Life is an adventure: It’s filled with a rollercoaster of emotions, trials and tribulations, laughs, cries, love, and so much more. You make mistakes and go through things throughout your life that can make you or break you… It’s up to you how you’re going to come out of this precious thing called life and whether you’re willing to make the most of it and give it your all in your respective career/craft that you love.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for you guys to know the man behind the DJ’s Sports Show and my life story. My name is DJ Hamilton, and this is my life story.
So yeah, many call me DJ (my nickname since birth), as I prefer that over my real name, which is Donald Oliver Hamilton Jr. I was born early morning on Tuesday, July 25, 2000, in Nyack, New York to my mother Trecia Ferguson, and my father (whom I don’t know) Donald Hamilton Sr.
I never truly got to know my father, as I only know his name, that he is a pilot, and is 6-foot-4. In my younger days I never really thought much of it. But as I got old enough to realize he wasn’t around (especially after I found out Michael wasn’t my real dad) it would hurt me at times.
I would feel sad or enraged that I felt disregarded. How can you neglect your own creation for their whole life? It would hit me the most when my mom was struggling and I’d think how different would it be if I had two parents in my life.
Would we be struggling like this? Could I have gotten the chance to have more opportunities to join more basketball teams later on, such as CYO or AAU? All questions that would run through my mind.
I remember one time when I was 12 years old I saw a man in the parking lot, and he said hello. I looked him in the eye and had no clue who it was. Now imagine looking into your biological parent's eyes and not having a clue who it was.
That hit me once I found out he was my dad. On the other side, imagine being a parent and your child not knowing who you are. Has to be one of the worst feelings a human can experience.
It stopped bothering me a long time ago, but it adds extra motivation to my already burning fire within.
After saying all that now let's get into my family.
My mom, Trecia, is a Daycare teacher, which she has been working since 1995. All of her kids went there except Andre, as he was already five when she started there. She loves working with little kids and has been doing it for almost 30 years now.
She can cook and loves her music. Of course, kids have arguments with their parents at times but I love my mom to death and thank her for everything she has done for me throughout my life and never leaving my side. I’d take a bullet for her.
(Me and my Mom)
I am the middle child (third child) of six in total. I have two older brothers (Andre & Raheem), one younger brother (Devonte), and two little sisters (Paris & Jayla). Andre, 32, is 10 years my elder, as he’ll be 33 on November 30th. Andre is similar to me as in we both have a deep passion for basketball and both love LeBron James, as he’s probably the biggest James fan that I’ve known my entire life.
He was the one who signed me up for basketball summer leagues and took me to the Nyack YMCA or parks as a kid to go play ball together or with people. I’m glad to have an older brother who loves the sport I love the most and to always be able to talk hoops with someone who has a tremendous work ethic, as he works pretty much every day.
Raheem, 29, is on course to graduate this winter with his degree in nursing as he wants to become a nurse and enjoys helping people and saving lives. He was a star football player growing up at Ramapo High School (which both my older brothers went to) and is more mellow and quieter than Andre. Raheem has the same love for soccer as I do for basketball. He’s helped me search for the two cars I’ve had and always helps me when there’s something wrong with my car.
Devonte, 21, is my younger brother, he’s the one brother I was growing up in the household with throughout all my years as a kid. He used to always bother me when I was peacefully playing with my toys or doing something. We used to always play basketball one-on-one and I always beat him. He wasn’t really into basketball like that until around middle school, but we’d get into fights sometimes as kids (as all siblings do), but always watched shows together or worked out together growing up
Paris, 17, is about to enter her senior year of high school at North Rockland (I can’t believe it). She’s the one who truly made me feel like a big brother once she was born in May of 2006 as I was a little kid saying I now have a sister to protect. She’s grown into a very bright young woman who’s been consistently on the principal roll, and honor roll, taking AP courses, writing essays for fun, and been doing track since middle school. She wants to be a psychiatrist as she enters her senior year of high school.
Jayla, 12, is the youngest and the baby of the family as she’ll be 13 on November 4th, which is insane for me to think about, as it feels like she was just born yesterday and all the years I used to put her to nap time or had to babysit her in high school outside of basketball and school. She’s the sweetest little girl with the biggest heart and loves to get in the kitchen and cook. She’s entering her 8th grade year.
I can’t forget my older brothers' father Jack, the man who I consider my dad as he’s treated all of us like his own children and has always been there since I was a baby. Cooking me meals, giving me life lessons on women, and life, teaching me how to drive, and being a man overall. I always tell him I love him because without him I don’t know where I’d be today just like without my mom.
Me, Andre, and Jack (left)
Priscilla is like a second mother figure to me whom I first met in 2009, but didn’t get to know her until around 2013. She’s an amazing person who’s been a nurse for a long time now, even teaches students, and has her master's which she obtained while working a full-time job at the same time! She can cook and always does fun stuff with my sisters, and we even went to Virginia together in the Summer of 2013 which was fun.
Me, Jack (left), and Priscilla (right) at my 18th/high school graduation party in July 2018
Now to my godmother Karen. Karen has been my mom's best friend for over 30 years since they were little kids. She was there when I was born and always used to babysit me and my siblings growing up. While my mom was at work she was the one who made us food, took us to the park, showered us when we were little, and bought us clothes, food, Christmas gifts, and so forth. I’m forever grateful to call her my godmother.
Me and my godmother (Karen) at my college graduation from New Paltz on May 21, 2022
I also can’t forget my Uncle Kirk who I looked up to growing up as he was muscular like Hulk, having played football and basketball growing up, and used to always playfully beat me up lol, and is very successful, who I love very much. He and Andre always tell me to keep striving for greatness.
My Uncle and I after graduating from North Rockland High School on June 22, 2018
My auntie Yvonne and Grandma have always shown us love and helped out my mom whenever they can and are kind souls who can cook up a storm. I’m glad to have them as a part of my family.
My auntie Yvonne (left of me) and Grandma (right of me) at my high school graduation
Lastly, my cousin Jayson (as I’ll get into more family later), whom I was just in California with this past August I always looked up to as he’s four years older than me. He was a track star growing up in middle and high school, even doing it in track at the D! Level before his hip injury prevented him from continuing his career unfortunately.
He’s an elite editor with photography and videography and a mastermind with DaVinci and Adobe Premiere and technology in general, similar to Andre. Jayson can dance as I wish I could dance like him but he can’t ball like me so it’s ok lol.
Me & Jayson posing on Santa Monica Pier at Santa Monica Beach August 26, 2023
I also want to shout out my other cousins Lucky and Kamahni (who I can’t find a picture with) who are always there for me, had great battles on the court together, and are truly genuine people who’ve helped me along the way. Lucky was a star back in his day in high school and college, and Kamahni as well when at Spring Valley High School.
So now that you guys know some of my immediate family let's get into my life.
For my first few years growing up, I lived in Spring Valley, NY near my grandma with my mom, and younger brother Devonte. I don’t remember that part as much as that was before I was five years old, but it was a single floor apartment in a complex filled with many apartments in rectangular shape filled with neighbors.
I graduated from DayCare in 2005. I’m still friends with and know people to this day from then such as my friends Madison, the Julien twins (Christopher & Angelique), Nehru (godbrother), and Tyler.
I remember those simple days of just being a kid goofing around playing with the toys in the sandbox, naptime, and the playground. Just being a kid. I used to always follow Madison around lol as we used to do everything together, along with Brandon.
I don’t remember daycare too vividly, but I do remember the simplicity of being a little kid and the people I met very early on in my life.
One of the houses I lived in.
In 2005 we moved to Suffern, another town in Rockland County. We stayed there from Kindergarten through 2nd grade where I attended R.P. Connor Elementary School. My mom, Michael, Devonte, and Paris (once she was born) all lived there. Suffern is where I learned how to spell my name, write, you know the basic school functions of the early grades such as addition and subtraction.
I remember playing with my Nintendo DS back in the day during my free time, which was very popular at the time, or watching the iconic childhood shows of my generation on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network (RIP), or Disney Channel. Some of the shows I grew up on heavily were Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Kim Possible, Ben 10, and Power Rangers to name a few.
Since I was a boy of course Ben 10, Drake & Josh, and Suite Life of Zack & Cody stood out to me the most. These were young kids living the dream in terms of Drake & Josh in Hollywood from hot girls, good music, celebrities, or Zack & Cody as young meddling kids in a hotel with room service, good food, and seemingly anything you want. I was in a fantasy world watching these shows.
Ben 10 and Power Rangers made me want to be a superhero with powers and fight all the bad guys/crime in the world. Ben 10, stood out to me more though due to all the different aliens he has with the Omnitrix and all the different superpowers each one has. I used to have the Ben 10 watch later on and always pretended to protect the universe as a kid.
The kid shows aren’t haven’t been the same since after my generation, but I’m glad during my childhood I had good.
While in Suffern I wasn’t too heavily into sports yet between 5-7 years old when I was there. I watched that Super Bowl where Eli Manning made that amazing throw and David Tyree made that otherworldly catch to ruin the perfect season for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, but I didn’t understand it too much yet.
I also occasionally watched basketball, such as Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, young LeBron James & Dwyane Wade, or Allen Iverson crossing up folks. But not as much as I would a little later on.
My first time picking up a basketball was at five years old. I wanted to be like Michael Jordan… Who didn’t? The way they spoke about Jordan I thought he never missed a shot, me being only five I didn’t know better. When I did that weak shot the way all young kids shoot when they first shot I airballed and missed and said damn how did Jordan do it lol.
I didn’t truly take the game seriously until I was eight years old, but little did that five-year-old know that game, just picking the ball up would change his life forever, giving me life lessons, and teaching me discipline that I’m forever grateful for today.
I not only played basketball for the first time while attending R.P. Connor but also had my first crush in 2nd grade. Her name was Robyn. I was very shy as a kid when I was younger, but I used to write her love cards and give her compliments, and we always played together at recess.
I was already learning the game at seven lol just kidding, but yeah even kissing her on the cheek one time on Valentine's Day made her blush. Those good simple times of being a kid.
During my time at Suffern my sister Paris was born on May 6, 2006. My first sister was brought into the world. I felt even more obligated as a big brother to protect my sister despite being just five when she was born. I remember the days of holding her and playing peek a boo making her laugh as a baby and seeing her crawl. That made me proud to be a big brother.
From playing peek-a-boo with my newborn sister, Nintendo DS, watching classic kid shows from my generation, my first crush, and first playing basketball and seeing sports all took place in Suffern. Michael used to be a huge sports fan of football, basketball, and baseball, that’s how I first observed sports growing up seeing him watch it on the old school's big heavy televisions they had in the 2000s.
Eventually, my family and I ended up moving from Suffern to Tuxedo for a year before my third-grade year. This time we had a big backyard with grass for the first time in my life, along with a driveway filled with rocks for ourselves.
Tuxedo is where I first learned how to ride a bike, and started playing even more sportlike activities outside of school for fun at home such as football, throwing a frisbee, and so forth, as I used to have this sportlike kit for kids.
I attended Central Valley Elementary School during my third and fourth-grade years. At eight years old, I started taking basketball seriously. I always played at recess, and rebounding was my strongest skill to begin with, as I always went up high in the air like someone on a trampoline for the ball like I was Dennis Rodman with spring chicken legs.
I wasn’t skilled yet offensively at the time, such as shooting, dribbling, and passing, but rebounding and defense are all about effort and the will to do it, and I’ve always been good at those since day 1.
Since I started to take the game more seriously in third grade whenever we as a class went to the library to get books for reading time, I always chose books of sports or biographies of iconic athletes.
I would read about the Giants, Brady, every Michael Jordan book, Kobe, LeBron, and many others. These books interested me seeing all the great things these people have done.
I didn’t have a hoop at my house in Tuxedo, unfortunately, and there was no park I could go to on my own and no one to bring me so I could work on my game, which sucked. So I took advantage of every moment that I could work on my game at recess, but you could only do so much when other kids are trying to play and the ball you’re using isn’t always a real basketball (sometimes a bouncy ball).
At that time in 2008, the world was going through the Great Recession as Barack Obama was on his way to getting selected for his first term as the first Black President of the United States.
Around that time my mom. Devonte, Paris, and I ended up moving to Spring Valley. Next door to my godmother Karen, her cousin (ironically named Karen too who’s Nehru’s mom), and my godbrother Nehru.
Sometime around early 2009 we were in Spring Valley midway through my third grade year. At Nehru’s house, my younger brother Devonte and I played video games together, but we were mostly outside doing what boys do, from riding bikes, and scooters, skateboarding, and playing sports of course.
It didn’t matter how hot it was when I was young, I played in 70-degree weather to scorching 100 degrees or a little over, I was a different breed of energy when I was a kid for sure.
The Summer of 2009 is when I first truly started to get the chance to work on my basketball skills as Nehru’s neighbor who lived across the street from him, Danny, who was three years older than us, had a basketball hoop and a driveway to play at.
I would work on my game endlessly there, trying to improve my dribbling, working on my shot endlessly, and practicing passing the ball. We also all played one-on-one- or two-on-two. Usually whoever was on my team won as I hated losing. I could go all day playing basketball at that age as those were the days way before any major responsibilities, such as bills to pay, or having to think about my future. such as what college I wanted to go to.
By the time fourth grade came around in the fall of 2009, I wanted to test the improved skills I worked on all summer against people at recess…It paid off. My form was weird as a kid, as I had my right elbow a little out when shooting the ball first few years of playing.
Despite that, I went from a guy who could just rebound and defend, to someone who could shoot the ball, dribble some, and can pass. I was making shots from the corner, off the dribble, and doing fadeaways that I always studied Kobe on that summer.
I went from being someone who was picked midway when we had two captains choose the teams, to being the captain or someone who people always wanted first. It was good to see how far I’ve come in just a few months, but I never stopped working. I always was looking forward to recess and lunch to play basketball to get better and religiously read so many Michael Jordan, LeBron, and NFL books growing up.
My love for sports came around 8-9 years old, which is when I started to watch ESPN, TNT, and so forth seeing icons such as Stuart Scott bring “Hip-Hop” to sports reporting, Stephen A. Smith, Chris Broussard, and many others reporting about the game or breaking it down.
The first NBA Finals I truly watched was in 2010 when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in seven games which saw Kobe capture his fifth title. That motivated me to continue working on my game and inspired me, as that was the first time I watched the Finals.
I remember one time in the summer of 2010 I watched the movie “Like Mike” which starred Lil Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Brenda Song, and numerous NBA legends such as Iverson, Vince Carter, Steve Nash, David Robinson, and more.
The classic “They’re Playing Basketball” song inspired me, and seeing Bow Wow doing Jordanesque-type moves in the movie made me go outside and work on them such as the in-air switching hands move he did against the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals.
The movie helped grow my love for basketball even more. That same day, or a few days after I challenged Danny and Nehru to play against me, one on two. Yes, I was that confident I could beat them, plus I wanted to work on my offensive moves, and creating my own shot without a teammate to help me.
Danny was taller than me and stronger than me at the time. Nehru was around my height at nine years old so I had no advantage. I was losing at first, 20-10, as we played by twos and threes, but then ended up scoring 109 points in total to beat them 109-77! I was ecstatic, exhausted, and jubilant about what I had just done, dripping in sweat as we played hard for two to three hours straight.
Danny, Nehru, and I each gave each other dap and good sportsmanship as they said “great game” to me as they were stunned themselves.
I went off: Hitting fadeaways, finishing at the rim, and working on my defense as well, trying to guard two people at once, which made me good at switching over and an elite shot blocker later on in middle school and high school.
It started there.
Andre saw my growing love for basketball and signed me up for the RABA (Ramapo Amateur Basketball Association) Summer Basketball League. I was excited and nervous as this was the first time I’d ever played on an organized team and didn’t know what to expect.
RABA fell off years later competition-wise, but when I was young it was fierce. There were different age groups of leagues but for some reason, I was nine playing against kids who were two to three years older than me. It was my first time playing in front of a crowd so I was nervous before each game, palms sweaty, my heart racing, and so forth.
I only scored three baskets that summer league, as it showed to me I still have a lot more to work on. Those three baskets against kids much bigger than me in height, stronger than me, and more advanced as they seemed they’ve been playing much longer than me exposed me to a lot and some of the talent around the county, and that I had work to do.
One basket came off a jumper from the right corner that swished through the net, another came off a pull-up jumper over a defender much taller than me that swished right through the net, and the last one came off a drive to the basket where I had to readjust in the air with a defender coming to help and finished with my right hand soft off the backboard.
Our team wasn’t very good, but the experience was good to get as that was the first time I also played against Marcellus Earlington and Isiah Charles who both went on to have storied high school careers.
Earlington was a big husky strong kid when we were young as he was much stronger than me at nine years old. From a young age, he had advanced moves and I already knew he was going to be special as he was a bully in the paint.
Charles was a point guard with elite speed, handles, passing ability, and a solid midrange game. I remember one game against another team he balled out on them in Adidas flip-flops and socks on because he forgot his shoes home. That’s how much he loved the game.
The summer of 2010 was eventful and it only continued.
That same summer another one of my idols' life was about to change, LeBron James, as that was the year of “The Decision”. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Geez time flies by. I had a summer league game that day and kept pondering where James was going to go. I told my mom that day “Hurry we need to get home so I can watch LeBron’s decision.”
We rushed home. I quickly go shower and eat dinner, and my eyes are glued on ESPN before James' decision, during, and after, as legendary sports reporter Jim Gray hosted the interview.
I’m downstairs watching on the flatscreen TV seeing James sweating, the weight of the world on his shoulders as millions are watching to know where he’ll be playing in 2010-11. As the words came out “ This fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
The reaction to it was unprecedented. At nine I’m seeing people burn the man's jersey, calling him a traitor, a loser, and a lot more harmful things. I didn’t mind the move, as I saw this as a way for James to enhance his legacy and he gave everything he could to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers during his first stint there as they failed to put the proper pieces around him to contend for a title.
That was a benchmark moment for me in my love for basketball and sports, as it was the first major decision and benchmark moment in sports I watched live in the moment that altered an iconic athlete's career forever.
Small town of Highland Falls with a population of just over 3,700 people (Times Herald-Record)
Fast forward to later that summer. Me and my family moved to a small town in Orange County called Highland Falls, New York in August of 2010. I had just turned 10 years old and started to become obsessed with the game of basketball more once I got there.
Highland Falls is a small town with a population of less than 4,000 people. Once at Highland Falls, we had a parking lot big enough for me to work on my game but unfortunately, I didn’t have a hoop until 2012.
So what did I do the first two years we lived there? I shot at a wall that hit my house and made a noise. There was this white small dot on the wall I aimed at it like it was a hoop to work on my accuracy, preciseness, shooting, etc.
I worked on my game in scorching heat, it didn’t matter if it was 100 degrees out, a little chilly out, windy, or drizzling rain. I was out there working unlike any other, not just on my shot off the dribble from deep in the parking lot that had a little steep hill and a line I used as my three-point mark.
But also throwing the ball up in the air and slapping it against the wall with each hand to work on my shot blocking and timing, or dropping the ball and swiping at it with each hand to work on stealing the ball and my quick reaction.
Drills nobody else would ever think of as an adult let alone a skinny 10-year-old kid. I was determined, driven, and obsessive. Whenever I wasn’t practicing I was inside on the computer looking at highlights of NBA legends and studying the history of the game and its greatest players.
I used to always annoy my godmother if we could go to the park (as I was too young to go alone at that time). At times she would bring me, but not all the time as I would either just do my drills outside like I usually did, or sneak to the park to shoot on an actual hoop.
A few months after we moved, my youngest sister Jayla was born on November 4, 2010. While growing up in Highland Falls I remember tickling her in her crib, putting her to sleep for nap time at times, and having her lay on me until she went to sleep. I even fed her food at times.
I was a little older when she was born compared to Paris, still a kid, but older so I did more this time as a big brother such as putting her to sleep and stuff. It felt good to have another sister so Paris wasn’t the only girl and wouldn’t be alone.
That same year Jayla was born was the year I started at Highland Falls Intermediate School (HFIS) and at the time I was there spanned from 3rd-8th grade.
I was heading into my fifth-grade year. This is the place where I made some lifelong friends with whom I’m still in contact to this day over a decade later such as my guys Lance, Nelson, Tristan Vega, and Jamel to name a few.
I also met Luis, Jon Kuiken, Dyneil (aka Boo), Danny Lennon, Dashaun Graham (Lance’s older brother), Malik Johnson, and so forth. Me, Lance, Jon, Nelson, Danny, and Luis were all in the same grade. Malik and Dashaun were eighth graders at the time, and Jamel was the grade above me.
Everyone except Tristan really played ball at the time, but Tristan was my best friend in fifth grade. We hung out all the time and literally did everything together outside basketball. He’s one of the coolest, realest, most genuine people I’ve ever met and we’re still friends to this day.
Highland Falls is where my love for basketball became an obsession. It’s all I talked about for the most part, especially in fifth grade, just ask Lance and Nelson. While there as a new kid, once again in a new place, having to adapt to different surroundings, I was shy at first but eventually made friends for a lifetime.
Me and the boys always looked forward to recess time because that’s what we loved to do most… Hoop. And of course, if we got time near the end of the day in school to go get even extra time outside if we finished all our work early and behaved.
Malik I looked up to as he was the star player in his oldest grade (8th) of the school and was/is a cool genuine guy who I idolized and emulated how he carried himself as a person. I didn’t see him much since he was in 8th and I was in 5th grade, but whenever we saw each other he would say “I heard about you” and it was always mutual respect and laughs.
Dashaun is Lance’s older brother. He currently plays professional volleyball for a living, but back then he was a freakish athlete, strong, agile, playing football as a wide receiver, played basketball, and volleyball as well.
He could jump out of the gym and had elite hands in football. He always kept it real and was a laid-back, cool, and fun guy.
While in Highland Falls the new kid became the best in his grade. My obsession and psychotic work ethic had me balling at recess, outplaying everyone as my motor could go all day because I was used to it from all the work and countless hours I put in during my free time.
I was hitting fadeaways with ease, drilling shots easily off the dribble, hitting shots over double teams with a hand in my face, and so forth. I dreaded losing, even at recess. I went from the new kid no one knew about to the kid everyone wanted first on their team and said “Damn” when I got picked first.
Me and Lance were like a dynamic duo. He was the point guard, I was the big man. Imagine Penny Hardaway and a much shorter, skinny Shaquille O’Neal together… We never lost. Like legendary rapper, Big Sean said “Shit feel like Penny and Shaq got back together. You tore the game apart, who put it back together?”
That was me and Lance, we had a dynamic screen-and-roll game that worked almost every time with either me or him scoring, or opening up an easy shot for someone else.
I would be the roller, pop out, or slip the screen. People usually double-teamed me all the time because they knew I was the primary scorer all the time.
Early on I was a bit of a ball hog in my years at Highland Falls, as I would pass, but preferred to score and will my team to victory ala Jordan and Kobe. I used to have these NBA notebooks (yes I was that obsessed), three of them while at it that I think I still have to this very day.
I used to imagine in my head before each week which player I wanted to play like on which day at recess and try emulating their moves and diversify my game. My imagination was wild as a 5’2 skinny fifth-grade kid.
Nelson was another true hooper in my grade, many said we were the two best in our grade and I agree. We both rarely were on the same team together growing up because it would’ve been a nightmare for the opponent.
Nelson was pretty strong, had a solid jumper, could handle, and played hard-nosed defense. I remember whenever we played against each other and I hit all these different wild crazy shots on him, or him with another defender trying to guard me, he just glanced at me and laughed, or stared at me stunned.
I’d do the same when he did as well and tapped him on the back out of respect. He and I were feisty competitors trying to prove who was the best in the grade, as he was best in the grade before I came.
All those battles on the court with me him, Lance, Jon, Danny, Myles Hudson, Dashawn, Luis, and many others were days I will never forget. It made me fall in love with the game more as I was more of a perimeter player in my years prior to high school.
It wasn’t just me scoring though, as I started to become a defensive stalwart. All the drills I worked on at home paid off, from throwing the ball up in the air working on my shot blocking to swiping at the ball to speed up my hand-eye coordination. I started blocking people's shots and swiping the ball away like a fox taking it down in transition and finishing with a layup to end games at times or putting my team up more.
I started becoming more of a complete player but I still had weaknesses. I didn’t have much of a post-game in fifth grade, and my left hand was pretty weak. When I went up against Jamel (who was the best in sixth grade), and the older kids I hated going up against him because he talked so much trash I was a quiet kid but I’ll come right back at you if need be.
Jamel played football as well, so he had a stronger wider body than me, much stronger than me at that age and around my height. I would watch him hit crazy shots in people's faces growing up like it was nothing, similar to how I did against people in my class.
When we first went up against each other he was talking mad stuff in my ear, elbowing me, hand-checking, slapping at the ball, and all that. The first time I’d ever dealt with such physicality as I didn’t have a thick or muscular frame at that time.
I wanted to rip his head off.
We didn’t back down from each other, the two best in our respective grades everyone said who guarded each other not shrinking from the moment. I would guard him tight when I knew his shot was going, but sometimes to no avail as he’d still drain it and I’d get mad at times but started to respect him more and said to myself “Can’t do nothing about that, that’s just great offense.”
He would hit crazy shots from deep, and even one-legged fadeaways like he was Dirk Nowitzki. In my time at Highland Falls, he was my toughest matchup due to his strength, skill, trash talking, and IQ. I would come right back though, hitting shot after shot, driving to the rim on him, and I even had the famous Rajon Rondo-Hakeem Olajuwon fake in my bag that caught many people and scored off it.
I even blocked his shot and stole the ball from him at times which caught him off guard. From that point on he had respect for me and my hustle and saw I didn’t back down from a fight and always gave it my all.
There were good people in my grade such as Nelson, Lance, etc. But no one challenged me like Jamel and it made me better.
We went from two dogs clashing to brothers.
At the end of fifth grade, I found out my best friend Tristan and his older sister Alexa were moving and that hurt me. My brother from another, the person I pretty much hung out with all the time outside of hoops and told all my secrets to was gone. We eventually ended up going to the same high school together, but at the time I was deeply hurt and even wrote him a goodbye letter as he did the same for me.
That’s my brother for life and it’s always respect between us.
Going into the summer of 2011 I played RABA again. My team wasn’t very good again, but the team I was with was better than the one I was with the summer prior. I would still get nervous before games, but I did play better this time around.
I was scoring the ball more, rebounded, was our defensive anchor in the paint, and so forth. My role was different on teams compared to at fun for school. At school, I was more of a perimeter player, like a shooting guard or small forward.
On a team, they usually boxed me in as a big since I was either usually the tallest or second tallest kid on my teams growing up until I got to high school.
We didn’t finish with a good enough record to make the playoffs so I was mad about that, but I tried to look at the bright side and saw I was getting better.
After RABA was done I said to myself that summer I wanted to add to my game. Post-moves were a major strength of mine in middle and high school, but it wasn’t when I was younger. It all started in the summer of 2011.
I’m on my computer (as I didn’t get a phone until I was 12), studying Olajuwon and former Celtic great Kevin McHale’s footwork and moves in the post. I started going outside and working on them, whether it was on the wall, or high 10-11 foot cage at my house down the driveway, or at the park.
I’m working on hook shots (which became a signature of mine later on), up-and-under, the dream shake, turnaround fadeaways, and so forth constantly. I wanted to become a threat in the post.
I unfortunately never got to play for the school as modified was only for 7th and 8th graders so I was too young to even try out. I would ask my mom or someone else in my family if they could sign me up for the CYO basketball league or PAL that I used to hear about, but unfortunately, no one could, as I wanted to see if I got better in an organized league so I was stuck to depending on recess and whoever was at the park.
The work paid off again. In 2011-12, my sixth-grade year, my shot was off for some odd reason. It would still fall, but not at the same rate it was the year prior which ate at me as if I missed too much, practicing or in a game I used to get furious and kick the ball, punch it, and yell… I was that crazy.
Since my shot wasn’t falling as much, I started playing in the post and mid-post area more moves I worked on all summer. I’m there catching people with the dream shake, making them fly out of bounce with the fake, hitting hook shots over people’s outstretched arms, and utilizing the up-and-under move.
This is when my moves in the post started to come alive as I wasn’t doing this the years prior, as my game was more on the perimeter. I was finishing through contact yelling “And One!” Good old times.
Me, Lance, and Nelson were still wreaking havoc. The weather was colder that year so we were inside more. Lance’s jumper that year got better so whenever we did a pick-and-roll he could rise up and hit a jumper or dump it off to me to finish at the rim.
Around that time, Lance and I dreamed of playing high school ball and college together and dominating as our chemistry was immaculate. We dreamed big and thought of North Carolina as our dream school to play for Coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels.
That same year, LeBron won his first title as a member of the Heat and finally had the weight of the world off his shoulders now that he could call himself a champion.
I was happy for one of my idols, finally getting what he deserved after a historic postseason that saw me witness him have one of the most iconic games in NBA playoff history in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics that had Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo.
Seeing him do that inspired me to keep working hard to be successful in life. “Strive for Greatness” is his slogan, and that’s what I always reached for.
While in Highland Falls I did have two crushes, this girl named Jayde in fifth grade, and Morgan in sixth grade. Everyone knew it, as word always spread around, but I was very shy as a kid, I was too young to know how to approach a girl, how to talk to them, etc.
We were just kids. Me and Nelson had a little clash over Morgan (whom we both liked at the time), which kind of hurt our brotherhood for a bit, but we eventually made up and actually laughed at it now looking back as were just dumb kids lol.
In 2012 Nelson moved to Florida (where he still lives), so it sucked seeing one of my good friends move away, as it seemed I was the one who did the moving all the time. Seeing him and Tristan leave back-to-back summers had me feeling down a bit but that’s a part of life.
It taught me that not everything is permanent in life and things always change and are evolving.
In the summer of 2012I didn’t play RABA like the two summers prior, as I didn’t get to play again until the summer of 2015 after my freshman year of high school.
So in 2012, my last summer at Highland Falls I just did what I usually did, worked on my game endlessly, and received my first phone for my 12th birthday that July that was some old Pantech phone with low quality videos and pictures and a phone bill that was barely paid.
Heading into that year I’m finally stoked and excited to be eligible to play for the modified team. Me, Lance, Jon, Luis, Danny, and so forth all were looking forward to it. I remember the gym teachers in my time there Mr.Hendershot (the volleyball coach) and Mr.Arduino (the basketball coach) both loved my humility and personality.
I was a kid who always loved gym class, more than music, art, and chorus. I loved being active, running around, and being competitive. Despite gym being my favorite, my love for music culture and music started during my time at Highland Falls.
Listening to icons such as Drake, Chris Brown, Biggie, Nas, Michael Jackson, Outkast, Kanye, Lil Wayne, LL Cool J, J Cole, and so forth.
My love for music started there, listening to different songs on YouTube and albums.
I would start playing music when I was at the park working out (as I was now old enough to go by myself). I would play anything I thought was good as I was open minded (hence why I have such a good taste in music to this day).
Once basketball season came around for tryouts I did well in the drills and scrimmages. After one day though walking back home with my guy Rocco, who was also trying out for the team, I was very hungry after tryouts, starving. We’re walking back home talking and I see him eating M&M’s so I ask him if I could have some as I needed something.
Little did I know they were the peanut butter ones (he didn’t know I was allergic) as once I ate a few I started to feel weird. My head is getting dizzy, my stomach hurting, and so forth. I’ve been allergic to peanut butter from day one my mom said, smelling or eating, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become just when I eat it thankfully and not inhaling it too.
Rocco starts feeling bad and scared for me and I’m there feeling sick as a dog saying “It’s okay bro you didn’t know”. He walked me back home to make sure I was good and I told my godmother Karen I had peanut butter and wasn’t feeling good and she immediately called my mother.
Karen made me soup (which somehow saved me), I ate that and drank mad water to hydrate myself. When I was younger one time my throat closed my mom said so she was petrified to hear what happened. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it as I didn’t feel good but God saved me that day and gave that soup some superpowers because I didn’t even end up needing to inject my Epipen into my leg or arm.
I just drank lots of fluids and ate the ramen noodles soup my godmother made me. I could’ve been gone that day, but my godmother and that soup and water saved me.
The next day I’m back at school like nothing happened as if I was a mutant. Rocco was a nervous wreck worried about me asking if I was okay and how I was feeling. I said “I’m good brotha no worries” and he smiled and gave each other a dap and bro hug as he was relieved I was okay.
This was around late November or early December of 2012. I found out a few days later on a list on the wall I made the team but wasn’t excited as I found out a few days earlier that my family was moving and I wouldn’t even get a chance to play with Lance, Jon, Luis, etc for the first time on an organized team.
I was aggravated, infuriated. I didn’t want to move at all. I wanted to stay in Highland Falls and play with my guys and dominate high school together.
But unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Everyone heard I was moving and was sad about it. From Jon, Luis, Boo, Danny, Jamel, and so forth. I could tell brothas were disappointed and sad to see me go.
Lance took it the hardest. My first point guard, I consider him. The guy I always went to war with on the court, joked around in the classroom and talked about girls, life, sneakers, music, etc.
My brother who I dreamed of dominating middle school, high school, and hopefully college with I was leaving. It hit me harder than anyone else moving from Highland Falls as this was the first place I made a few lifelong friends, so to leave them hurt me more than any other place I moved from.
I cried some but there was nothing I could do about it… It was time for the next chapter.
That winter break of 2012 going into the year of 2013 me and my family moved to Nyack next door to Priscilla, Jack, and Priscilla's mom Ruthlyn as our neighbors.
This is midway through my 7th grade year. I ended up finishing my 7th grade year at Pomona Middle School.
Pomona Middle School in Suffern, NY Tania Savayan The Journal News
Coming to Pomona I’m not the most upbeat, I knew it was already too late to try out for the basketball team since it was January already and in the middle of the season.
I was irritable, frustrated, and annoyed at the world as this was also the age I was starting to approach puberty, which makes sense.
Once I got over my initial frustration of moving from Highland Falls, I ended up becoming friends with guys I can call my brothers to this day. From Anthony Simon, Malikh Honorius, Lamont Edwards, Nicholas Julien, his twin Noah Julien, Tarrique, Marco and Markenson, and so forth.
Lamont is a true baller, we got along from day one in the math class we had together. We always talked about Kyrie Irving, the NBA, etc. So much the teacher had to tell us “You boys can’t be quiet about your basketball huh?”
Lamont had a slick smooth handle and soft touch on his jumper. He reminded me of my guy Lance from Highland Falls in a way as we just got along from day one and always talked about anything.
Anthony and Malikh were ballers too. We all actually ended up going to college together and having a suite together at New Paltz. Anthony is genuinely one of the realest and hardest working people I’ve ever known. When he’s devoted to something he puts his all into it, similar to me, and that’s what he did at Pomona on the team, in high school at Ramapo that he went to, and eventually playing college ball at Dominican College and New Paltz.
Malikh was as tall as me or a little taller. We always talked hoops, from myself, he, Anthony, and Lamont all joked around at lunch/recess, talked about life, and talked about girls.
Nicholas is/was a star soccer player and has an insatiable work ethic and love for soccer. Noah is one of the funniest people I ever met and didn’t care what anyone thought of him. Markenson and Marco were twin brothers and they were guys you can trust and were funny.
I also met Chris Heaux there, we always talked hoops on the bus back home and are still friends to this day as well. He loved ball just as much as me and we always joked around in general like friends do.
At lunch in Pomona was different from what I was accustomed to in Highland Falls. The cafeteria was bigger, the school was bigger with more kids, and it seemed more from the hood. The stuff I saw from my eyes, heard from my ears, and experienced there was probably one of the first few moments in my life that woke me up a bit.
On the basketball court, I was a new kid once again, annoyingly so and tired of it at this point. I observed the way they played at Pomona, tougher, more rugged, physical, and more streetball-like.
I was seeing cats in the grade above me such as Cam Vaughn, Tyreek, and so forth killing everyone on the court with their speed, quickness, and toughness.
I don’t remember everyone’s name, but this kid Deontay, who was in my grade had some of the sickest handles I’d ever seen up to that point, as it seemed it was natural for him to dribble through tight spaces and finish, same for Lamont.
At first, I wasn’t used to the physicality at Pomona. It bothered me, I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the bumps, the speed was much faster than Highland Falls, and it seemed everyone had played organized ball for years or AAU(Amateur Athletic Union), which I didn’t have the luxury of having due to having a single parent and not enough money to join teams.
I’m struggling at Pomona at first, missing shots, getting bumped off my spots, and losing the ball at times. Like I’ve always done since I started taking the game seriously at eight years old, I’m there pissed at myself, cursing at myself like “C'mon man!”
That helped, I started to play better, making shots, rebounding, and playing good defense. I didn’t get to play as much as I wanted to as there were so many kids at the school, recesses were shorter, and kids were always lined up to play, so I didn’t always get to play as much as I did in Highland Falls.
Pomona was interesting as I was embarking on being a teenager so you know what that means… Girls. I always made sure to do good in my schoolwork growing up and always put school and basketball first. But since I couldn’t play as much due to so many kids and a short recess time, I needed to start venturing out of what I was used to.
At Pomona, I started listening to Kendrick Lamar, who had just dropped his iconic album “Good Kid, m.A.A.D City” around that time from “Money Trees”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Poetic Justice”, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and so forth.
I’m there listening to this masterpiece, my love for music growing and trying to relate it to life, which I would more of as I matured and got older. I also became obsessed with J. Cole’s new album “Born Sinner” with my favorite song “Power Trip” that I used to play over and over again and I remember every word of the song.
Around that time I saw many pretty girls at Pomona. I was a shy kid growing up, but someone did catch my eye. I’ve had crushes in the past, from Robyn (2nd grade), Jordan (4th grade), Jayde (5th grade), and Morgan (6th grade), but never had a girlfriend before.
I met this girl named Sanggadia, she was the grade above me. We were always on the same bus back home from school and always joked around together and usually sat next to each other or the seat in front or behind her.
We started off as friends first just enjoying each other's company. Eventually, people could tell I liked her and I admitted it to a few of my homeboys and her friends and they all were like “Awww” like people usually are when it comes to love.
I wanted to make it official so I got over my shyness as that little 12-year-old boy and asked her out on Valentine's Day of 2013. I bought flowers and a heart box full of chocolates that I gave her at her locker that I bought from the little money I had. As I ask her out and at her locker I see her eyes sparkling, her smile, and her her laugh… She said yes!
We hugged and kissed each other and she said “I’ll see you later” as the bell rang for the next period to start. My young 12-year-old self was so nervous before she said yes, as I couldn’t sleep the night before. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced such a feeling of being in a relationship at such a young age.
On the bus that day after school everyone was like “Awww look at you guys”. What made it even sweeter was it was on Valentines' Day, the day of love. Me and Sanggadia were friends beforehand so we always were cool with each other.
I would walk her to her class whenever I saw her. Give her a hug and kiss before going to class, leaving the bus, and so on. It sucks I was too young to go out on real dates, as we didn’t have money to really do so since we were only 12-13 years old.
She had a bubbly personality, similar to me, always smiling, optimistic, joyful, uplifting, loves music, and so forth is why we got along so well. She was the first girl I ever made out with as well. It felt weird at first, but somehow I was naturally good at it lol.
We lasted a couple of months and ended up parting ways since she was about to enter high school and I didn’t know if I was going to still attend Pomona for my eighth grade year.
We were still very much cool with each other after the breakup as we both understood. But having my first girlfriend at such a young age and it lasting a little while was the first time I was ever in a relationship.
So that was an exciting time in my life.
So 7th grade ended, and prior to my 8th-grade year, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Nyack Middle School (where we lived) or Pomona again. I didn’t really want to attend Pomona again because it was farther away. I’d have to wait at one of her friend’s houses prior to the bus coming early in the morning, and so forth.
Just too much added unnecessary stress. So I chose Nyack. Nyack was the first time I ever had to walk to school. I lived close to the school and many other kids walked as well. Those hills used to be a killer though, and when it rained or was cold.
(Entrance of Nyack Middle School)
While in Nyack I met my boy Jason Bridgewater, Justin Rodriguez (aka Spike), Baylen Rodriguez. Matt Semon, Nazir Williams, Brady Distefano, Michael Pavelchak, Raylen Boutin, Sahmeer, Tyron, and so forth. I played with everyone on the modified team that year with the exception of Brady and Nazir who was too young to play modified despite being good enough in sixth grade in my opinion to play, similar to my situation in Highland Falls.
Nyack was different from Pomona, similar but different as it didn’t seem as some would say “Ghetto” to describe Pomona, but similar as in the people were always down to have a good time and loved socializing.
I was the new kid once again, and by this time I was already used to it, as I moved from Spring Valley to Suffern, to Tuxedo, back to Spring Valley, then to Highland Falls, then Nyack. Think I was a veteran at that point at adapting to new surroundings and meeting new people.
Brady is one of the goofiest, funny, loving, most real people I’ve ever met. We’re still friends to this day as I still speak with Jason, Nazir, and Sahmeer from time to time. Nazir was/is a young prodigy in basketball as he now plays at DI at Cornell University and attended St. Joseph Regional High School.
I knew from a young age he was going to be special as he had the same fire as me, and ended up becoming one of his high school's all-time leading scorers. Sahmeer was also a new kid who came back to Nyack that year and played football for the school and was a funny dude.
Justin was a ladies' man and knew everyone, one of the jocks of the grade you could say as he was cool with kids in the high school as well. Tyron was also a member of the football team and a jokester who had an endless amount of energy.
Lastly, my guy Jason was a smooth operator with the ladies, a smart dude, skinny like me with long arms and limbs, and down to earth guy.
Starting my final year of middle school everyone kept talking and asking “Who’s the New Kid?” I had girls staring at me saying “Hi DJ”, I laughed nervously and somewhat confidently. I was becoming cool with the fellas, such as my guy Jason and Justin whom I later became teammates with, and Justin Marslyn who was a track star throughout his career in high school and college.
The court was in an area surrounded by trees around and hanging over which was in the way a bit from one of the hoops. The court in Nyack was smaller than Pomona as it was just one court as opposed to multiple hoops in a big driveway where all the buses came.
I played ball at recess but not as much as years past as I started to socialize with people more, play football here and there, frisbee, and so forth. Just meeting new people and doing new things outside of my comfort zone.
Come around the time for basketball tryouts, I had to prove I belonged. I was the only new kid not originally at the school who didn’t go to any of the elementary schools in Nyack or attended there in 7th grade. So I’m like a person on their first day at a new job trying to impress the boss.
And that’s what I did. I made sure that before basketball tryouts I got myself in shape. I went to the park down the hill in Nyack (where I always worked on my game), and worked on my handles outside Priscilla's house in the driveway dribbling around the chairs that were there. We lived upstairs and a Hispanic family downstairs.
I also did drills, running suicides/laps, and whatever I could do to prepare myself.
When tryouts came we did everything I worked on, dribbling drills, shots off the dribble, suicides, and defensive drills which I also worked on from my days back in Highland Falls.
I was able to impress the coach and saw on a paper a few days later that I made the team. I was ecstatic and stoked for the season.
Nobody knows this but on gamedays, home or away, I used to get up earlier and walk to the school, and the janitor Mr.Foreman (salute to him) would open the gym for me and let me get shots up and hour and change before school started.
He was a baller himself back in the day so he taught me some pointers about the game and life that I’ll never forget as he had a funny walk as he told me the story of what happened to one of his legs.
He was a lefty with a crazy jumper who didn’t seem to miss when we shot around. I took what he taught me about life and basketball and tried applying it to my life. He once always told me “Do good in school, stay away from drugs, and always have a backup plan.”
I remembered those words forever as they stayed in the back of my mind later on in my high school and college years.
While in 8th grade I was still a little timid, but I did date this Italian girl Sophia Purpura. She was around my height or a little shorter at the time as I was 5-foot-8 in 8th grade.
She was a brunette with beautiful brown eyes, nice eyelashes, a soft voice, and a great personality. I was new so we didn’t know each other beforehand like I did Sanggadia at Pomona.
We dated for a little while but eventually broke up, but were still cool and in a good place afterward. I would walk her to her class, give her a kiss before dropping her off, when I saw her, at the end of the school day, and so forth while also sitting at her lunch table at times.
I wasn’t really “allowed” to have a girlfriend yet (already had two by the time I was in 8th grade lol) as my mom didn’t get comfortable with me having girls until later on when I was 15-16.
Getting back to basketball now.
So early on in practices and scrimmages, I’m observing my teammates' strengths and weaknesses to see where I fit in and how I could make them better. I remember early on in my days playing ball in 4th and 5th grade I was a ball hog, but I evolved by the time I got to 8th grade.
I was more of a team player as I witnessed the talent I saw around me. Justin didn’t have the best jumper but was a slick ball handler who was an elite playmaker and a pass-first guard.
Jason was a true shooting guard who could shoot from deep, around the same height as me, had a handle, could finish well at the rim, and played hard on defense. He would hit some of the toughest shots I’ve seen growing up.
Michael was a short lefty who could shoot the lights out and had a little handle as our backup point guard at times, but mostly a spot-up shooter.
Baylen was our center, as he was stockier than me and had more girth to him compared to my skinny frame.
I was the power forward, rebounding everything, the post presence for the team could hit the midrange, and guarded the opposing team's best frontcourt player, as I embraced the challenge.
Matt was like NBA Player Kyle Anderson, he moved in slow motion, not the quickest or most athletic guy, but was tall, had long arms, could shoot, handle a bit, and be a secondary or tertiary playmaker if needed.
The 7th graders I remember coming off our bench were Thomas, Patrick, and Raylens to name a few who all contributed in different ways.
I don’t remember our record from that year in 2013-14, but I knew we did well that year, really well. Jason, Spike, Baylen, and I were the four same starters all season, with Matt and Michael being interchangeable.
If we wanted to go small they played me at center to give Baylen a breather and put Matt at the four spot, as he was tall too.
I was happy to see the team winning, I was also playing great basketball as well individually. All those years working on my game for hours in scorching heat, in rain, at the YMCA in Nyack, all the defensive drills I would do were paying off that year.
I was blocking shots left and right, making opponents fear coming in the paint. Jason was our best perimeter defender, I was our best interior defender. So whenever there was an elite guard on the opposing team he said he got ‘em, as he was just as competitive as me.
Whenever a guard beat him off the dribble (which rarely happened) I was there right behind him as the anchor as a double sword to force a turnover or block their shot. Or whenever a player beat Baylen in the post or someone else off the dribble I was there to either swat the shot or alter it which helped our team as I was a jumping rabbit who could go all day.
I would display my post moves that all started way back in the summer of 2011, finally getting the chance to fully display them on an organized team. I’m doing hook shots, the dream fake, and up-and-under.
I was never a three-point shooter throughout my career or took the ball upcourt, as I had elite guards who could do that such as Justin and Jason in middle school, and later on in High School with John John, Jacob, Adrian, Brendan, Cincere, Chris, and Dylan.
Speaking of them, me and the team were having a great season, but my best game ever came against Fieldstone on January 24, 2014. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
I remember hearing that Fieldstone was really good with elite players and probably was the best team in our area at the time. I didn’t know any of the players at the time except for Marcellus whom I played in all those RABA battles in the past.
I remember that morning I was at the school early working on my dribble with my ball, putting up shots crazy going hard, robust in my movements, moving with a purpose, as I knew this was a big name happening later that day.
Nyack vs. the North Rockland kids basically. I was a little nervous that day but in the gym that morning Mr. Foreman said “Just play your game young fella and leave it all out there on the floor.”
During school that day I’m just thinking of the game, anxious, prepared, focused. When we got into the locker room that day my hands were sweaty, I was nervous, but a good nervous as I felt good after getting all them extra shots up that morning.
We say a speech as a team in the locker room and go running out to our homecourt to warm up. As I run out I see the crowd. Loud, and energetic, it’s packed in there for that game.
While warming up I looked down the other end to see who was on the other side. I see John John, Marcellus, Carlens, Dylan, Alex Amaro, Michael Kimble, Seyon, Jacob, Clark, and so forth.
Most of them I would play with at some point in high school with the exception of Marcellus (Don Bosco) and Seyon (Westtown) as they went to different high schools.
As warmups are going I’m seeing Carlens dunk easily, as he was an athletic freak of nature, and everyone cashing every shot. In my head, I was like “ This is going to be a tough one.” But I was ready for it.
Many had Fieldstone winning that game as they were a stacked middle school team that had two teams, with the other having Evan and Adrian Amaro who were my high school teammates as well. Just mad talent all around.
We played their red team that day. As the refs threw the ball up in the air me and Carlens jumped for it (I usually jumped for the ball over Baylen since I had more lift). I ended up having the best statistical night of my career.
The game was a competitive one throughout the whole game. Every time I shot the ball it seemed to go in, all those shots I got up that morning really paid off. I’m hitting everything, spot up midrange jumpers with Spike and Jason finding me, getting to the line, and ones, and doing work in the post. Just a straight machine that day.
I wasn’t only scoring though, as I also rebounded the ball well, and was taking on the challenge of guarding Marcellus and Carlens, which was very taxing and demanding as they were both stronger than me, but I used my athleticism and length to bother them which worked that night.
I was blocking shots, causing deflections, just anything I could do to help my team win against a powerhouse. We ended up winning the game. The crowd was going wild cheering “ Let’s go Nyack!”
As we won the game, I finished with a career-high 32 points, had around 10 rebounds, a couple of blocks, and steals, and went to the foul line a few times. I also drew a few charges that game, which I started becoming good at in eighth grade and later helped me in high school.
As the crowd was cheering “Let’s go Nyack!” as we lined up as teams do to show sportsmanship after a game, I felt chills down my spine, I was exhausted and basically played the full game without a breather.
I’m dapping up some of my future teammates I would play with in high school, but I didn’t know that at the time as I was cherishing the moment. I just had the best game of my career, and what made it better was that we won the game against the best team in our area which was stacked with talent.
As the crowd was cheering loudly, the team and I headed upstairs to the locker room. We all went crazy in the locker room, we just pulled off an upset against a top team in the area.
Everyone started to congratulate me and joked, punching me saying “You carried us today boy!” I was so jubilant inside, I wanted to cry. This is the kind of moment I wanted all my life.
All those years of constantly working on my game for countless hours, studying the greats, doing all these crazy abnormal drills most kids wouldn’t dream of doing, a kid who didn’t play AAU at all up to that point.
It finally paid off in what was one of the highest moments of my basketball career. I said to myself “This is what we work for” as I shed a few tears.
I was the last one to leave the locker room as I waited till everyone went downstairs that night. I gathered myself together after an emotional rollercoaster of a night and went downstairs and a plethora of people were giving me hugs and congratulating me on a masterful performance.
I was searching for Mr. Foreman and saw him and he said “ Now that’s what I’m talking about young fella.” I said to him “Thank you for allowing me to come into the gym all these days to get extra shots up,” “ Thank you for believing in me.”
We gave each other a dap and fist pound out of respect.
As I was walking home that cold night I couldn’t stop thinking about the game and everything that had just happened. I go and tell my family and they’re proud of me, as they all had to work so they couldn’t make it, which bummed me out a bit.
Me and the boys ended up finishing the season strong that year despite losing in the playoffs. After the season I would play AAU for the first time for this organization called Inspirational Hoopz formed by Mike McNair who had played college ball and professionally overseas.
The workouts were more intense than anything I was ever used to. It pushed me. I loved it. AAU I always heard stories of it over the years. I really wished I had the opportunity to play from a younger age so I could be more advanced, but I didn’t have that luxury like most kids did as AAU was expensive and cost money.
Mike luckily had a talk with my mom and they were able to work something out. We’re doing drills that I never thought of before and I’m learning different shooting drills I could do such as form shooting drills I never knew of before which I took with me into high school and so on.
To make a long story short, AAU opened me up for the first time to the talent outside Rockland County as I was exposed to people all over the country. Our team wasn’t good at all, as it was the inaugural season of the organization, but I was able to hold my own at times.
Other times I did get in foul trouble as I was the big man of the team since there was no one taller than me. Unfortunately, I was only 5-foot-8 while opposing teams had people 6-foot and up.
It sure was an experience. I was frustrated about the losing, but was happy to get to travel to different places such as Hoop Group and many other tournaments and places and just experience new areas and witness the talent around the United States.
I held my own defensively and in the post, but the game was much faster, players stronger, more skilled, agile, etc. It was a different world, so at the conclusion of that AAU season, I knew I had much to work on, especially offensively.
Fast forward to June of 2014, it’s time for me to graduate middle school. I have my mom, my siblings, Priscilla, Jack, Karen, and my aunt there at my graduation.
As I’m graduating I hug my friends I made in my time at Nyack and was grateful for my time there. Pomona and Nyack took me out of that small town of Highland Falls and really exposed me to what the world is truly like since Highland Falls is a small town upstate away from everything for the most part.
I became a better socializer because of Pomona and Nyack. If there’s anything my early years taught me before high school is how to adapt to change, meet new people, learn how to make new friends anywhere, my growing love for music, and my work ethic from a young age in life were already installed.
I was/am a go-getter, always have been, always will be. Whenever I’m dedicated to something and love it, best believe I’m giving you everything I have every day.
But it was time for the next step of my life, an era of my life where I would go through adversity for the first time in my life, a lot of physical pain, struggle with self-doubt at times, navigating what I wanted to do with my life while trying to figure out who I am as a person and see friends come and go: High School.