Domino effect reaches beyond the hardwood

To say that the Nobilio family from Lake Geneva are dedicated fans of the Marquette men’s basketball team would be an understatement. Courtney Nobilio is a 2003 Marquette alumna, and over the years, she and her husband Josh have traveled around the country following the Golden Eagles. They’ve been to the Big East Tournament, Maui Invitational, Notre Dame — the list goes on. The married couple have been attending the games for 17 years, and as their family grew, it was important that they continue the longstanding tradition. The Nobilios’ three kids — Jack, Mabel and Sullivan (Sully) — have been attending games since they were born.

“We look forward to cheering on our team each week and spending time together,” Courtney says. “Whether it’s getting Real Chili before the game, rushing in to see the starting lineups introduced or singing the fight song together; it’s something we truly bond over.”

For their youngest, Sully, one of those experiences happens after each home game at Fiserv Forum when he runs to the tunnel and high-fives the players as they leave the hardwood. For the 9-year-old, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

“When I grow up, I want to be good at basketball,” Sully says. “I love huge dunks and comeback wins like the one with Xavier.”

Although his trip to the tunnel is somewhat routine, this season something extra special happened after a homecourt win.

Sully learned that the players were handing out autographed dominos to fans — a tradition that started this season after home games. So, he waited by the tunnel and to his surprise, he got one of the small tiles from player Oliver-Maxence Prosper. That small gesture made his night.

Despite being thrilled about getting the tiny token from “OMax,” deep down Sully wanted one from his favorite player, Stevie Mitchell.

So, after the next home game, Sully ran in the tunnel and waited for Mitchell, hoping he would receive a domino from him. What happened next wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.

Sully got to meet his favorite player, but there was no domino waiting for him. However, Mitchell made a promise that he would have one for him after the next home game.

Trading dominos

When Sully got home, he went into the basement and found a domino indented with four dots, signifying Mitchell’s jersey number, and signed his name on it with a black Sharpie. He wanted to pass along his own domino to his role model.

At the next home game, Sully waited by the tunnel with three minutes left in the game. Then the long-awaited moment happened.

“Stevie Mitchell held up his end of the bargain. He walked up to Sully, handed him a domino and gave him a high-five,” Courtney says. “Sully was smiling from ear to ear.”

It’s a heartfelt moment that their son won’t soon forget.

“I felt really good because I thought I was just going to get a high-five. Then he remembered me and gave me his domino. My heart was beating really fast. It was awesome,” Sully says. “He has been so nice to me all season and he remembers me from game to game. I think that him remembering me is really cool.”

A chain reaction

For those who follow the Golden Eagles, the symbolism of the domino is not random and has significant meaning to Men’s Head Basketball Coach Shaka Smart. The “domino effect” is a core belief shared frequently by Smart to his players as he perpetually preaches the importance of having a positive impact on people.

“The domino signifies ‘how do I make the guys around me better?’ The reality is we want to be a team whose whole is greater than the sum of our parts. The way to make your whole greater is for the parts to pour into each other and for them to help maximize each other,” Smart says at a postgame presser on Feb. 15.

But as important as that philosophy is for the team, the domino effect reaches far beyond the players on the court.

And young fans like Sully are learning character-building lessons that will last a lifetime.

“Having my favorite player remember me taught me that when someone does something nice for you, you should do something nice for them,” Sully says. “Stevie is a leader and is teaching me to be one too. He shows me that it’s important to be nice to other people because it will make their lives better.”

His dad agrees with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

“There are a lot of lessons you hope to teach your children in life. As a parent, you hope that you can reinforce them in ways that will leave a lasting impact and that’s exactly what the MU basketball experience has done,” Josh says.