There and Back

Man, I was very into sneakers coming up in Racine. You know, Racine is a lot like Chicago…you had a lot of local guys who wore gold chains and Nikes, and you wanted to imitate them. You wanted to have the freshest shoes, and everybody thought that the dude who had the best shoes on the playground was the best player. That was always how it was. I used to stand in line for hours. I used to skip class just to get to Foot Locker. I’d be in line for hours! My group of friends, we all wore white T-shirts, blue jeans and Nikes. The canvas Nikes…that was our thing for, like, three years. It was a Racine thing. We used to call them Comptons, the Compton Nikes. I don’t think they even make ’em no more. Canvas Nikes with a swoosh sign on ’em. I loved them shoes. They were real comfortable. And you could get a black and white pair or a green pair and they was running about 25-30 dollars and I had about three pair and I’d alternate.

Growing up in Racine, I was mostly on the streets. The NBA wasn’t on my radar. I used to play ball because everyone met up at the rec center, but that was it. When I was incarcerated, that’s when I started really playing basketball. Cats were playing hard on the courts, and I was representing. That’s when I started getting a love for the game, thinking you know, I can do this. When I got out, I saw some of the top players in the country and I was like, they’re soft. That’s how I felt in my heart. That’s when I started going to AAU tournaments and taking my game to another level.

I feel blessed to have played at Maine Central Institute and at UConn. Being at UConn, with Coach Calhoun, it taught me the true meaning of being a professional, of knowing how to carry yourself. Not only as a player but as a person. It meant a lot. You felt part of a family there, a real bond you get taught the second you get there. It’s a fraternity. Coach told me something that was real special. He said, “You have a special gift,” and he asked me what I thought I was good at. I said I really didn’t know; I feel I’m good at a lot of things. He said, “The major thing you are good at is helping other people. Basketball is a reflection of life and you make people better, on the court and off.” I took that and ran with it.

I still have shoes from each place I’ve played. I played one year of high school basketball at Park HS in Racine, and I have the shoes from my last game there. The shoes from my last game at MCI, when we won the prep school championship, I gave those shoes to my grandmother. And my last college game for UConn, against Maryland? I gave one shoe to my wife’s mother and the other to my mother.

I wear a new pair of shoes each game. I love sticking my foot in a fresh shoe. I have a flat foot, so when I wear new shoes, I feel good. Nike’s like, every game? I’m like, yeah, every game! I’m wearing the AF 25s now and I like them a lot.

To me, every day is a great day. Basketball saved my life. It saved my life! When I think of Racine, I think of friends, family, loved ones, people I lost, people still there. I went through adversity there, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that city.

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