Rashad Bilal was presented with an opportunity that many college basketball players would relish.
Last May, the 24-year-old Bilal, who had graduated from the University of Hawaii-Hilo in December 2007, was offered a professional basketball contract with a German team. Bilal gave it serious thought and, without hesitation, felt it was time to begin a career outside of basketball.
Bilal traded in the uniform and high-top sneakers for a suit, tie and position at Bilal Group LLC, a financial services firm owned by his father, Hassan. Since his life-altering decision, Bilal has never given it a second thought.
"I love basketball but financially, the contract did not add up to the effort and time necessary for the professional level," said Bilal, who has a degree in communications. "I had an opportunity to work in a family-based business and start a new career."
Bilal said he received plenty of questions as to why he would pass up this opportunity. His answer was that of a young man who was focused on his future
"A lot of people kept telling me that I would be able to live in Europe and play basketball," he said. "For me personally, I always enjoyed basketball and I was always appreciative for everything it gave me, but I never put all of my emphasis on it.
"I had a good career and I was proud of what I accomplished, but you have to ask yourself, 'What's more important for me?' "
Bilal took this mature approach based on his growth personally as a high school and college student-athlete. After attending Woodlands High School his freshman and sophomore years, Bilal moved away. He transferred to Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts for his junior year then on to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he graduated in 2002. Bilal spent two years playing at Maryland-Baltimore County, but witnessed assistant coaches leaving and teammates transferring, so he opted to transfer. Bilal departed the continental United States for Hawaii-Hilo.
Bilal was confident he could play immediately, but chose Hawaii-Hilo because it would accept all of his UMBC credits. The year-round beautiful weather was also quite alluring.
Being on his own at school, since he was 16 made Bilal accept responsibility and become independent.
He also learned that focus is quite important, especially in a tropical paradise.
"It was definitely distracting, knowing that you can go down to the beach, but I always had the goal of getting my degree and not staying longer than I had to," Bilal said. "I was able to balance everything, but I have to say, Hawaii is a beautiful place."
Bilal, who has remained close to basketball by coaching a sixth-grade boys team at Theodore D. Young Community Center in Greenburgh, enjoys working with his father and older sister Taheera.
"It's a blessing that I am working with my father, who has been in this business for over 30 years," Bilal said. "I pick his brain daily and he stresses different things to me every day.
"My sister and I have a good relationship, but she does like to remind me that she is still my older sister."