I first met last Thursday. He was smiling at me. It
was the same day on which I had met Sheila Barnes, Lynne Morris,
Robert Pugliese, Mike Zinzi and Andrew Zucker. Their faces were
on leaflets being passed out in Manhattan's Union Square Park.
Theirs were happy faces in otherwise heartbreaking surroundings.
Ugolyn, like Barnes, Morris and thousands of other people, had
been missing for two days, since shortly after he reported for
work on Sept. 11 as a research associate at Fred Alger
Management, Inc., on the 93rd floor of World Trade Center Tower
1. A couple of Tyler's friends were handing out his picture and
vitals: 6'4", 195 pounds. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Age 23. "We hope
he's alive and well," a young woman told me, forcing a smile. "If
you see him..."
Ugolyn struck me as a one-of-a-kind name. That evening I typed
"Tyler Ugolyn" into my search engine and discovered he was a
basketball player. Then I made some calls. For the first time in
my life I was learning to say hello and goodbye to a friend in
the same breath.
I've seen Tyler Ugolyn. He's standing in front of me, smiling,
just as he is in that black-and-white picture on the Union Square
flier, ready to bust someone's chops over choosing such a
goofy-looking photo: "Aw, man, you picked that one?"
"I keep waiting for him to walk in and say something like that,"
says Jon Krug, a longtime friend who shared an apartment on the
Upper East Side of Manhattan with Ugolyn. "He likes to joke."
Three years ago, during Ugolyn's sophomore season as a guard on
the Columbia basketball team, a statistician projected each
player's production over 40 minutes. Although Ugolyn would end up
averaging only 2.2 points and 0.8 rebounds in six career games
(tendinitis in both knees limited him to two seasons with the
Lions), he projected to 70 points and 25 rebounds a game. "Oh, he
lived for reminding us of that," says Zach Schiller, a teammate,
"and if he hit a three over you, he'd always go, 'Hee-hee.'"
That was Ty. (You could call him Tyler. Or Tiger. Or Styles. Or
Monkey. All were names he was affectionately known by.) He was a
kidder. A chuckler. A lighthearted trash talker. How is it
possible to forget that Atlantic City trip for his 21st
birthday, when he and the guys accidentally left the water
running and flooded a bathroom floor in the Trump Plaza Hotel?
Or how about the senior skit at Ridgefield (Conn.) High in 1997?
Ty, surrounded by dancing girls in slinky black dresses,
slouched on a chair in his WOMEN LOVE ME T-shirt.
At Ridgefield High, Ty's trademark jumper still seems to resonate
through the dingy gymnasium. Dribble. Dribble. Swish. Dribble.
Dribble. Swish. As a senior, he was named honorable mention
All-America by Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook after
averaging 17 points and seven rebounds. He also was rated one of
the nation's top 250 high school players, even though his scoring
average had dipped three points from the year before. "That's
because everyone started double-teaming him," says Al Trimpert,
his high school coach. "He was our weapon."
Like Tyler's friends, his father, Victor, is having a terrible
time with this tragedy. The shock leaves, then returns. There are
tears, followed by stoicism, followed by a funny story, followed
by more tears. How does Victor want Ty to be remembered? The
words flow: as the one who started a basketball program for
underprivileged kids from the Bronx. As the devout Catholic who
attended mass weekly, prayed before meals and helped found
Columbia Catholic Athletes. As a competitor when it was time to
compete and a pal when a pal was needed. "Nobody's perfect," says
Victor, "but he aimed high."
Two moments, the father says, will always stand out. In 1997
Victor and Tyler's mother, Diane, were at Columbia's Levien
Gymnasium when Ty, the older of their two sons, entered his first
collegiate game. "He looked up at me in the stands," says Victor,
"and it was the kind of look that said, Hey, Dad, I made it."
Victor, choking on his words, pauses and continues: "A little
more than a week and a half ago, I stopped at the World Trade
Center to drop something off for him. I gave him a hug and told
him how proud I was of him. I said, 'I love you.' He gave me that
same million-dollar look of his, one that said, I made it, Dad.
I'm on Wall Street."