“Mom, one day, I promise you, you’re going to be living inside of a house like that.”
It was the first mansion I’d ever seen in my life. Huge, sprawling, bigger than any house I knew existed. I was nine years old, sitting in the car with my mom, and those words came tumbling out of my mouth.
I didn’t know where they came from, or how I’d keep my promise. I couldn’t see into the future. But I could see the pain on my mom’s face, the pain that comes from raising three children on her own, the pain of working two jobs, of getting laid off time and time again. She didn’t like to show it, and she tried to hide it, but it was there. And I was tired of it.
It didn’t matter that I was nine, or that I didn’t know how I was going to do it; all that mattered was that, someday, I’d make sure my mom would never have to work again.
Now, she won’t have to, because I’m going to play for the Adelaide 36ers of the National Basketball League in Australia.
You probably know that that wasn’t the original plan. This fall, I was supposed to be playing for the University of Arizona. But when life gives you an opportunity like this, you can’t pass it up!
Until my sophomore year of high school, I didn’t even know if I could play professionally. It wasn’t until I started seeing my name popping up in a few articles talking about prospects that I realized there was a slight chance I could make it in the pros, maybe even the NBA.
When I saw those articles, it just made me work harder to be even better. I won gold at the Under-16, 17, and 19 FIBA Championships. My senior year, I was named a McDonald’s All-American. Playing ball at a top school was the natural next step, right?
I thought so, too, until the Nike Hoops Summit. That’s when the 36ers approached me.
They really liked how I played, and started talking about how they could develop me even further. That’s what really got my attention.
In terms of development, players from overseas are further along than players here. Just look at the last NBA Draft. In college, you have time limits on your workouts, you have class, you have so many other things taking up your time. Overseas, you’re on your own, playing in a grown man’s league. You’re working out twice a day, just focusing on basketball.
I’ve played against a lot of guys from overseas, and I’ve heard about how many hours they put in. If I get that many hours, with my talent, my athleticism, my game, my mindset, I can be one of the best players in the nation. I can be a top draft pick.
It was intriguing, really intriguing. At first I was going to turn them down, even though it sounded so good.
That offer stuck in my head, though. First it was just a small thought in the back of my head, then I couldn’t think about anything else. Luckily, I knew someone who had gone through this the year before: Emmanuel Mudiay. He played in China instead of playing for a year at SMU. He said I had an amazing opportunity, and that my situation was actually even better. That really got me thinking even harder about that offer!
But I wasn’t going to make a decision without my family. My mom, my brother and my sister have been there for me through everything.
I moved to Texas when I was 11. We were in a bad neighborhood, and when my brother and sister saw just how bad it was, they told my mom, “He can’t go to school here. He can’t. Take him somewhere else.”
She enrolled me in a home-school program, something that would keep me far away from any trouble. Meanwhile, my brother and sister went to a regular school.
They sacrificed for me, they’ve always looked out for me. There was no way I could make this life-changing decision without them.
So I gathered everyone together, and we talked. It was a long night. We discussed everything, the good and bad, pros and cons of both decisions. Moving half a world away from everything you know isn’t something you take lightly. Looking back, though, I don’t know how it took us so long to decide.
I mean, think about it, I’m going to be a professional basketball player! I get to take care of my family! My mom doesn’t have to work anymore! That’s every kid’s dream. I’m smiling right now as I write this!
Maybe you think I’m crazy — crazy for passing up on the college experience, the parties, playing at one of the best schools in the country, being the big man on campus.
Honestly, I don’t need all that. I think some guys get it into their heads that college is everything, that going to Duke or North Carolina or whatever is an automatic ticket to the NBA. But anything can happen. Nobody really thinks about that. An injury or a bad year can ruin your career, and I’m trying to take care of my family.
I was incredibly grateful to coach Miller and coach Richardson, but my choice was obvious.
And, man, I’m ready. I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. I’m already getting chills imagining coming through that tunnel, wearing that jersey, hearing the crowd get excited. I can’t wait to show out.
I’ve been working out three times a day trying to get my body in shape, pushing myself past my limits. I’m working nonstop on my off-the-dribble game, bringing the ball off screens, honing my one and two-dribble pull-ups, everything that’ll help me be successful in Australia. I can’t be scared, and I’ve got to be prepared.
Here’s the funny thing about that promise: I didn’t believe it, not at the time. I just said it out of the blue. And if I could go back and talk to that nine-year-old me, I’d tell him to believe in that promise, and believe in everything he does. Always give thanks to the big man upstairs, and always take what people say to heart. Work as hard as you can to become a better person on and off the court. It’s going to pay off in the long run.
No, I won’t get to hear thousands of fans scream “Bear down!” I won’t get to play for a national championship. I won’t be at the massive parties or experience the college lifestyle.
But I get to be with my family. I get to make sure my mom never works again. I get to keep my promise.