When I was younger, my cousins and I used to play sports every day after school. No one would support our love for sports, so we didn’t have a hoop to play ball on and had to play with whatever we could find. But all we ever wanted to do was play basketball.
Shooting on crates and anything else that we could put up high and was round, this became our first basketball court.
I actually remember playing in my first organized basketball league because it was the first time I was playing on a real hoop. I was in second grade and I was the tallest kid in the league. This sounds great, but because I could block everyone’s shot, the league director told me to let the kids shoot because it wasn’t fair.
Needless to say, this got a little boring.
All while growing up, my uncle Greg helped keep me on the right path. From taking me to every game to keeping me working hard in practice, it helped to have someone push me. Along the way, I found other mentors like my AAU coach Justin Domingo, but it was difficult because, at home, no one believed in my dream. As long as I was staying out of trouble, they just viewed it as an extracurricular.
But for me, I was going to make it big one day.
Choosing my high school was actually harder than my college decision because there were so many to choose from and pressure from all angles. Growing up in Chicago, there are great programs everywhere, so when it came time to choose one, I had some trouble. Initially, I wanted to go to school with all my friends, but I had to think about my basketball career.
That can be a little difficult as an 8th grader.
After narrowing it down to three schools, Simeon, Morgan Park and St. Rita, I chose Simeon because I knew the history of the program and wanted to add to it. Although I could’ve gone to another school and probably scored 20 points every night, I knew I wouldn’t win as many games as I could at Simeon. Pushing the individual glory aside, I wanted to help build the school’s legacy.
After winning four state titles, one city championship and ranking number 1 nationally my junior and senior year, the decision paid off. I couldn’t have done that anywhere else in the city.
Playing with guys like Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, I wasn’t always the star of the show. But the opportunity to play with some of the top talents in the country led to me being noticed by Division 1 programs.
One of those programs was the University of Dayton.
I ended up choosing Dayton because I saw the potential in the program. I also knew Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis, who were committed here before me. There also were several good players already on the roster, so the future looked bright for us. Once again, I was ready to push the individual spotlight away. I was here to build something special.
After playing in different roles all through high school, I came in ready to fill mine for Dayton.
Knowing we had an elite team, I didn’t expect much. My role was just to come in the game and give Devin Oliver a break when needed while playing as hard as I could for the limited time I was in there. Everyone had roles that year, which allowed us to rely on each other. Not having a star player, we did it by committee.
That’s a big reason why we went to the Elite 8.
In that journey to the Elite 8, came my favorite memory at Dayton. With the Sweet 16 game in Memphis against Stanford, my family made the trip down from Chicago.
I checked into the game, but this time it wasn’t just to give Devin a breather. I needed to give a little more. I played 14 minutes and went 5-6 from the field, finishing with 12 points. Helping us move on to the Elite 8 in front of my family, it doesn’t get much better.
After that game, our team and my career took off. Heading into my sophomore year we lost a few guys from our Elite 8 team so roles increased, mine being one of them.
After a few guys were dismissed from the team, I saw my role expand even more. Playing my best year of basketball, we continued to improve and chase our prior success. We only had seven players, but we were still winning games. That’s when I knew we were building something special.
Now, as seniors, this is our last chance. We just want to survive and advance. That is the only thing we care about: moving on to the next round. With the NCAA tournament starting, our team knows what it takes, because we’ve been here before, 4 years in a row to be specific.
No matter what happens, I will always be the proudest of our legacy we will leave behind here. This year, it seemed like every week we were breaking a new record, but that’s not the only part. It’s the change in our students.
Freshman year, I’d see students out and they would always ask, “Are we going to make the tournament?!” Now, as seniors, all we are ever hear is, “I can’t wait to see you in the Final Four!”
That’s a legacy to be proud of.
So sometimes, when you have the choice in being the star player or committing to building something bigger than yourself, remember our Senior class at Dayton.
Kendall Pollard | Contributor