One decision you make doesn’t define you as an individual.
I had always heard this growing up, but I usually associated it with my time on the basketball court. Always trying to give my all, I never let one mistake in a game roll into an entire game of bad plays. But later in life, I found a new meaning to this saying off the court as well.
For me, my basketball career started in Columbia, South Carolina. This area may not always be thought of as a premier place for talent, but if you look at many of the top university rosters in the south, you will usually find a few of my ex-teammates or rivals. Because of the area, I was challenged by some of the top talents in the country. But no matter who the competition was, I learned to never back down.
As I was entering high school, my mom moved us to Atlanta. I knew it would be difficult to make a name for myself, but I was willing to put the work in.
After my first two years, my hard work had paid off. When I finally held my first offer letter, I felt blessed that I would be able to play at the next level. Until my junior year, my mom and I had always hoped for this moment, but I was still unsure if it was a possibility.
As a result of this excitement, I jumped at the first few offers that came to me, resulting in several decommitments. It was a difficult process, but with a final offer coming from the University of Central Florida, I knew where I wanted to be.
I was ready to be a Knight.
After my stressful recruitment, I was just ready to get on the court and show that I could succeed at the college level. Coming into the program, nothing was promised to me, so my mindset was just to come in and compete. Pulling from my early days, I challenged everyone on the court and would go at the starters harder than anyone else.
This got the coach’s attention.
As the season rolled around, I had broken into the rotation and ended up being a major contributor throughout my freshman season. Although we didn’t win as many games as we hoped, we finished the season with the feeling that our program was going in the right direction.
Heading into my sophomore season, I stepped up as one of the leaders of the team. We had a young team, but I still felt we had the talent to make the tournament. Unfortunately, as the season was finishing up, we just missed reaching our goals. I was disappointed in the way the season ended, but I figured I still had two years left with the program, so there was always next year.
But sometimes, the plans you make don’t quite work out the way you want.
As I was heading into the offseason workouts, I was called in by the campus police. They informed me that I was being charged with stealing a bike my freshman year and there had been a formal investigation proving that I was guilty. After this initial meeting, my coach was informed as well, and I was called into another meeting.
In that meeting, my coach explained to me that I was going to be dismissed from the team and kicked out of the university.
I was speechless.
Now don’t get me wrong, I knew what I had done was stupid, but I just couldn’t believe that one small event escalated into this.
My freshman year, as I was late for class, I saw a bike that was unlocked and grabbed it to take to class. UCF is a large campus filled with bikes, so I figured no one would notice if I borrowed one for a few hours. I only took it to class and was planning on bringing it right back after. Unfortunately, as I put the bike back, the owner had already reported it stolen and I had to speak with the police. I didn’t think much would come from it and so I went on with my day.
But now, I was being kicked off the team for an incident that happened over a year before?! Like I said, I knew what I did was stupid, but to take away the thing I loved most in life because of one small decision seemed ridiculous. It was a decision I had made as a freshman in college, and now that decision was ending my career.
I was crushed.
The next day, I sat around unsure of what I was going to do next. I felt tears come to my eyes, as I had given so much to the program and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the chance to play again.
But as always, my mom was there for me.
She helped me pull myself back up and get started on the next chapter of my life. Calling universities from around the country, I was just looking for an opportunity. But because I had a blemished past, the process left me with many negative responses.
As the next season started to roll around, I started to wonder if I would ever be able to play again. One stupid decision was allowing people to judge me as a person that I wasn’t.
With only one month before the season, I finally received the response that I was hoping for. Florida Gulf Coast University gracefully explained to me that they had a spot on the team, and although I would have to sit out a year because of transfer policies, I could start participating in team activities.
As soon as I heard this, I was on the next flight to Ft. Myers to become part of Dunk City. With the way the program had made a name for itself in the tournament before, I was honored to become part of the program’s legacy and build my own as well.
Arriving on campus, I only had one thing on my mind, and that was to compete. I wasn’t there to make friends or check out what social spots surrounded the campus. From the very first practice, I was locked in.
I still remember playing pickup with my teammates at the first practice. At first, they weren’t playing that hard, but I only play at one speed and was trying to showcase my abilities, so the game quickly became heated.
As one of our star players, Reggie Reed, went up for a shot off the glass, I timed my block and pinned his shot on the glass. The team erupted and that’s when I knew I was officially welcomed onto the team. I was ready to get to work.
Although the year sitting out was difficult, I made it my goal to help the team improve by competing in practice. Challenging every guard on our team, I helped get our guys ready for each game.
It wasn’t quite the same, but I was just happy to be a part of a team again.
As that next season rolled around, knowing I would be able to play again, emotions came over me. And with our first game against the University of Florida, my whole family was driving down to see me play for the first time in almost two years. I just didn’t want to let them down.
With our first possession, I had the type of jitterbugs that you only get as a kid. But as the ball touched my hands, I took off for the baseline and hit a jumper I have been shooting since high school. Hearing the swish of the net in a live game wiped away all my emotions.
I was back.
After that first game, there was no slowing our team down. We were determined to get back to the tournament and I was not going to let us fail. Winning game after game, we won our conference championship and we finally had an invitation to the Big Dance.
Looking back at my first season at FGCU, I feel blessed to be a part of this program. They were there when no one else believed in me, and for that, I want to help our team succeed at levels that we never have before.
Although I haven’t had the easiest career, I always just try to remember that one act doesn’t define you as a person. Whether it is one turnover in a game or one bad decision that you wish you could take back, always keep moving forward to prove that you’re better than that one moment.