Basketball was all I thought about back in the day. I dreamed of nothing but basketball. I just knew I had had all the answers coming out of high school. I had a plan, but I wasn’t prepared for the road blocks ahead.
It all began after a workout for high school players who had not signed or been offered a scholarship. Coaches from D-I, NAIA and Junior Colleges all over were there to work players out and try to find a “diamond in the rough” for their programs. I participated and I had an okay workout (nothing “phenom-like”)…but I was solid and I had a good workout. A few coaches approached me with the typical coach talk, saying, “you did well kid…have you made a decision on where you’re going to school yet?”
The next week a few letters came in the mail. I looked at some of them, but I had my mind set on a goal that I had set in the 7th grade with my best friend. We were going to play Division I basketball. I remember every time we did something good in practice or in a game, we would yell out “D-I baby.” Ironically, I had already been accepted into the University of Cincinnati to attend school as a regular student. I was pumped, but I still had some choices to make. Do I take an offer from a junior college, Division II or Division III school or do I attend (at the time) the number one ranked basketball school in the country, and take my chances as a walk-on?
I picked Cincinnati. That was a WAKE-UP CALL people! I turned down a free education, a chance to play right away, develop my game and get better versus trying to live out my childhood dream of playing for a D-I school. Not just a D-I, but the number one school in the country at the time. I was going to walk on with the likes of Danny Fortson (Seattle Supersonics), Ruben Patterson (Denver Nuggets) and Kenyon Martin (Denver Nuggets). It’s not surprising that all these guys turned out to be NBA players. But it was me just being “me” (that’s right, DUKE) and trying to live out my dream. Just for the record, UC did not have interest in me after I attended basketball camp there during the summer after my freshman year in high school.
Rewind summer of ’96, in one of the country’s best high school gymnasiums…Lawrence North High School. I had been working out all summer with former players and one of the assistant coaches. I vividly remember talking with Coach Inman, the assistant coach. Coach Inman played college ball and liked my game. He and I would sometimes talk after our workouts. One day, he asked, “Have you made any decisions about college yet?” I told him, “of course I have, I am going to the University of Cincinnati.” He looked surprised and said, “That’s great! On a full ride?” I answered, “No, I’m going to walk-on.” Coach Inman said, “Walk on? I think you should better your game before you try to do that. I think you could use a year or two at a juco (junior college).”
“Juco? Are you serious?” I had only one thing in mind and that was going to Cincinnati to play D-I ball and graduate and nothing was going to stop me from doing it. I worked hard over the summer. When I got to campus, I played with the team in open gym and I was doing pretty well. I worked hard all the way up to the walk-on tryouts. I talked with Bobby Huggins, the head coach at the time and he just gave me the advice to work as hard as you can and we will make a decision in a few days.
So walk-on tryouts came around. My roommate who was also walking-on and I both pushed each other. When the tryouts ended we both waited on the phone call from the assistant coach, inviting us back to join the team. That call came and we got another chance. The second tryouts ended and once again we sat patiently waiting on the second call. I remember it like yesterday. Somehow the assistant coach had already gotten a chance to talk with my roommate but my roommate wasn’t in when I received my call so I had no clue if he had made it or not.
During my brief call the assistant coach told me that I was the last person they were considering, but…I was just too small and not strong enough. The coach then began to say “we have a junior college in mind we believe you could go to on our recommendation, if you decide to do that you can transfer back here next year and play.” Then a moment of silence came…and he said, “Sorry son, you didn’t make it."
Devastated! I wanted to quit school altogether. In my mind my dreams were shattered. I called home and asked my mom to come and get me…I’m done with this school and I never want to play basketball again. The first thing my mom did was call my high school coach to tell him the news. Of course he called and encouraged me to stay in school. I did, but all I could think about were the words that Coach Inman told me back in the summer… “Juco, Duke. I think it might help you…” And what did the UC assistant coach on the phone say to me? You should go to juco for a year and develop your game son."
Totally shocked! The first time in my 18 years that I had ever been told NO as far as basketball was concerned. I didn’t know what to do. The love I had for the game and the allure of basketball that grabbed me so tight as a child was gone. The game I adored in my mind had ended.
Wow, if I’d only known then what I know now…I would have gone straight to junior college got my game all the way right or as Young Jeezy would say, “First I’m gonna stack my flow, then what!” If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken the great advice Coach Inman had given me. Why? Because when you think about it sometimes people can see things in you that you can’t see. Coach Inman saw that. He had already traveled down the road I was heading down. I thought that road would be taking me backwards if I went to junior college when it was probably the road that would have taken me exactly where I needed to go.
If you dream a dream of going somewhere it doesn’t mean that there’s only one way to get there. You can take a different route. It really doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish. If I only I knew then, what I know now…
That’s a page from my life…until the diary is unlocked again, see ya next time!