to Iona in overtime. Manhattan owns a respectable 5-6 conference record, with all eyes on March and the chance for a storybook ending.
“To see the Sixth Borough, the dance team, the cheerleaders come together and support these young men, that’s what it’s about,” Stores said after the Iona game. “It’s not about anything else but them tonight.”
The players have reciprocated Stores with the same love and respect he has for them. Andújar will remain the biggest fan throughout it all.
“God is going to continue to bless him because of who he is,” Andújar said. “I would give my heart and soul to a coach like that.”
Just two kids from the Bronx proud of where they come from. They’ve been knocked down before, but are always ready to help each other get back up.