You don’t have to choose between dedicating yourself to your sport and your family. On the contrary, dedicating yourself fully to both will allow you to reach higher than you would have ever on your own.

For me, this dedication to family has been with me ever since I can remember. As soon as I was walking, my dad and grandfather had me out in the yard, teaching me the game that they loved. Talented players themselves, they wanted to provide me with the same passion for the game that brought so much joy to their lives on the court and with the family.

And by far, my fondest memories of learning the game from my dad and grandfather were in middle school.

Every day of sixth through eighth grade, I would meet my grandfather at the school an hour before the doors opened each day and shoot on the outdoor courts. Getting constant pointers, like make sure you follow through, keep your dribble low, and have fun, helped me start to build my game.

My father was also a huge support to finding my skill set, allowing me to train the way I wanted, but also being there to help me along the way. Overall, I can’t credit one over the other, but I know I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

After years of their coaching, I entered high school with the chance to be recruited to play Division 1 basketball. But for a kid raised in West Virginia, my route was anything but normal.

As many people know, athletes from West Virginia often get overlooked, especially in Basketball.

Why go into little old West Virginia to look for a basketball player when you have all these other “hoop states” out there?

The stereotypical image of coal mines, mountains, farms, and toothless people does quite a bit of damage to individuals’ idea of West Virginia sports, as most don’t ever try to see how we actually play and the talent pool that is here.

This was what I was up against when I started to reach out to programs.

I received over 20 D1 offers, but not from the top level. I knew I was good enough to play at that level, but as the process was coming to an end, I realized it might not come.

As a result, I committed to the Virginia Military Institute, a program that had always shown me attention and I had a strong relationship with their coaching staff. The fit was also right at the time. A style of playing that I worked well with, my dad being one of the all time leading scorers, and my brother on scholarship there, VMI was the place for me.

As I was entering my first semester, I was excited to prove everyone that overlooked me wrong and show that I belonged. But as we were getting ready for the season, my grandfather got sick.

A man that I had idolized for as far back as I can remember, I slowly watched as he became worse and worse. His motor skills severely deteriorated, paralysis began to set in and his body began to stop functioning like it used to.

Watching the man that had given everything to my brother and me, it was one of the most difficult processes of my life.

With no one there to constantly give him care, my brother and I sat down and decided we needed to do something. After talking with our family, we decided that we needed to leave VMI and provide him with the care he needed.

Although our parents supported us, the decision was ours alone. We knew these would be my grandfather’s last months and we weren’t willing to let him suffer without our help.

So right before my first college season, I left VMI for good.

Were people happy with our decision? No, of course not. Everyone wanted to tell us how stupid our decision was and how we would never have a future in basketball after this.

But now looking back on it, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. God has a plan for us, and for me, that was part of his plan.

But when I decided to leave VMI, many people did not see it the same way. The coaching staff and athletic department decided not to release my brother and I from our scholarships, so I wasn’t allowed to join any other programs on scholarship for 365 days.

It was difficult to hear, but I was still firm on my decision.

So as we were taking care of our grandfather, I started to look for other options. Growing up in West Virginia, I always knew about Marshall University and their history. It was also the closest D1 school to my house, so I would be able to care for my family and attend school.

As December approached of that first year, I decided that Marshall was the right place for me to be and was accepted as a regular student. I still had my commitment to VMI, so I was unable to receive a scholarship or immediately join the team, but I at least had a new university.

My only option was to go to coach Dan D’Antoni and beg for a tryout as a walk on that would need to sit out.

He graciously allowed me to tryout, and after making the team, I was allowed to at least participate in practice.

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This process was extremely difficult, as I had to drive back and forth to take care of my grandfather in his last months, all while practicing for games I knew I couldn’t play for. My family also had to help me pay for the tuition, as I was just a walk-on now.

But even as I look back on it, I still don’t regret a thing.

As my grandfather passed away, I was glad I got to see his final months, all while finding a program that truly allowed me to become the player I always wanted to be.

Now, as I have been able to help Marshall reach some success, I look at this year as our year. Every year you see a Cinderella team shock the country, and I don’t see why it can’t be us this year. I want to help put us on the map on a national level and with this team, I think we can do it.

Beyond Marshall, I don’t want my basketball career to end in college. I know I can’t thank my family enough for the years of support, but I hope I can pay back some of it to my parents through basketball.

Because in the end, it’s my family that I will always support.

In the end, athletics on their own are great but don’t be afraid to fully commit to your family as well. When you get the opportunity to dedicate yourself to both, no matter the obstacles, I promise you that you will never regret it.

Jon Elmore | Contributor

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