majored in education at Temple, but put his studies on hold for a few years while having financial hardship.He's worked as a busboy for eight years at Saloon (750 S. 7th), where he struck up a friendship with one generous regular at the Italian restaurant who volunteered to pay his Temple tuition.

During a visit to Saloon last summer, Charles Barkley asked Abate how he was enjoying teaching, and was disappointed to learn that Abate had still not returned to Temple because of problems securing financial aid. Abate, 28, of South Philly, started at Temple in 1997, months after graduating from St. John Neumann High.

Sir Charles told Abate he would like to help him with his tuition, and Abate wasn't sure how to respond. Barkley didn't give him much time, telling Abate that he had the length of Barkley's meal to decide. Abate wisely accepted.

"He's a nice kid," Barkley said of Abate on Friday. "He was working with kids, I loved that he wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to help him," Barkley told us by phone between stops on a flight to Reno where he was making a speech.

When we joked to Barkley that people were going to be calling him today asking for money, he said "People always call me asking for money, and Christian never asked, which is why I wanted to help him out."Abate says he will be forever grateful to Barkley who is "giving me a second shot at doing something with my life."

Abate is scheduled to graduate next May. Barkley says that helping Abate is in line with his efforts to aid in education, which has been important to him in recent years. Barkley's given $1 million to his Alabama high school Leeds, another million to Corningstone High, in a poor area of Birmingham, and $1 million to Auburn University, where he played before being drafted by the Sixers in 1984.