NJTL 50: MAALIK KONOP-DEFREITAS
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com looks at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who helped shape this incredible community dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In this installment, we catch up with Maalik Konop-Defreitas, a former NJTL participant at the Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center in Minnesota. Maalik (pictured far right) later coached and volunteered at the program before going off to college, where he played club tennis. Earlier this year, his UCLA team won the Tennis On Campus National Championship.
The Maalik Konop-Defreitas File
Name: Maalik Konop-Defreitas
NJTL Chapter: Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center
Role with NJTL: Past participant, coach and volunteer
Year became active in NJTL: 2003
How did you first get involved with NJTL?
Maalik Konop-Defreitas: I started with my dad being one of the coaches that initially got the club up and running. He ran a few junior drills over there when I was probably 6 or 7 at the time. I was fortunate to have this opportunity pretty early in life, and everyone was very welcoming.
Throughout my adolescence, it became a second home to me. I would go there after school and do my homework before I played tennis, then I’d go home and do it again tomorrow. They became like my family, whether they worked behind the desk, were on the court or were on the maintenance staff.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from NJTL?
Maalik Konop-Defreitas: In principle, that you’re investing in their future. Not just future tennis players, but future people. The opportunities that Fred Wells gives through tennis and education are invaluable. They’re fueling a lifelong journey of striving for excellence, and Fred Wells sets that tone.
It was priceless to me. I don’t reflect on it too much, but when I do, it makes me feel really happy and appreciative. I know I can always count on my friendships with the people at Fred Wells. They’re always there and supportive, and that’s something I don’t take for granted.
What do you enjoy most about NJTL?
Maalik Konop-Defreitas: I made a lot of connections and friendships through Fred Wells; it’s indispensable. It allowed me to play tournaments and JTT and later Tennis On Campus as an undergrad. Even now in dental school at UCLA, I have a group of friends through club tennis that I would not have had before.
When I go back to Minnesota, I try to go back to Fred Wells once or twice, depending how long I’m there. It’s great seeing some of the familiar faces and sharing a lot of the jokes that have developed over a long time. Even though I haven’t seen some of these guys for months at a time, we pick back up like it was yesterday.
How has NJTL impacted your life today?
Maalik Konop-Defreitas: I would not be anywhere near where I am today without Fred Wells.
They helped me through some very tough times, like when my parents were going through a split up. Fred Wells was a place where I could have a cohesive place as a family. They showed unconditional love and acceptance, and that is something I appreciated as I grew older. My younger sister and I would hang out with some of the coaches and some of the people behind the desk. It helped us mature a lot. You learned customer relations skills and how to interact with people.