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NBA Final Game Referee is Former SUNY Basketball Player



2014 NBA Finals - Game Three

This season’s NBA Finals series hosts at least one SUNY alumnus on the court–except he’s not scoring baskets.

After 11 years of being an NBA official, a former men’s basketball student-athlete earned the most prestigious assignment in the sport: working the NBA Finals.

Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - 2014 NBA Finals Game Three

L-R: Mario Collins, Sacha Zarba (brother), Joe Zarba (father), Christiane Zarba (wife), Zach Zarba, Kyle Zarba (nephew), Brian Safchik

Zach Zarba, who played for SUNY New Paltz, worked Tuesday night’s game three of the 2014 NBA Finals between the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. He worked alongside 21st-year official Monty McCutchen and 19th-year official Tony Brothers.

“Working the finals and being able to share that with the people who helped you get there was the best part,” Zach said. He notes that nearly half of his family and friends in the photo to the right also attended SUNY New Paltz.

This marks the second first for Zach during this year’s NBA Playoffs, as he worked the first conference final contests of his career. He officiated game three of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers and worked game six of the Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Prior to his experience as an NBA official, Zach officiated in the NBA Development League for two years. Collegiately, Zarba has previously officiated for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Colonial Conference, the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference and the Northeast Conference (NEC).

Zach earned his undergraduate degree in political science from SUNY New Paltz, located in the Catskills Region of New York, in 1997 and competed on the Hawks’ men’s basketball team from 1994-97, seeing action in 40 contests. He served as a team captain during his senior season.

And here’s the honorary black and white photograph of Zach during his time in college:

Zach Zarba New Paltz



SUNY New Paltz

Written by SUNY New Paltz

The State University of New York at New Paltz is a creative, diverse, challenging and supportive environment where you get a degree from a highly selective university and an education rich in experiences that will last a lifetime. At New Paltz, you are encouraged to explore and take intellectual risks, to find your passion, to begin your path and to find your voice.

June 13, 2014

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Alumni Profiles

SUNY Students and Alumni Take on Sochi




SUNY at the Winter Olympics. cross country skier in background.

One thing that SUNY has an amazing opportunity to do is brag about our outstanding alumni and all of the amazing accomplishments they achieve using their SUNY education!

All across the state, SUNY students are encouraged to excel both inside and outside of the classroom. For many students, sports training and competition become a significant part of their experience and can take them to great heights! With the 2014 Winter Olympics in full swing, we’d like to take the time to recognize some of our alumni who have represented Team USA at the winter games:

Not only do SUNY alums participate athletically in the Olympics, but they also work behind the scenes in televising the games. For example, Jim Carr of Carr-Hughes Productions and a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, is a television entrepreneur-producer who consistently produces the Olympics and other international events for major networks like ESPN and CBS. We previously talked with Jim about his experience producing live sports television. Also, Stony Brook University alumni and producers Bedel Saget and Al Bello are covering the Olympics and have produced spectacular sports footage for the New York Times.

If you know of any SUNY alumni who we haven’t acknowledged here, please leave a comment with their name below and we’ll be sure to give them the recognition they deserve!

SUNY students on Team USA, including Ashley Caldwell of Empire State College, a competitor at the 2014 winter olympic games.Best of luck to Team USA and all of our supporting SUNY students and alumni!


Lesley Adewunmi

Written by Lesley Adewunmi

Lesley is a former graduate student assistant in the Office of New Media of the State University of New York. She earned a Master’s in Public Administration at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College in Albany, NY in spring 2014.

February 10, 2014

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Alumni Profiles

Erin Hamlin ‘11 Contender for “Best of U.S.” at 2014 Winter Olympic Games




Vote Erin Hamlin Best of U.S. Sochi 2014

Bronze-medal-winning Erin Hamlin ’11, SUNY Empire State College, is in the running for Female Olympian of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Hamlin is the first American ever in to win an Olympic medal in luge singles competition.

“I came in with no expectations, which was huge,” said Hamlin. “Training started to go really well and I got comfortable on the track early in the week. I started having pretty solid runs and so I thought this (winning a medal) could happen.”

Team USA is holding the contest on their Facebook page and Hamlin’s entry can be found at: Supporters can vote every day until March 17.

Erin Hamlin ’11, replies to questions at a press conference immediately after winning a bronze medal in luge, women’s singles, at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Photo/USA Luge

Erin Hamlin ’11, replies to questions at a press conference immediately after winning a bronze medal in luge, women’s singles, at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Photo/USA Luge

The other contest categories are: Male Olympian of the Games, Team of the Games, Moment of the Games and Fan of the Games. Winners will be announced during the “Best of U.S. Awards Show,” April 7, on NBC.

The 27-year-old of Remsen, N.Y., earned her associate online through Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning. A three-time member of the U.S. Olympic team, Hamlin also is a former national and world champion.

“I had a great experience with everyone I worked with at Empire State College,” said Hamlin. “It was the first college situation that was affordable and easy to manage while training and competing. Renee O’Brien was my advisor and mentor, as well as photography professor, and she helped me adjust classes and worked with my busy schedule, so I could complete my degree as efficiently as possible. As a proud New Yorker, I was very glad to have a state school program that fit my lifestyle.”

Hamlin was not the only member of the Empire State College community competing at the Sochi games.

Bronze-medal-winner Erin Hamlin ’11, and U.S. Olympic Teammate Ashley Caldwell ’14, both earned their SUNY Empire State College degrees online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning. Hamlin is the first American ever to win a luge singles Olympic medal. Caldwell finished 10th in women’s aerials. Photo/Erin Hamlin

Bronze-medal-winner Erin Hamlin ’11, and U.S. Olympic Teammate Ashley Caldwell ’14, both earned their SUNY Empire State College degrees online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning.

Twenty-year-old student Ashley Caldwell, a two-time member of Team USA, competed in women’s aerials and placed 10th at the games.

“It was surreal to see Erin win an Olympic medal yesterday,” said two-time Olympian and Empire State College student Ashley Caldwell. “I’m extremely happy for Erin.”

She has completed all requirements for her B.S. in business, management and economics, with a concentration in finance, and graduates this spring. Like Hamlin, Caldwell earned her degree online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning.

“With online learning at Empire State College, I could do my homework on the plane to Russia, on the way to the gym, in between training sessions, late at night, early in the morning and on days off,” said Caldwell. “Online learning at Empire State College allowed me the flexibility I needed so that I could still pursue aerials and also pursue my education, which has always been high on my priority list.”

A native of Ashburn, Va., Caldwell was a competitive gymnast for 11 years before she watched Olympic skiing on TV and thought it would be “totally awesome” to try aerials. After only three years of training, Caldwell made the U.S. Ski Team at a selection event in the beginning of the 2010 season and then went on to have an outstanding rookie season.

Later that year at the age of 16, Caldwell claimed top 15 results in her first three World Cup competitions. She finished 10th at the Olympics and claimed a silver medal at the U.S. National Championships, a feat she repeated in 2011.

Then, in December of 2011 and again in 2012, Caldwell sustained serious injuries to both her right and left ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments). Overcoming both injuries, she earned a silver medal in women’s aerials at the World Cup competition held Dec. 15, 2013 in Lake Beida, China, on her road to Sochi.


Cover image: Screenshot from U.S. Olympic Team on Facebook

Empire State College

Written by Empire State College

February 28, 2014

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Alumni Profiles

Rising UFC Star Paves His Way to Success In and Out of the Ring





It’s 6:00 a.m. and while many people in his town of Uniondale, New York are still fast asleep, Aljamain Sterling is up to start his day. He drives over to Uniondale High School where he teaches part-time until school is dismissed around 2:30 p.m.  At 3 p.m., he heads over to the school gymnasium to coach varsity wrestling before jetting out at 6 p.m. to make it to a jiu-jitsu or sparring class. And if he hasn’t crashed yet, he attends a kickboxing class at 7 p.m.

No, Aljamain isn’t your average teacher or wrestling coach. In fact, he is an undefeated MMA fighter in the UFC.

Aljamain began his path to the UFC when he transferred from Morrisville State College to SUNY Cortland as a physical education major with the mindset to wrestle. While at Cortland, he became a two-time Division III All-American wrestler. “My main reason for going to school was so I could wrestle,” says Aljamain. “It was my motivation.”

He is currently 9-0 with one win in his four-fight deal with UFC. And now, the pressure is on more than ever to defend his winning streak.

It was at Cortland where Aljamain was then introduced to mixed martial arts, or MMA.

“When I went to Morrisville, I went to school with the light heavyweight champion right now from New York, Jon Jones. He was training in Cortland and told me to come down to the gym.”

After training alongside UFC superstar Jon Jones and going on to win several Cage Fury Fighting Championships titles, Aljamain has proved he was ready to advance to the big leagues: UFC.

“My manager got a call for a short notice fight because one of the opponents got hurt,” Aljamain recalls getting the bid in February to fight in the UFC. “I wasn’t in the best of shape at the time because it came sooner than I was (expected to fight), but I was able to just get it down and perform at a high level”

Aljamain Sterling stands with raised hands  in the octagon at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 10 in July 2011

Aljamain Sterling stands with raised hands in the octagon at CFCC 10 in July 2011

He is currently 9-0 with one win in his four-fight deal with UFC. And now, the pressure is on more than ever to defend his winning streak.

“They (UFC) were cutting guys after two consecutive losses, sometimes three, and if you’re very lucky you get a forth shot,” says Aljamain. “But if you keep winning, they usually renegotiate.”

In order to stay in the heat of the competition, Aljamain maintains an intense training schedule even while teaching high school physical education part time.

“I try to train twice a day,” he says. “If I’m lucky I get to have run in between classes, or go to circuit lifting, or I can sneak out and head over to a jiu jitsu class.”

Even after the most hectic, ceaseless days, Aljamain remains dedicated to his lifestyle. “It’s the life I chose. I think it’s worth it for what I want to do.”

In the long run, he sees both teaching and wrestling as long-term goals.

“I look at teaching when it’s all said and done – I mean I can’t fight forever – that’s going to be my fall back plan.”

And as for MMA, “I think I’m going to have a lot of years to come. I’m smart with my training. I don’t beat my body up, so hopefully I have some longevity there. And it will be worth it.”

Aljamain is aware that his passion for MMA comes with unexpected risks and injuries, which drives his motivation to train hard and stay on top of his game.

He stresses that, when he was a student athlete, the secret to success was to be ambitious, but always be prepared for anything. This vigilance and commitment have led him to his success he has achieved today in and out of the ring.

The best advice I can possibly give is to give it 110% but at the same time make sure that you have your ace in your back pocket. Make sure you have a fall back plan. Because, you know, you’re only young for so long. So chase your dreams, go get it, and don’t let anyone tell you no.



Olivia Santo

Written by Olivia Santo

Olivia is a former student assistant in the Office of New Media for the State University of New York. She is an undergraduate direct and interactive marketing major with a minor in economics at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, NY.

March 25, 2014

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