When NBA dreams start slipping away

Updated: May 15, 2016
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Outdoor basketball court in schoolyard.

It was 11 years ago, back in 2005, and I was a senior on my high school basketball team in Chesapeake, VA. We were in the district tournament, facing a school that we were overwhelmingly favored to beat. If we win, we move on. If we lose, our season comes to a close.

Knowing we were the more talented bunch, our opposition came out with an efficient gameplan of getting an early lead and holding the ball as long as possible — limiting us from having many possessions. There’s no shot clock in high school, so this was actually a great tactic by their coach. But we were on our home court, and felt there was no chance we would lose in front of our fans.

As they were ahead late in the fourth quarter, I knocked down a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions. But we still trailed as time slowly started ticking away.

My heart’s pounding, knowing this could be it. This could be my last school game, the last time I take the court with my friends. Reality is starting to set in.

I was in foul trouble throughout the night, probably from playing desperate basketball, and with about two minutes remaining, I committed my fifth personal and was forced to leave the game. I smacked the floor with both hands as hard as I could, and embarrassingly walked over to the bench. I could almost hear lyrics from Ray Charles’ classic song “hit the road jack” playing in my head.

I rooted for my team on the sideline, but it was little too late for us to make a comeback.

We came up short. Not only was our season over, but my dreams were immediately shattered in that moment. I couldn’t hold back the tears as we entered the locker room. It was my last time playing in an “organized” basketball game.

I didn’t have many colleges recruiting me. Quite frankly, I didn’t have anything planned for “life after basketball.” Other than family and friends, it was the only thing I cared about. And just like that, it was suddenly over. All that remained, were distant memories.

This is something many young athletes experience in their lifetime. So many of us had dreams of one day playing in the NBA. We spent hours and hours emulating the players we saw on TV. During my time, it was Allen Iverson, Penny Hardaway, Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and so many others who we idolized. We just wanted to be like them. We wanted our hard work and dedication to pay off the way it did for those guys. We wanted to spend our lives playing basketball, period.

But when it doesn’t work out in our favor, we find ourselves on different journeys. Some of us can’t hang on to those hoop dreams forever.

I had the opportunity to speak with a few people who were in similar predicaments, but actually had more talent than I did (and were a lot taller). Some are still making a living playing the game they love, while others had to take alternative routes.

Corey Law, Harlem Globetrotter

C law

Corey played on my high school team during my senior year — he was a freshman at the time. One of the funniest guys on the squad, but also one of the most talented. He was 14 years old and dunking like he was Vince Carter. Okay, maybe not exactly like Vince, but that’s how it seemed to us back then.

Though Corey was a really good player, he said he didn’t start taking the game serious until he was in the seventh grade. He was cut from his middle school team, and it motivated him to come back even stronger his eighth-grade year. He began playing AAU basketball, and eventually became a well-known athlete in Virginia.

The fact that Corey was on our varsity team as a freshman spoke for itself. Especially when we had guys like Mike Scott (NBA player, Atlanta Hawks), Ras-I Dowling (NFL cornerback) and others who had successful careers beyond high school on the roster. Corey said it was one reason why he really enjoyed the game: “I loved the attention.” And as any athlete knows, popularity is definitely one of the perks of playing.

After completing his four-year stint at Deep Creek High School, Corey earned a Division I scholarship to attend High Point University. Due to so many injuries in college, Corey said there were times when he just wanted to give up and pursue other career paths. He said he even considered becoming a homicide detective at one point. But he finished out his college tenure, and participated in the dunk contest his senior year.

He hired an agent after graduating, and soon-after received a call from the Harlem Globetrotters. They expressed interest in the bouncy, 6-foot-5 forward, and offered him a spot on their roster. He’s now globally recognized as “Thunder Law.”

Corey’s finishing up his third year with the Globetrotters. He started off as a high-flying dunker, bringing the crowd to its feet. But he’s worked his way into becoming a “showman,” which was a position held by many legendary Globetrotters, including Meadowlark Lemon and Bob Hall.

Not only is Corey continuing to follow his dream, but he’s making history along the way. He currently holds the Guinness world record for the longest shot, the longest backwards shot and the longest shot while blindfolded.

Joey Rodriguez, high school basketball coach 

Joey Rod

Many may remember Joey from his days at VCU. He helped lead the Rams to their improbable Final Four run in 2011 under head coach Shaka Smart. He played an essential role on that team, running the point guard position to near perfection.

But his love for the game arrived during his early childhood. Joey said he and his brothers were huge New York Knicks fans growing up, and pretended to be NBA players within their household. They didn’t have a hoop at the time, so they would aim for a certain spot on the wall (a small block) and let that be considered the basket. If the ball landed on the right spot, it would count as one point. That was their way of playing a game of one-on-one.

Joey realized that he was a pretty good player when he was in the sixth grade. His local team won a championship, then he won a middle school championship while living in Houston, TX. After moving back to Orlando, FL, where he was originally from, Joey received an invite to play for one of the top AAU teams in the country. That led to him becoming an elite player at a young age.

During a basketball camp at the University of Florida, Joey was introduced to then-VCU head coach Anthony Grant. He developed a strong relationship with Grant as just a fifth grader, which made his college decision an easy one once he received an offer from VCU. “I didn’t even consider any other school,” Joey said. “I knew I would go to VCU because of Coach Grant.” Grant coached at VCU from 2006-2009 before leaving to take a job at Alabama. He’s now an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Joey envisioned himself playing in the NBA, especially after watching former teammates Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders get drafted. Instead, he ended up playing professionally in Puerto Rico — but that didn’t last too long. “I lost the passion for the game while being overseas,” Joey said. “I lost that family atmosphere that I had while in college, and it wasn’t as fun anymore.”

Joey’s now a video game designer at EA Sports, tapping into one of his many talents. But to keep his competitive spirit, Joey decided to return to his hometown and share his knowledge of the game. He’s currently the head basketball coach at his former high school, Lake Howell. “I always wanted to do something competitive, and coaching has helped fill that void.”

Trayvon Lathan, professional basketball player overseas

T Lath

Some are crowned as the future of the sport at a very young age. Then there’s some who work hard over time, and are considered “late bloomers.” Trayvon Lathan didn’t get an opportunity to truly showcase his talents until his senior year in high school. But when he got his chance, he took full advantage of it.

He’s a 6-foot-7 guard, who has a style of play reminiscent to Penny Hardaway. Tray attended Chowan University, which is a small, Division II private school located in North Carolina. But when Tray was there, they were labeled a D-III school.

While in college, Tray said he started believing he could become an NBA player. “I had short-term goals of playing in college, but during my junior and senior years, I knew [going pro] could become reality.”

Once he graduated, Tray took the advice of current New Orleans Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson and moved to Los Angeles, CA. He worked out with Vinson for a few months, and found himself facing players like Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant during open gyms at UCLA.

Though he never had the opportunity to compete in the NBA itself, Tray continued to pursue his dreams by playing professionally overseas. And he’s doing it at an elite level.

He’s spent time playing in Taiwan, Lebanon and Germany, but Tray’s currently in Mexico, where he’s a two-time champion and the reigning league MVP. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season. During his best year statistically, Tray averaged 18.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

He said it’s not easy being overseas, due to the language barriers and unfamiliar food selections, but there’s one reason the 31-year-old said he continues to play: “It’s all for the love of the game.”

Tyrone Smith, chef at Cutlass Grille

Ty Smith

He’s a legend throughout Chesapeake, VA. He’s the first pick when he walks into any gym in the area. And usually when he’s on your team, you’re guaranteed to win. His name is Tyrone Smith, but he’s locally recognized as “Bolz.”

Like Trayvon, Corey and myself, Tyrone attended Deep Creek High School and set the standard for most young basketball players in Chesapeake. At 5-foot-11, he was an elite shooter, superb ball handler and pesky defender. Tyrone was everything you would want in a point guard, both physically and mentally.

Current Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, who was coaching Clemson at the time, recruited Tyrone. But due to his grades and low SAT scores, Tyrone was forced to attend Elizabeth City State University — a Division II school located in North Carolina.

Going off to college wasn’t very common in the neighborhood where Bolz resided, which is also where I’m from, so he received endless respect from all the younger kids in the area. And even to this day, he’s shown that same reverence.

While at Elizabeth City, Bolz earned CIAA Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 and was an All-CIAA selection in 2003. He was the team’s second leading scorer his freshman year, and the team’s leading scorer his sophomore and junior seasons.

There are always a few Division II prospects entering the NBA draft, and Bolz was certainly on his way to becoming one. But after a few successful seasons, he was kicked out of school for possession of marijuana — which also caused him to lose his basketball scholarship at the time. “I was young, dumb and reckless,” Bolz said. “I was [making money] and walking around campus rocking Coogi in college…the whole outfit.”

He redeemed his scholarship after taking a few years off, and returned to the court for the 2005-06 season. But he was never able to regain the momentum that was built prior to the suspension.

Bolz continues to be a positive influence on kids in the area, as he helps out at numerous camps teaching the fundamentals of basketball. But he’s also discovered another talent of his — something that he never saw himself doing. He’s a chef at a popular restaurant in Chesapeake, called “Cutlass Grille.”

“I didn’t know I had it in me, but my family always threw down in the kitchen — so it must’ve been in my blood,” Bolz said.

He’s steadily in the gym playing basketball on a consistent basis, but he’s developed a new found love for putting a smile on people’s faces. “I’m there early every day,” he said. “I get excited to go to work. I just enjoy seeing people happy and eating good food.”

If there’s one thing that Bolz had in common with Corey, Tray and Joey, it was his love and affection for the game of basketball. It’s something they were born into, something they’re passionate about, and something that brings them joy.

There are thousands of kids growing up with dreams of going to the NBA. But only a select few are fortunate enough to reach their ultimate goal. For the love of the game, some sacrifice years of their lives playing basketball in foreign countries. Some find themselves playing in local leagues. Then, there’s those who find a way to stay close to the game by-way of coaching, scouting or writing.

Some will make it, while some will come up short. But there will always be that one boy who sits in the back of the classroom and raises his hand as the teacher asks the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And he’ll stare at her, with a confident expression on his face, and politely say, “I want to be an NBA player.”


One Comment

  1. Avatar

    Linwood Hall

    May 19, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Amazing Article #757 #SemperFi

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