Filmmaker Marcus Mizelle On Why Kinston, NC is a Basketball Heaven

Basketball’s for romantics. Ballplayers don’t even realize it. Old heads don’t either. But the constant reminiscing, with all the stories that become bigger and bigger every time somebody shares them, and all the emotions that come rushing back each time those tales get told, those adventures of the past only lead to one place—a road reserved for fantasies that can’t be recaptured. And there’s a whole lot of beauty in those faded memories with the distant sound of the crowd and the far-away smell of the hardwood floors and blacktops. 

It’s just that, if we’re being honest, most of those stories aren’t even close to reality. The ball never bounced as high as most places throughout this country claim it did at one point. It’s rare to find a spot in the States where the legends are actually true. 

But Marcus Mizelle, director of the documentary short Something in the Water: A Kinston Basketball Story, is from a place where it’s all true, where the tall tales aren’t just tall tales. 

One in 52.7 basketball players that hooped at Kinston High School, a small public school, have played in the NBA. The average in the world is one out of every 10,000 people will make the League, according to Mizelle’s new film. 

“When you start filming—something’s in the water? Ok, what’s in the water? What’s in the water? That’s just a slogan,” Mizelle explains to SLAM. “What’s in the water is this organism, this living, breathing thing where all these people are just participating and helping one another. Kinston is just a support system that keeps going and going and going. It’s this organism that all these people have put so much and energy and time in to and it just keeps cycling.”

Cedric Maxwell, Charles Shackleford, Jerry Stackhouse, Reggie Bullock and Brandon Ingram are among the NBA players from the small town in North Carolina.

Mizelle went back home, to the town where he lived for the first 23 years of his life, to look at how Kinston became one of those rare places where the romanticized past is the truth. But that’s not the story that ended up driving his film. 

“2016, I reached out to Donald Ingram, Brandon’s dad,” he says. “I was not able to connect with him. We didn’t really know each other yet. I hit him up on Facebook message. That was the only line I had at the time. And then 2017, ESPN dropped a big article on Kinston and the basketball there. I think the title was something like ‘Brandon Ingram’s Hometown Has the Highest NBA Draft Picks Per Capita in the World.’ Something like that. That’s when I was like, ‘Alright, well, I’m going to go ahead and go to town, see what we can get.’  

“I reached out to everybody I ever knew in Kinston,” he continues. “Got in touch with Donald Ingram, kept hearing about a kid named Dontrez Styles. His name kept popping up. He may or may not be the next big thing. He was in ninth grade at the time. And then Curtis Hines, a personal trainer. All these names kept popping up, as far as what’s going on in Kinston right now. I was like, ‘Of course it’s about the past greats. That’s important.’ But I was more interested in what’s going on right now.”

History becomes present and future in Something in the Water. Styles is headed to North Carolina, following Jerry Stackhouse’s path. Hines is a huge part of the doc. And Mizelle even dives into how Kinston’s economy has changed over the years, including the impact of its high crime rate. 

For as much it’s about the game, Something in the Water is about the people that have dedicated so much to Kinston, the people whose stories ring out. Mizelle talks about how Donald Ingram hosts games every Tuesday and Thursday for players of all ages. He details Hines’ commitment to helping the next generation. He gives a special shout out to Jeremy Ingram, the guard who should’ve torn up Wake Forest, if not for injuries (“I know he was going to make the League,” Mizelle says). He mentions the unfortunate passing of Charles Shackleford, a rebounding machine that played throughout the 80s and 90s. 

“I learned I’m lucky as hell to be from Kinston, is what I learned,” Mizelle says about the doc’s creation process. “I’m lucky. There’s a lot of small towns I could’ve been from and there’s a lot of towns that had a high crime rate but at least Kinston also has basketball. It’s a cool thing to be known for. It’s the best thing to be known for. That’s been such a reminder for me. Just being proud, straight up proud for being from a cool spot with good people.”

Mizelle, at the end of his film, asked all of his interviewees to describe Kinston with one word. He’s the director so he decided that he gets two words. He goes with “special” and “hungry.”

Hungry for more special stories to be told. He has plans to extend Something in the Water with more interviews and footage, proving that Kinston isn’t just another one of those places that dreams about how good their ballplayers actually are. 

Watch Something in the Water now on Amazon Prime.