The trials of AAU basketball

I almost put if off. Decided it wasn’t worth writing right now. The climate isn’t right. Then the following video happened across my feed. I shared it..with the following caption:

Sure. If “if” was a fifth, we’d all be plastered but I have zero interest in such. I’d just like to share my story. Central to my story is that the adults in my life failed me royally. That doesn’t make them inherently evil nor does it excuse their behavior. But the fact of the matter is, we must do better jobs of supporting each other. Period. & it begins at the grass roots level. Coaches. Parents. Athletes. Referees. We must hold each other accountable. The first step is honesty.

Even the sight of his name now is triggering. Triggering as such that he’s been on the photo at the end of my scope during time spent at the gun range. I didn’t confront this until recently when, in a private group social post, he injected his offering into a pretty significant conversation about college hoops. In that moment, I decided I was done protecting people who never protected me like they were supposed to. Granted, I haven’t earned easy millions by way of the NBA nor have I completed the illustrious college career I had envisioned for myself. For clarity, the people I was shafted for didn’t either. But here’s a bit more perspective.

Picture it. Sicily. Jackson, Mississippi. December 24, 2005. A Saturday morning. Will absolutely, positively never forget it.You could always find me in this particular gym anyway but today, I was working the Christmas basketball camp when I was summoned to the rotary phone. Okay... maybe I’m not that old but I feel it. Anyway, I had to go to the main phone as iPhones still were two years away & my Nokia 6101 was at home as I was of the final generation of “if you break that, you won’t be getting another. Twice on that ass if you let it get stolen” but the message was anything but desirable news. My house was not only on fire, but we had lost everything. Literally it all. My younger sisters were experiencing the first Christmas they would recall & there it went. In flames. That ruined the entire mystique of Christmas for ya boy.

What’s wild about my journey is that this is, as you’ll come to know, this is par the course for my life. My family has endured anywhere from 3-7 house fires in my lifetime, contingent upon on how you choose to define fire. I’ve learned to allow for people who don’t think the same way as you as such is life. But shout out to everyone that gave me hell for living in a hotel most of high school. Back to the story…

The same coach I was working the camp for swooped in, claiming things would never be the same. To his credit, they weren’t. I made the rounds. Radio stations. News stations. Suddenly, I was the entry of choice into three-point shoot-outs & skill competitions. Oh! & I was starting. Even though I had struggles transitioning to Mississippi from Illinois with school ball, all seemed well as I was on a team of All-State guys. Including one Rodney Hood. Life was dope. Til it wasn’t. The hype died down. I went back down the depth chart. Nothing in terms of my play or production went down. Just my clock. & influence. As did my confidence. But I kept pushing. I still created small opportunities along the way but all in all, I was bamboozled by the adults who were supposed to have my best interest in mind.

My high school coach even admitted to me, prior to announcing his retirement that he ruined my career after I proceeded to write his game plans the entire season after I’d graduated.

Approaching my prime & embracing self-discovery has allowed me to embrace being who I needed when I was younger & part of that, I think, will be to exposed major inconsistencies in coaching. & it starts at home.

That kid loves his mother & I’m sure she loves him.

But your children are an extension of you, not your possessions. Educate, encourage & empower them so that they go out into the world & appreciate what’s acceptable & what’s not. Be present. I laughed mostly because my signing day photo includes a “mentor” I can’t even call on anymore (I have the ignored FB chat to prove it) because Ma Dukes worked too much. She did make fun of my draws the one soccer game she made it to though. As I made the game-winning save. Meanwhile, my coaches were manipulating me to look like a joke.

I can’t blame anyone but myself. I didn’t find my inner killer until later in life. I came to Mississippi encouraged to be a good teammate & to embrace the culture. Well, the culture turned out to be pretty subpar. & the NCAA doesn’t even recruit the Sip properly. Look at someone like Brian Bowen….who succeeded regardless of his circumstances, only to be shafted by the adults in his life. How much truth about what he knew will eventually come out just like the men who played me will feel it but in the meantime: AAU basketball used to be fun. It was about development & team-building. Coaches stop exploiting children. Do the work to get better & create your space. Parents: let your kids be themselves & support the brilliance you reared. History repeats itself when we don’t get better.