Minuto-Men : Born on the Same Day in Puerto Rico, UMass Guards Travieso and Padilla Overcame Obstacles to Success

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no doorbell at the home of Edgar Padilla's parents. There is no need. His parents are deaf.

Inside the apartment the television is on, but there is no sound. The only noises are from the pump in the fish tank and a ticking clock.

Padilla has never known it any other way.

Meanwhile, across the state near Boston, Carmelo Travieso's mother struggles with a back she injured cleaning houses. Travieso's family was so poor that they had to choose between food and heat. Travieso often slept in his winter parka.

If there is a thread that links the starting guards at the University of Massachusetts, it is not that they were born on the same day, in the same year, in Puerto Rico.

It is that for most of the time since that day, they have had to struggle.

Their mothers brought them to the United States for better opportunities and Padilla and Travieso are making the most of them. But it hasn't been easy.

"It's like a stray dog that hasn't eaten in a month and he finds a bone," Travieso said. "Who's going to pull that bone away from that dog?"

On the UMass team, top ranked in the NCAA tournament, the guards complement Marcus Camby, the All-American center. Serious college basketball fans have known about them, but it wasn't until Camby fainted on Jan. 14, and sat out four games, that Padilla, the point guard, and Travieso, the shooting guard, rose to prominence.

With Camby sidelined, the team's game went to the perimeter. And Travieso responded. In two of the four games Camby sat out, Travieso scored a total of 60 points, making 14 three-point shots.

"I didn't plan on scoring a lot of points, but Edgar got the ball and kept coming to me," Travieso said. "We have confidence in each other."

When Camby returned, he was obviously the No. 1 option, but UMass' game was no longer just an inside job.

"I'm still double-teamed, but people are starting to see that the guards are really underrated and they are fantastic," said Camby, whose doctors have never determined why he fainted. "They play every minute of every game, they play relentless defense, they can stroke for three and they can pass inside.

"Every time Carmelo puts it up, I think it's going in."

Travieso was named the most valuable player of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, which UMass won. His 11 three-point baskets in that tournament gave him 84 for the season, and he is only the second player in school history with more than 80.

Padilla broke the UMass record for steals--he has 165--and set the single-season record with 89 in 32 games. This season he had 206 assists, with only 83 turnovers, and is near the 400 mark for his career.

And both guards are juniors.

"They play off of one another because their skill level is so different," Coach John Calipari said. "Edgar has great speed and quickness in his arms. Carmelo is an unbelievable defender of the ball, Edgar is not. Carmelo is a great three-point shooter. Edgar is a good one, but he is a better free-throw shooter and physically tougher than Carmelo, who is a better rebounder.

"So they appear to really understand each other. But it is, 'Well, my strength is your weakness and your strength is my weakness,' and they know that."

But they credit their closeness off the court for their chemistry on it. Since they were roommates as freshmen, they wanted to be the first Latino starting backcourt at a Division I school, and they believe they are, though there is no research to prove it. They practice together apart from the team, hang out together and sometimes show up wearing identical clothes.

"If I am at practice and Edgar is not there yet, the guys say, 'Where is your brother?' " Travieso said.

They like the same kinds of food and sometimes reminisce about their lack of choices when they were growing up.

"Eggs for breakfast, eggs for lunch, eggs and rice for dinner, rice and eggs for dinner, egg sandwiches. . . .," Travieso recalls with a wry smile.

They weigh about the same, 170 pounds; are about the same height, 6 feet 2, and look somewhat alike, both have goatees. But they were floored when they learned they were born on the same day, May 9, 1975, in different cities in Puerto Rico.

"It wasn't until the second semester of our freshman year, and I mentioned to Carmelo that my birthday was on Sunday," Padilla said. "He said, 'Mine too.' But this guy is always joking around and so I made him show me his driver's license. And this time it was no joke."

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When Padilla was about 14, his mother, Milca, moved her family to Springfield, Mass., from Santurce, hoping to give her three children better educational opportunities. She also wanted help for herself and her husband, Mariano.

Milca could hear and speak Spanish until she was 5, when meningitis took her hearing. She can still read and speak Spanish, but communicates mostly by reading lips and sign language.

Mariano was born deaf. He knows neither Spanish nor English and cannot read, but is a dental technician in Springfield and is considered a star employee. Inexplicably, his children say, he has learned to communicate with limited sign language.

"He knows everything that happens with the team," says Giddel Padilla, 23, Edgar's older brother who is also on the UMass team. "It is weird. He can't read, but he can tell me what is in the newspaper and everything about a movie he watched."

But at first, life in the United States was very difficult for the Padillas. None of them knew English. Millie, now 25, learned it first, and supported the family until her father and mother were able to find work.

Giddel earned a scholarship at UMass, but floundered a bit and struggled with decisions.

Edgar was homesick, so he went back to Puerto Rico to play basketball his senior year in high school.

That disturbed his mother, because Edgar has an unnamed medical condition that inhibits his food digestion. If he eats too fast, or the wrong thing, or talks while he is eating, he vomits. He is being helped by medication.

"Giddel has made mistakes and wrong decisions that affected him as a player and person and in the end it's made it easier on Edgar," Milca signed through an interpreter. "I feel bad, because they didn't have the communication and advice they should have if they had a father who was hearing."

Travieso, though, grew up without a father. He was 4 when his parents divorced and his mother, Carmen, moved him and his four siblings to a tiny two-bedroom house in Dorchester, Mass., about 10 minutes from downtown Boston. The area was so crime-ridden that Travieso and his brother, Raul, were held up on their way home from the Boys Club, where Carmelo gained notoriety on the basketball court.

"You left the house every morning not knowing if you were going to return," Raul said.

But Carmelo believes he is fortunate. Always, he believes, there was someone watching out for him. A coach from Thayer Academy, a private prep school near Boston, gave him a basketball scholarship worth $44,000. Later he got a full ride at UMass.

Meanwhile, his brother and three sisters worked to support the family, making sure Carmelo's needs were taken care of. Three years ago, Raul was able to move his mother to a better house.

As a result, both Travieso and Padilla are on schedule to graduate next year.

"Edgar and I have been doing this for a long time and our families have struggled and struggled," Travieso said. "And we are not going to let somebody else take it away. We are living our dream right now. And we need to do the best we can."

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