Paul Constantine Jr. was born to roam the sidelines with a Division I Top 25 basketball team one day. That day came only a few short weeks after he was born.
They call him PJ, the curly-haired, dimpled, 6-month- old son of IU women’s assistant basketball coach Janese Constantine and her husband Paul, a former IU football strength and conditioning coach currently in the same role at the University of Alabama.
PJ is what you might call a natural-born leader. His style has already become popular with his mom’s boss, IU women’s basketball head coach Teri Moren.
Several times this past season, while boarding the team bus chartered for their next stop on the road, PJ would start talking and wouldn’t stop.
“That’s right PJ,” Moren would say. “Tell ‘em to get ready, it’s game time.”
PJ would then let out another “WAAAAAAAA” in response.
PJ has spent almost half of his life, about four months, eating pregame meals with the team, watching games from the sidelines and becoming a part of the Hoosier basketball family.
As much as PJ was a part of the team, the Hoosiers were equally a part of helping nurture PJ in the first half year of his life.
As director of player development Bree Schomaeker said, “It literally takes a village to raise a child.”
Most babies’ early moments are recorded by their parents, documented via home videos or still photos.
These cinematic masterpieces, which can be used later in life to embarrass the child in front of a date, often show the baby being cradled by family, the baby’s first bath, first haircut or first crawl.
In PJ’s case, it will include photos from baby’s first Big Ten basketball road win, first victory over rival Purdue and first trip to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The photos at Hinkle were the first of many PJ and mom would take. PJ rode up with his mom to Indianapolis for then- No. 12 IU’s 64-53 win over Butler on Dec. 11, 2019.
It was one of Janese’s first games back from maternity leave, and PJ, sitting by the bench, was just shy of 3-months-old.
Three weeks later, PJ was on a plane with his mom and the rest of the team as they departed for their first Big Ten road game of the season at Rutgers. The plan was for PJ to travel to Rutgers and then accompany mom afterward on a flight to Florida to watch dad and the IU football team in the Gator Bowl. That would cap PJ’s road adventures for a while.
Except the basketball team won by double digits in hostile territory at the infamous Rutgers Athletic Center.
PJ missed the next two games on the road at Iowa and Maryland. They’d prove the only two road losses the Hoosiers would suffer all year. Upon PJ’s return Jan. 23 at Penn State, IU won big again 76-60, improving to 5-2 on the road.
“After that it was like ‘Yo, PJ’s a good luck charm. He’s undefeated, he’s like 3-0. You’ve got to bring him on the next one,’” Constantine said. “It really wasn’t an option after that.”
PJ was a staple, showing up at practices frequently and at every one of IU’s remaining road games. IU won all of them.
The Hoosiers finished the regular season 10-2 away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. In the eight road games PJ attended, IU went 8-0.
Bree Schomaeker embraces many responsibilities to compliment her role as player development director. When PJ came along, she didn’t hesitate to pick up a few more.
Along with director of basketball operations Liz Honegger, Schomaeker often helped change PJ’s diaper or put him to bed while Constantine watched film and held PJ in a baby sling either behind the bench or on it at games.
“I knew Janese was kind of itching to get back,” Schomaeker said. “When she had PJ, she was watching film, always asking how practice was going. I was like ‘J, whatever you need, I got you.’”
Schomaeker and Honegger were not the only ones lining up to help. Assistant coaches Glenn Box and Rhet Wierzba, sports information director Megan Kramper and many of the players offered to carry bags, diapers, or PJ himself throughout the season.
The willingness to help started at the top with Moren. When Constantine was planning to return, she met with Moren to discuss how things would operate with PJ.
“Her words to me were ‘J, don’t worry, don’t stress,’” Constantine said. “PJ’s a part of us, he’s going to be a Hoosier baby.”
Moren has had experience with her teams becoming extended families. As an assistant at Butler, one of Moren’s colleagues brought their baby to work frequently.
At IU, both Wierzba and strength coach Kevin Konopasek often brought their sons to games, practices and weightlifting sessions.
“It made me feel valued as a coach that she knew that I wanted to be the best mom I could be, but I also still wanted to be the best coach I could be,” Constantine said. “As a mom, it showed me you can still work and you can still be career driven and you can still love your job, and it doesn’t take away from you being the best mom, the best wife you can be.”
This open and welcoming atmosphere often played out on the floor among the players.
"Those kids were treated like family out there,” Constantine said. “Those kids stuck together through everything. They were there for each other, they knew how each other felt, they knew the pulse of the team. Our team, I felt like, was inseparable.”
Junior guard Keyanna Warthen knows this feeling better than most. Coming from a family of nine siblings plus nine nieces and nephews in Florida, Warthen dealt with homesickness after leaving for college.
Warthen has had a close relationship with Constantine from her earliest days as a student at IU. Getting to see Constantine with PJ by her side this season was special for Warthen.
“That’s the first thing I do when I get off the plane, I go see my nieces,” Warthen said. “So having PJ around just filled that spot with my nieces. PJ just brought that type of joy. When I do feel like I’m homesick, PJ gives me that peace of mind.”
PJ didn’t travel with the Hoosiers for any of the Big Ten tournament games – go figure, IU lost to Maryland in the semifinals – but he was packed and ready for wherever IU would have played in the NCAA tournament.
Then came the coronavirus. The tournament was canceled March 15.
While they might not have any mementos from the postseason, the Constantines do have an abundance of scrapbook material from the regular season.
After every road win, PJ and his mom posed for a victory picture somewhere on the court with the scoreboard in view.
One picture in particular stands out. After the Feb. 22 game at Williams Arena in Minnesota, Constantine hoists her candy-stripe- clad son in the air and smiles. He somehow manages to smile back even wider and brighter than his mom.
In the background on the jumbotron, the final score reads 75-69 Hoosiers.
For IU, it was another win in a historic season. For Constantine and her Hoosier baby, the team meant a little more to them.
“My village here,” Constantine said, “was pretty awesome.”
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