Underrated for Life


(Featuring Special Guest Editor Stephen Curry) I’m 17 years old right now.

That means I was seven when Steph Curry made it to the league. 

(Guest Editor Stephen Curry: Mannnnn, seven? Really?! This story already has me feeling old. It’s O.K., though. I’m going to rock with it anyway. I’m at peace with it.)

I’m not going to lie, though. I didn’t know who that dude was back then. I didn’t hear his name for the first time until a few years later.

When I was growing up in Piscataway, New Jersey, my guy was Mike Vick. I used to play football out on the fields near my house. My friends and I would spend our summer nights just ballin’ out in that sticky Jersey heat. They used to call me “Playstation.”

Like, “Ayoooooo, there he go again … Playstation got the moves.” 

(Stephen: That’s awesome. My friends used to call me “Samsonite.” Like the suitcase. Because I always had handles. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute. Yeah. Not nearly as cool as Playstation. )

I used to think I could see like, three or four seconds ahead of everybody else. I played quarterback because that’s where Mike and Cam Newton played. Those were my guys. They were just … different. They had that way about them — so unpredictable and quick. I remember just rolling out of the pocket, looking at a defender like, Please … please, come at me. Because everybody knew I was going to hit ’em with the juke-stick.

It was all about the highlights.

Maybe they should call kids my age the Highlight Generation. 

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(Stephen: I was more like the early DVR era. It was a little harder for us to source the material. And you couldn’t forget to schedule that extra hour on the DVR. That was crucial. You had to pad it out in case it went to OT. Otherwise you’d be eating your breakfast cereal, watching the West Coast games from the night before, and all of a sudden it would cut to Dr. Phil or something. It was a different era.)

When I would watch big plays from an NBA game, I just didn’t get that same feeling I did when I saw Cam or Mike scramble out of the pocket. I loved watching LeBron. Incredible. One of the best ever. But, like, I couldn’t really see myself in him, you know? When I started playing basketball more than football, I was probably 10 years old. I wasn’t even 5 feet tall. I weighed like 60 pounds or whatever. I used to watch LeBron on YouTube, watch him fly through the air at a million miles an hour and just throw down.

Then I’d go get my ball from the hallway, head out to the court and just stare at hoop like, I couldn’t even touch the rim if Mom picked me up.

That’s the truth. 

(Stephen: I can relate, 100%. Me and my brother used to always do dunk contests — and like I said, this was pre-YouTube — so we’d be trying to imitate all the guys from the SLAM posters on our walls. All the famous dunks, like Shawn Kemp doing the tomahawk jam and then pointing at the dude, MJ doing the baseline double-spin at Madison Square Garden. And that sounds really cool, except I left out the part about how we lowered the rims down to like seven feet. I was so skinny! I didn’t have hops like that! So whenever we could find a gym with the adjustable rims, that was gold.) 

So watching the NBA, trying to figure out how I would ever get there … it just seemed impossible. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, people at school started talking about this guy.

You see Steph last night?

Man … we gotta shoot like Steph.

Where did Steph come from?

I thought maybe he was a new kid or something. But then I went online and I started watching his highlights. First thing I thought … This guy looks like me!!! He wasn’t that tall, wasn’t that big. (He’s big now, though. I got you Steph ????)

(Stephen: That’s nice of you, bro. But we might have to fact-check this one.)

And he sort of just danced around the court, putting up shots from everywhere. They were going in, too. The handle, the vision, the focus — he had it all. That’s when everything sort of changed for me. I thought, O.K., maybe if I focus on my schooling … if I listen to my Mom … if I work hard in the gym, I can be that guy.

I dropped football a few years later and started to take basketball more seriously when I went to high school. My parents decided I should move schools to join a team that could develop my game more.

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I started to find my game in my freshman and sophomore years. I put on some weight and my dad had me going to the gym, putting a lot of work in during any free time, and really working on my craft. Last season, my junior year, I began to get some interest from college programs. I had some D-II offers, and a few D-I scouts came to watch me, but not many big programs showed much interest. 

(Stephen: Me and you both, Quadry. Me and you both! I remember we played a tournament at UNC Charlotte the summer of my junior year. It was my first opportunity to play in front of Coach K, Roy Williams, Seth Greenberg, those big-time coaches. I played extremely well. So I’m thinking I’m all set, right? I go back home, and I’m just waiting to hear something. Waiting for those letters. Just waiting … and waiting … and waiting. Every day: “Mom, any mail for me?” Nope. Nothing. Not a peep. After about two months, I actually reached out to some of the schools, just asking for feedback. The consensus was pretty simple: “Too small to play in the ACC.”)

The thing is, I knew I could play at the D-I level. I was performing every night, leading my team in a bunch of stats and, most importantly, we were winning games. But it just felt like I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the size, or the flash. But I kept my head down and kept grinding.

Our team reached the state semifinals last February. It was a huge game for us, against a team from Red Bank. It was a back-and-forth game and I actually made a bucket to put us up one with a few seconds left. But they came back the other way and ended our season with a buzzer beater. Man, it was brutal.

A few days later, I was still getting over the loss when my mom reminded me that we had to go up to Philly for a camp she had enrolled me in. We never thought I’d be able to go to it, though — because we both thought we’d be in state finals.

The camp was called the Underrated Tour.

And you might have heard of the guy who created it: Steph Curry.

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Steph was a three-star recruit in high school, and he knows firsthand how hard it can be to get recognized once you get a ranking like that. The Underrated Tour gives us three-star-and-under recruits a chance to showcase our skills to coaches and scouts from across the country.

I remember the morning we were supposed to drive up to Philly, our car was snowed in. My mom was out there in the dark digging it out and getting it ready to go.

(Stephen: Shout-out to basketball moms all over the world. We couldn’t do it without you.)

I wasn’t over the letdown of the semifinals yet, and I don’t think I knew what the camp could potentially mean for me. But when I saw my mom out there, it sort of dawned on me that the Underrated Tour was the opportunity of a lifetime. So I went to that gym and … I just performed. I did what I knew I could do.

I can’t really say enough good things about the Underrated Tour, because it really changed my life. In the months that followed the camp, I went from a two-star to a three-star recruit. And I also began to get offers from some of the biggest programs in the country.

In September I officially committed to Wake Forest.

I know — even though my family and I had put in all the hard work that I knew was necessary — none of this would have been possible without the Underrated Tour. 

(Stephen: Man, I actually got goose bumps reading this. You don’t even know, Quadry. That’s surreal. That’s why we created this thing in the first place. But this year, we know we have to take it to the next level. We can’t say that we’re truly representing all the underrated ball players in the country if we’re only shining the light on the boys. I’m so hyped that this year the Underrated Tour will be 100% co-gender. At the end of this journey, the most underrated (aka the best) boy and girl will be invited to my Under Armour Select Camp. Let’s go!)

I think what Steph is trying to do is incredibly important in terms of the recruiting process. I’ve seen so many players that I know, at my school and at others, slip through the cracks because they hadn’t performed for their AAU teams exactly how a coach or scout wanted. Or they were given a lower star rating based on nothing more than the word of a few scouts after a couple of viewings. This same process is what led to a bunch of programs missing out on Steph — and countless players like him. 

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(Stephen: That’s the most important part of all this. I know there are so many more Quadrys out there who maybe don’t have the hype on social media for whatever reason. It’s all so subjective anyway. I’ll never forget when my AAU team used to play against these bigger teams, like Boo Williams’s squad up in Virginia. We were so small compared to those dudes it was ridiculous. We had maybe one kid on our whole team who could dunk. During warmups, we’d purposely have our backs turned to the other team at all times. All you’d hear is DoootDoootDooot. Them dunking the ball. The crowd going crazy. And we’d be down in our end, doing the most fundamental layup lines you’ve ever seen. We’d never turn around. That was our routine. It was our identity. But I can see why we didn’t necessarily have the best highlight tapes in the world. If I was a coach in that gym, I’d probably be looking at Boo’s team like, “Yeah, give me those kids!” But that’s the whole reason we created the Underrated Tour. It’s for the kids out there who don’t quite fit the mold, but who just need the right opportunity to show what they can do.

There are so many players waiting to be found across the country, it just takes a little bit more digging to find a player who will change a program, a team and a city.

(Stephen: On that note, this year we’re hosting stops in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., with the top 16 girls and boys from each region earning a trip out to the Bay Area to compete in the final championship stop. If you got game, you will have a chance to show the world, I promise you.) 

Steph gave me that chance, and I hope I can repay his faith. I thanked him when I met him last year in California, at the final stop of the Underrated Tour, which brought together the top 30 players from all the camps. Just speaking with him briefly that day, it was incredible. He almost didn’t seem real. Like all those hours I’d spent watching his highlights, and then, man, he was right there, talking to me, Quadry from Piscataway.

He was humble and gracious. And I know that if I grow to be half the man he is, I’m going to be just fine being underrated for the rest of my life.

(Stephen: You know what, Quadry? When I started reading your incredible story, I was actually going to end this with two pieces of advice for you. The first one was to always stay underrated. No matter what happens, or what heights you achieve, you have to stay underrated in your mind. You have to always carry that chip on your shoulder. But you already nailed it. So I’ll just leave you with my second piece of advice. They doubted you. They underrated you. They slept on you. But how’d you get here? You got here because of your love and appreciation for playing the game of basketball every single day. Never forget that. Never lose that passion. Never take it for granted and you’ll do great things. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to leave this game a little better than how I found it. I’m looking forward to seeing you do the same. Good luck in the ACC, young fella. I’m looking forward to seeing you on my TV and screaming, “Ayyyoooooooo! There goes Playstation!!!!!”)

The Underrated Tour Powered By Rakuten begins next month, in Chicago (Feb. 22-23), Dallas (March 7-8), Washington, D.C. (March 14-15), Los Angeles (March 21-22) and San Francisco (April 3-5). For more information, visit underratedtour.com.