I wasn’t much of a basketball athlete, but the one thing I did have a knack for was dribbling. I think it was the summer before 7th grade that I attended the Chuck Henry basketball camp with my good friend Cory. He was a year ahead of me, but we were still in the same age bracket. This was my first experience with any kind of coaching. It was a week long camp held at Wayne Memorial, and we learned a lot. The thing that stood out most for me was the Pistol Pete ball handling drills, and I started doing those every day.
These were drills that nothing could keep me from, even a broken basketball goal in my backyard. I still had my ball, and a nicely paved backyard driveway to dribble on. I did those drills three…sometimes four times a day. The hand to hand slaps, around the neck, waist then ankles, the figure 8’s, dribbling around each leg with one hand, then the quick hand drills, and then of course the treacherous spider drill. I was obsessed with these drills, even to the point of blindfolding myself and dribbling around in my basement with the lights off so I couldn’t cheat the blindfold. I think I drove my parents nuts with all the ball bouncing. Sorry Ma! Sorry Dad!
Towards the end of the Chuck Henry camp, I started to stand out among all of the others. Every day, Coach Henry would time us during the quick hand drills and spider drill for 15 seconds. He tested us on how many reps we could do. The drills were very difficult to grasp initially, but this was one of the things that I could work on and get better. No one could stop me from excelling, simply because it was a competition with myself…and the time clock. I was killing all of these drills by the end of the camp week, but the spider caused Coach to single me out. In 15 seconds, I think I had over 80 reps. That’s more than 5 finger touches per second. I had the quickest hands in the camp.
Being an awesome dribbler was only good, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I was too weak to finish lay-ups, a poor shooter, and playing solid defense was just out of the question for a guy that was just about a foot smaller than everyone else.I would get knocked around on the court to the point where it probably looked like I didn’t belong. Having any sort of confidence was out of the question, and without confidence, you really can’t play the game of basketball with any success. I had a lot of work to do if I ever wanted to play on the big stage.
The one thing that I always found interesting was that no matter what would happen…no matter what people said, what I looked like on the court, or what the “odds” were of me ever playing organized basketball, I could never let go of that passion and drive to get better. I always looked at things with great optimism. I believed that my shortcomings as player were just some things I had to figure out. I sincerely believed that if I worked harder than everyone, I’d eventually get better, and maybe get my shot to play for the school team. Yet, the harder that I worked, the more of a joke I was becoming to everyone around me.
When I eventually got my basketball rim up in my backyard, 720 Central Ave. became a hot spot in the neighborhood. On any given day, there would be no less than 12 people waiting for next game. Players like Gerald Adams, Andre Graves, Diz, Tony Dooley, Sam Bell, TJ, Tyson and his brother Desmond, Cory Blanks and Matt Canty, my girl Rica Barge (still one of the toughest female ballers I ever played against), and so many others that I didn’t even know by name. We’d play 3-on-3 from 4:00pm until the street lights came on, and oftentimes longer than that. I say we, but although it was my backyard, I didn’t play very much initially. I had a hard time even getting picked to play in my own backyard. How crazy is that?
I’ve never really had an opportunity to thank those guys for making me a better player. Sure, they didn’t let me play as much early on, but I made my way into the “regular rotation” eventually. If anything, it gave me something to work towards. While most of them probably went to sleep every night thinking about a plethora of various other things, my nights were oftentimes sleepless. All I could think about was basketball. That might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but even typing this for people’s reading pleasure still feels like an understatement. I was consumed by this game. I was determined to earn my respect as a basketball player. I hated sitting down after losing, because it would take so much longer for me to get picked up. I think that’s why I’m such a competitive person. I hate to lose. I wanted to stay on the court all night.
As much as I loved having a backyard filled with competition, my parents and neighbors grew to despise it. My father hated listening to a bouncing basketball every afternoon. He was bipolar, and would often find his way to his bed as early as 8 o’clock. Unfortunately, for him, my parent’s room was the one facing the backyard. He could not escape the noise. My mom wasn’t as upset about the noise as she was the traffic we started bringing. I remember one day, after coming out to check on me, she immediately demanded that everyone go home. I was appalled! I was so upset I started to cry. She then proceeded to explain to me how she came out on the porch and found bags of weed and crack sitting in the old milk man stall that we never used. People placed their belongings inside that convenient hole in the wall. We knew that Inkster was turning into a pretty tough neighborhood plagued with drugs, crime and other senseless violence. That day, she realized that our backyard had started attracting some of those things, and she feared that I would get caught up in all of that.
It took a couple of days, but I complained so much about the situation that she eventually gave in. As I said before, in the long run, my parents felt it was better to have me home in our backyard rather than out running the streets and getting into trouble. At least she could keep a close eye on me. The crazy thing is I didn’t even know what drugs were. Sure, I attended those “DARE” program assembly in school, and “Just Say No!” was entrenched into my head. The truth is that the only thing that I really cared about was basketball. I never touched weed. My parents smoked cigarettes, and I deemed that a disgusting habit. Experimenting with drugs to feel good wasn’t necessary for me. Nothing made me higher than playing the game of basketball.
That’s not to say I never got into any trouble. In fact, basketball quickly replaced my love for academics. I went from being a straight honor roll student to barely getting by. I got into my share of fights, and the more I felt pressure from people poking fun at my ambition to play basketball, the bigger the chip on my shoulder got. There was this emotional tornado within me. I had questions that I couldn’t answer, I had so many different influences tugging at my heart, and I had people taking way too much of their time making me a laughing stock in school. Factor in the fact that we were one of the poorest families in the neighborhood, I rarely had anything decent to eat for lunch or dinner, and my parents always seemed to be at odds with me because of how basketball pretty much took over my life, and you’ll start to get a glimpse of why basketball was such an escape for me. Why a little midget like me became obsessed with the game of basketball was puzzling. I was content to get on a court every day and escape the realities of my life, but as I started getting older, that question started to haunt me. I needed an answer for that, if simply, for nothing else, to understand myself better.