CBHS football star Cameron Cook survives freak neck injury, starts own business

 

COOL, CAM, AND COLLECTIVE --- Cameron Cook had quickly come under the radar among college scouts during his stint as a football player at Christian Brother High School until a freak neck injury ended his career prior to his senior season. Cook is now a well-known graphic designer in the Memphis and surrounding areas. (Photos submitted by Lakina Sidney)

COOL, CAM, AND COLLECTIVE — Cameron Cook had quickly come under the radar among college scouts during his stint as a football player at Christian Brother High School until a freak neck injury ended his career prior to his senior season. Cook is now a well-known graphic designer in the Memphis and surrounding areas. (Photos submitted by Lakina Sidney)

Cameron Cook first began playing competitive football when he was five years old.

Like many of his peers, he had developed a deep admiration for the sport.

So much, in fact, that within the first year after making the transition to prep football for Christian Brothers High, he quickly came under the radar by college scouts.

Maryville College in Tennessee was heavily recruiting him, as was Augustana College in Illinois, Tennessee-Martin, Tusculum University, and Aurora University, among others.

But weeks before the start of his senior season, an unfortunate sequence of events transpired during a scrimmage game.

While making a routine tackle, Cook, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound safety made a routine tackle and landed awkwardly on the surface. He lay motionless on the ground for approximately 20 to 30 minutes before what was a stunned CBHS sideline as trainers tended to him.

“One of the trainers asked if I was okay,” Cook told MemphiSport during a recent interview.

For a while, all seemed well for Cook, who managed to walk off the field unassisted. However, after team doctors draped ice packs over his neck, bad news would ensue. After undergoing an MRI and CAT scan the next day, it was revealed that Cook had broken his neck in three places, news that sent shocks waves throughout the CBHS athletic department, a development that effectively ended his playing career.

For the 18 year-old Cook, who will be graduating next month, the news of his career-ending injury was difficult to stomach for someone who clung to lofty aspirations of playing college football.

STAR WATCH --- Cook's heroics on the field generated an array of interest from areas colleges before his career-ending neck injury.

STAR WATCH — Cook’s heroics on the field generated an array of interest from areas colleges before his career-ending neck injury.

“I didn’t even know my neck was broken at the time,” Cook explained. “I thought it was a stinger. You know how you get a stinger in your arm? So I just stood on the sideline and watched the scrimmage. But I got a little worried. My neck wasn’t supposed to feel like this.”

Said Cook’s mother, Lakina Sidney, regarding his  injury: “It was a mother’s intuition that I knew something was wrong with him. I insisited that they not put him in the game.”

As Cook recalls, he’s fortunate he chose not to resume playing after the unlikely tackle.

“I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “To me, I think they were trying to say it in a nice way. I think it’s hard for a doctor to tell you that you can’t do something you love. It hurt. I cried. I was like, ‘Why me? What did I do?’ It was my time to shine. I didn’t have to compete for a job. Then I broke my neck before my first game (as a senior). I didn’t even get to set foot under the lights.”

With his football career all but a distant memory, Cook wore a neck brace for roughly five months. Still, after reality had set in, he was determined not to allow his emotions to consume him.

In other words, Cook was a fixture at CBHS’s games, doing everything from inspiring his teammates to assuming the role as he describes as a “player coach” from the sideline.

“I mean, I’ve been with them for four years,” Cook said. “I didn’t want to give up because I broke my neck.”

Lakina Sidney was amazed at how her son, who had huge aspiration of playing college football, overcame the odds and has emerged as a rising entreprenuer as young graphic designer.

Lakina Sidney was amazed at how her son, who had huge aspiration of playing college football, overcame the odds and has emerged as a rising entreprenuer as young graphic designer.

With strong support from his family, teammates, and the CBHS community, Cook managed to come to grips during arguably his most challenging encounter of his young life. Although the possibilty exist he will never play football again, college, according to him, is a foregone conclusion.

“Basically, he was worried that he wasn’t going to play (football) anymore,” said Lakina Sidney, Cook’s mother. “(Doctors) said he should consider playing a less-impact sport. We cried together. But I’ve always instilled in Cameron that what God has for him, it’s for him.”

Sidney’s son will enroll this fall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and plans to major in Civil Engineering with a minor in Graphic Design. For Cook, he has already proven to have found his niche as flourishing graphic designer, a craft he embraced when he was 10 years old with the help of his uncle, Reggie Sims.

Cook owns ICAM Graphic Designs and is considered one of the most popular high school promoters in Memphis and the surrounding areas.

“My uncle is an artist,” Cook said. “He’s not just a graphic designer. I watched him design things on the computer and I just took it and ran with it, and my skills have gotten much better.”

Luckily for Cook, whom his mother describes a “resilient child,” life, as he knows it, couldn’t be any better for someone who’s destined to have a bright future.

Never mind that his cleats, shoulder pads, and helmet are hung up for good.

Among Cook's projects as a graphic designer was the cover of CBHS's latest yearbook for the Class of 2014.

Among Cook’s projects as a graphic designer was the cover of CBHS’s latest yearbook for the Class of 2014.

“I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s handled the adverse situations on and off the field,” said Patrick Cook, Cameron’s father.

Cameron, meanwhile, admittedly accepts the fact that he has likely played his last competitive football game.

“I think I’m blessed,” Cook said with a smile. “Like I said, I could be dead, sitting in a wheelchair, or paralyzed from the neck down. I wished (the injury) wouldn’t have happened. But it could have been worse.”

Spoken like someone who has embraced the real meaning of life.

Wholeheartedly.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes suspended for failed drug test

When Memphis Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes was met by scattered boos midway through the third quarter of a December 11 game against Oklahoma City, among those who rushed to his defense was Mike Conley.

BUSTED --- Grizzlies backup point Nick Calathes played a pivotal role in the team's surge the second half of the season. However, the rookie likely won't be available for the playoffs after the NBA on Friday suspended him for violating the league's anti-drug policy. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

BUSTED — Grizzlies backup point Nick Calathes played a pivotal role in the team’s surge the second half of the season. However, the rookie likely won’t be available for the playoffs after the NBA on Friday suspended him for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

 

“I hated the boos and all that stuff that were geared toward Nick because we all were playing bad,” Conley, the Grizzlies starting point guard, said. “It wasn’t just one person. It was a collective effort. It was like they were looking for someone to blame and that’s not the case. And I’m so happy he got his chance to show people what he can do and to show people those boos weren’t warranted.”

Unfortunately for Calathes, who flourished into an efficient relief man for Conley the second half of the season, he likely won’t be available for the Grizzlies’ latest playoff run.

The NBA on Friday announced that Calathes has been suspended for 20 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.

According to various media reports, the drug Calathes had taken is called Tamoxifen. According to a WebMD.com, Tamoxifen is the most commonly used hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer. Tamoxifen is often called an “anti-estrogen.”

Attempts to reach Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien Friday night were unsuccessful.

Calathes, 25, has filed a grievance on the ruling and has denied using any performance enhancing drugs, although it is unclear if the former University of Florida standout will be allowed to suit for the No. 7 seed Grizzlies (50-32) when they play the second-seeded Thunder (59-23) in the opening round of the playoffs.

Game 1 of Memphis and OKC’s best-of-7 playoff series is Saturday night at 7:30 CST.

Prior to his suspension, Calathes had witnessed his role increased significantly, in large part because of a January 7 trade in which the Grizzlies sent then-backup point guard Jarryd Bayless to Boston for veteran shooting guard Courtney Lee. Calathes, as result, was installed as Conley’s backup and didn’t disappoint in his new role.

Named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in February, Calathes manufactured the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA during that month and was second among Western Conference rookies in scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (apg).  Also, he was tied for second in rebounds (3.6 rpg) and was second among NBA rookies in field goal percentage (.495) and steals (1.75 spg).

His considerable progress after the All-Star break was among reasons Conley earlier this week said he was looking for Calathes to have an efficient postseason.

Calathes has filed a grievance on the ruling and has denied using any performance enhancing drugs.

Calathes has filed a grievance on Friday’s ruling by the NBA and has denied using any performance enhancing drugs.

“I think (Calathes’ display) it set us up pretty well, knowing that we’ll be getting a lot of experience from a lot of guys who have been there like Nick Calathes,” Conley told MemphiSport prior to the Grizzlies’ regular season finale against Dallas. “He’s going to play huge minutes for us and we need that kind of experience from him going into the playoffs.”

Conley, the longest-tenured player on Memphis’ roster, also emphasized the importance of the Grizzlies avoiding distractions heading into the postseason.

“It’s very important that we stay locked in and continue doing what we’ve been doing and not worrying about what the media is saying and things from the outside,” Conley, said. “We just need to control what we can control on the court.”

However, the news the organization fielded Friday surrounding one of its key reserves is something that could prove detrimental in this, the Grizzlies’ fourth consecutive playoff appearance.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Durant for league MVP: ‘I don’t care’

Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wasn’t in mood to talk about Kevin Durant on Thursday, particularly all the hoopla surrounding what has been an MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.

“I don’t care,” said Joerger, when asked if Durant is the frontrunner for league MVP.

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T --- Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant's MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, "I don't care." (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T — Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant’s MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, “I don’t care.” (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Whether Joerger’s remarks will serve as bulletin board material, of sorts, for Durant, the NBA’s most-talked-about player, remains a mystery. Regardless, when the Grizzlies (50-32) square off against the Thunder (59-23) Saturday night at 7:30 CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening round playoff series in Chesapeake Arena, the Memphis rookie head coach is fully aware Memphis will be facing a team that’s destined to atone for last year’s second-round upset.

Last year, the Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history after knocking off Oklahoma City four games to one. While Durant was as good as advertised in that series — he averaged 28.8 points and 10.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists through five games — his superb numbers weren’t enough to overpower a deep Grizzlies team, which won four straight after dropping Game 1.

Memphis extended its season, in large part because the Thunder were without All-Star point Russell Westbrook, who missed the remainder of the playoffs after he injured his right knee in Game 2 of OKC’s opening-round playoffs series against the Houston Rockets. Westbrook injured his knee after he collided with Rockets guard Patrick Beverly while attempting a steal.

When the teams meet Saturday in what figures to be an intense, rugged postseason matchup for a third consecutive year, OKC will have Westbrook back in the fold. That, according to Joerger, will provide the second-seeded Thunder with something they missed in last year’s series — another efficient scorer to complement what has been arguably the best year in Durant’s six professional seasons.

“Oh, they’re much better (with Westbrook in the lineup), a much more potent team,” Joerger said. “They’re switching a lot of stuff defensively and they’re very athletic and their defense has gotten better and better.”

Still, despite all of the Durant-for-MVP discussions in recent months, Joerger elected to assume the hands-off approach when given the chance to assess the season of the league’s most explosive player. Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in an April 8 win at Sacramento.

PURE DOMINANCE ---Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami's LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

PURE DOMINANCE —Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

When asked if sense Durant will use the MVP award as motivation, or sorts, heading into this series, Joerger once again said, “I don’t care.”

Even if Durant isn’t using his MVP season as inspiration throughout the postseason, last year’s upset to the Grizzlies will almost certainly fuel the fire of the league’s premiere player.

“He’s not going to use the trophy as motivation,” Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince said. “He’s going to use us beating them last year as motivation. That has nothing to do with the MVP season. I don’t think that has anything to do with it at all. It’s more so, ‘These guys got us last year.’”

Earlier this season, Durant publicly pinned most of blame on himself for how last year’s playoff series against Memphis unfolded.

“Individually, I took a lot from that series and looked at what I could have done differently,” Durant told MemphiSport prior to a December 11 game against the Grizzlies. “But it was a learning experience for us all not having our point guard for that series and having to adjust on the fly.”

THUNDER STORM --- Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year's playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

THUNDER STORM — Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year’s playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Now with Westbrook back in the lineup, his presence will restrict the seventh-seeded Grizzlies from placing so much emphasis on Durant, who averages an NBA-best 32 points per game.

“The attention is going to be a lot more tougher with Westbrook being in there this time around, so our job is going to be much harder,” said Prince who, along with shooting guard Tony Allen and reserve swingman James Johnson, will likely be assigned to guard Durant. “The success we had on (Durant) last year, we had so many bodies we could throw at him, so many different things we could do, so many different aspects with Westbrook out.”

Which, of course, will make for an entirely different playoff rematch this time around, especially for a Thunder squad in which its featured player will be christened as the NBA’s No. 1 player in any day now, something about which Prince has paid close attention to.

“I don’t think he’s the frontrunner (for league MVP),” Prince said of Durant. “I think he’s already won it. I mean, they have the second best record in the NBA. He played well throughout the whole year. His basketball awareness went up another level as far as rebounding more, finding other guys, dictating the tempo on the floor.

“Every part of his game went up a notch,” Prince continued. I’m not just talking about putting the ball in the basket. I’m talking about other things on the offensive ends. I think that’s what people wanted to see from him this year and he’s done that. I think Kevin has won it pretty handily this year.”

Regardless of who isn’t in the mood to talk about it.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Zach Randolph on his future with the Grizzlies: ‘I’m dedicated to this team’

Zach Randolph has been in the NBA long enough to realize that with the playoffs comes a flurry of distractions.

Among the potential perplexities the Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise player is facing on this, the last day of regular season, is whether he intends on exercising his player option for next season.

DEVOTED VET --- Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to "stay a Grizzly." (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DEVOTED VET — Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to “stay a Grizzly.” (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Randolph, 32, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, is in the third of a four-year, $71 million deal the former Michigan State star signed in April 2011. If Randolph returns to the Grizzlies for a sixth full season, the two-time All-Star would make around $16 million in 2014-15.

Following Wednesday morning’s shoot around as Memphis prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks in a nationally televised game at 7 p.m. CST in FedExForum, Randolph fielded questions about his future with the organization.

“No, I haven’t thought about that,” Randolph told MemphiSport when asked if he has thought about whether he will exercise his player option next year. “I’m still dedicated to this team, all day, every day.”

Selected with the 19th overall pick in 2001 by Portland, the 6-foot-9 Randolph was traded in July 2009 to the Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson and has since been the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that generated its highest winning percentage last year (.063) and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

And, after having blossomed into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, the 13-year-veteran on Wednesday reiterated that he wants to finish his career with the organization.

“I’m a Grizzly,” Randolph, the team’s leading scorer, said. “I want to stay a Grizzly. I haven’t even thought about (next season). I’m worried about the task at hand and that’s winning in these playoffs.”

Tied with Portland for the NBA’s longest winning streak (four games), the Grizzlies solidified a fourth consecutive playoff berth with 97-91 win Monday night at Phoenix.

Just as he’s done in recent years, Randolph, who averages 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game, has played a pivotal role in Memphis’ surge, particularly after the All-Star break.

Randolph appeared to be in playoff form when he scored a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting against the Suns, energy Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said his star big man must match if Memphis is to manufacture a deep postseason.

 

GAME CHANGER --- Randolph was a force in Monday's playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

GAME CHANGER — Randolph was a force in Monday’s playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

“That was a heckuva performance against Phoenix the other night,” Joerger said of Randolph. “He’s been such a problem for teams. You know, you have teams that want to take out of the perimeter, stretch him out, and make him play pick and roll. And with him, whether they’re putting two guys on him of whatever it may be, he’s been aggressive.”

What’s even more astounding, Joerger acknowledged, is how Randolph has steadfastly assumed the business-like approach in a year mired by distractions. In mid-December, for instance, Randolph became the subject of trade rumors in a reported deal that would have sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

Then after the Suns inquired about Randolph just days before the All-Star break, the Grizzlies reportedly turned down the offer, thus removing Randolph from the trade block.

While Randolph has publicly said he was “hurt” over being rumored to be dealt, Joerger said the Grizzlies managed to play up to their identity during a critical stretch in the season, in large part because Randolph didn’t appear fazed by such talks.

“He’s been professional about it,” Joerger said. “He’s stayed focused. He’s been the consemate teammate. Guys go to him. He’s got a lot of advice, a lot of experience. It’s been more than just what people see on the court.”

Now that Randolph is starting to field questions once again about his future with the playoffs set to start this weekend, he contends his primary focus is the monumental task that awaits the upset-minded Grizzlies.

That is, a first-round date with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.

“That’s a part of the business man,” Randolph said of the inquiries about his future. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity…injuries, guys going down, missing a lot of games. So that’s a part of the game. You just have to overcome stuff like that, stick together, and keep fighting.”

All day, every day.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Mid-Southerner Barbara Rush supports her daughter’s athletic strides 12 hours away

Longtime educator Barbara Rush is a native Mid-Southerner.

GO GETTER --- Despite suffering a torn ACL her senior season at Lincoln High in Nebraska, Marla Overstreet overcame the mental aspects of her injury and recently earned a spot on Doane College's cheerleading squad. Overstreet's mother, Barbara Rush, is a teacher at Shadow Oaks Elementary in Horn Lake, Miss. (Photos submitted by Marla Overstreet)

GO GETTER — Despite suffering a torn ACL her senior season at Lincoln High in Nebraska, Marla Overstreet overcame the mental aspects of her injury and recently earned a spot on Doane College’s cheerleading squad. Overstreet’s mother, Barbara Rush, is a teacher at Shadow Oaks Elementary in Horn Lake, Miss. (Photos submitted by Marla Overstreet)

Among the things she missed about this area while spending years in Lincoln, Nebraska is the southern hospitality. On the other hand, Rush doesn’t shy away from the fact that she misses the progress her daughter, Mar’Lakuittia Overstreet, has made as a multi-sport athlete at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska.

“I am extremely proud of Marla’s had work and perseverance,” Rush, the cousin of former NFL wide receiver Landon Cox, told MemphiSport. “Her dedication and commitment have truly paid off for her. She strives to achieve both in academics and personal success.”

For the 21-year-old Overstreet, that she recently earned a spot on Doane’s cheerleading squad is among the reasons she has thoroughly embraced college life, let alone weathered the assortment of challenges higher education often creates.

For starters, Overstreet sensed that she would never partake in any form of athletics after she endured what undoubtedly was the most tumultuous encounter for a high school athletic standout.

Starring in both track and field and basketball for Lincoln High, Overstreet seemed well on her way to fulfilling her dream of landing a college athletic scholarship. Unfortunately, her senior year was mired by turmoil when the all-state dual sport athletic suffered a torn ACL during a game.

As Overstreet recalls, it was a devastating occurrence about which essentially changed her life, in large because she was Lincoln’s starting point guard and the catalyst of a team that was projected to make a lengthy postseason run.

The injury occurred when two players inadvertently collided into Overstreet’s knee. Consequently, she made repeated attempts to emerge to her feet and walk on the court on her own power. But to no avail, Overstreet was left grounded as a concerned Lincoln team looked on.

What they feared the most eventually had indeed occurred. Overstreet had in fact blown out her knee and was ruled done for the season. Prior to the freak injury, she hadn’t spent a significant amount of time on the bench in six years.

“The day I found out the news I was in my school trainer and (the team’s trainer) told me I had a phone call,” Overstreet explained. “I went into the office alone with the door shut. My doctor told me that the results came back and I tore my ACL. Hearing that was unreal and I broke down in tears. I decided that my love to play sports was over. I had and continued to have a lot of support.”

MOTHERLY LOVE --- Although she lives approximately 12 hours away in Horn Lake near Memphis, Barbara Rush (left) and her daughter, Marla Overstreet converse virtually daily.

MOTHERLY LOVE — Although she lives approximately 12 hours away in Horn Lake near Memphis, Barbara Rush (left) and her daughter, Marla Overstreet converse virtually daily.

While the rehabilitation progress was somewhat lengthy and brought about a sense of discomfort, Overstreet was appreciate of the strong support from her mother. Rush teaches at Shadow Oaks Elementary in Horn Lake Miss., which is roughly three miles from Memphis.

“My mom has been supportive all of my life,” Overstreet said. “From being at games to running me all over town as I kept myself busy, she also was as she was my transportation to most of the activities. I know regardless I have her support in whatever activity I wanted to get involved in. The hardest thing for me right now is being in Nebraska and my mom 12 hours away.”

Mom and daughter converse every day, whether by phone, text message, or Skype.

“It is great to get phone calls and I look forward to hearing her voice,” Overstreet said. “I feel as if I have gotten super emotional whenever I do see her when she comes to visit. Having parents that truly do care and support you no matter what is one of the biggest blessing in my life.”

Barbara Rush, who relocated back to the Mid-South three years ago, is the cousin of former NFL wide receiver Landon Cox.

Barbara Rush, who relocated back to the Mid-South three years ago, is the cousin of former NFL wide receiver Landon Cox.

Though she attends college in the nation’s heartland and her mom is back in the South, Overstreet said her mother’s continuous support is what inspired to her resume conditioning for athletics. It wasn’t along after doctors cleared her full recovery that she shifted her focus to cheerleading, thanks to a close friend who convinced her to try out for Doane’s squad.

“She asked me the day before and I said, ‘Why not, yes, I will go with you,’” Overstreet explains. “In life, I honestly believe it is important to take those random opportunities because you never know what the end result will be. One thing that worried me was the fact that I had not cheered in three years and here I was trying out for college. I had not jumped but because of my coach at Lincoln High and I had a great foundation. I truly did miss being involved on a team.

“Mentally I prepared myself as to not being afraid to mess up and I knew I would not be perfect,” Overstreet added. “Many of my friends that I spoke to were confident that I would make it. In my mind I believed and didn’t at the same time because I thought college cheerleading was out of the question with my one experience in high school. Being that I was going to try out, the night before I practiced a jump and knew that I was nowhere near the flexibility.”

She didn’t allow her lack of experience deter her from her newfound ambition.

On April 6, Overstreet fielded an email from Doane’s cheerleading coach that featured the official roster. Fortunately for her, her name appeared on it, effectively sealing the comeback of an athletic who, three years prior, sensed she would never perform on a team of any kind again.

Nowadays, Overstreet said she uses her devastating injury as a platform, of sorts, to inspire athletes who have endured a similar injury.

“Don’t take for granted the one body you have,” Overstreet said. “Take care of it because you’re not guaranteed anything. But use your talents that are given to you and take the opportunities that may come along.”

Worthy advice about which brings her mother to smiles, 12 hours away.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Grizzlies rush to LeBron’s defense in his decline to meet with St. Jude patient

Memphis Grizzlies veteran swingman Mike Miller joined the Miami Heat the same year LeBron James bolted Cleveland for South Beach.

FULL PLATE --- Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with St. Children's Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

FULL PLATE — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

Among the things Miller deemed mostly intriguing about James is how he often went out of his way to give back to the community.

“He’s about as giving as I’ve ever seen,” Miller said of James.

 

Which, of course, is why Miller was among those who sensed there was more to James’ decision in declining to meet earlier this week with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient Josh Hardy as reported by Memphis’ WREG News Channel 3.

Hardy was a recipient of St. Jude’s Make A Dream Come True. Among his wishes was to attend Wednesday night’s Heat versus Grizzlies game so he could watch James, his favorite player, in action. However, after a request by WREG through a Heat media relations representative to have James meet with Hardy, the two-time reigning league MVP reportedly declined the inquiry.

Still, Hardy was among the 18,000-plus witnesses in attendance and sat in a luxury suite to watch Memphis outlast the two-time defending champs, 107-102, and keep alive its playoff hopes.

Though Hardy didn’t get to meet James, he was given paraphernalia by the Grizzlies organization and got to meet Quincy Pondexter, his favorite player on the team.

Pondexter, the Grizzlies reserve shooting guard who is sidelined with a season-ending tarsal navicular stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a December 7 game against Golden State, sat with Hardy during the game and gave him a basketball that was signed by his teammates.

Grizzlies All-Star power forward Zach Randolph was among the players who autographed Hardy’s basketball, although he said he wasn’t aware that James had declined to meet with the St. Jude patient until after shootaround Friday morning.

Memphis played host to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday at 7 p.m. CST.

Randolph, who in November was given NBA’s Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, said James’ decision not to meet with Hardy could have been because of a conflict in his schedule. Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies was the last on back-to-back nights for the Heat, who hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to  the community.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to the community.

“LeBron does a lot,” Randolph said. He probably was busy. LeBron is a great guy. You know, he does a lot for the community and for the kids. So that’s (Wednesday’s decline) nothing. He’ll probably fly the kid to meet him.”

Miller, who re-signed with the Grizzlies in July after a six-year absence, also rushed to James’ defense, saying the situation likely was a misunderstanding.

“Knowing LeBron as much as I know I him, I doubt the information even got to him,” Miller said. “He takes all of those requests.”

Asked if he believed because the Heat played on consecutive nights was a factor in James having turned down a request to meet with the patient, Miller said, “I think he would have met with him still. I think with that, it had to do with a situation where he probably didn’t get the information.”

While Randolph and Miller wouldn’t say whether they sensed the controversy surrounding James has been blown out of proportion, both agreed the 10-year veteran and four-time league MVP’s track record is such that he is committed to giving back to underprivileged individuals. “He gets those request a lot,” Miller said. Believe me, when it comes to St. Jude and children and giving back, he’s going to do that.”

That James was labeled a “punk” and “thug” by several WREG viewers was unwarranted, Miller said.

“The bottom line is no one knows anybody,” he said. “Until you get to know somebody, it’s difficult to judge them. I reserve judgment on everybody I know.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

LeBron appears ready to pass league MVP crown to OKC superstar Kevin Durant

HEADS UP --- Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night's 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant has been the "most consistent player" this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HEADS UP — Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night’s 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant has been the “most consistent player” this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Two world championships. Two NBA Finals MVPs. Two league MVPs.

Surely, the previous two seasons couldn’t have been any better for LeBron James, the NBA’s most celebrated player whom many have labeled the best on the planet.

However, when asked before Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies about this year’s MVP race, James sounded like someone who seemed inclined to deliver a concession speech for the first time in three years.

“I think KD (Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant) has had one heckuva season and if he’s rewarded with the MVP, that’ll be great,” James said. “I mean, it’ll be awesome for him, for his family, whose done a great thing for him. He’s played MVP-type basketball.”

Still, the 29-year-old James, who’s won the award four times in 10 NBA seasons, seemed reluctant to say whether the league’s premiere individual hardware is Durant’s to lose.

“I don’t really get caught up into what people say,” James said. “At the end of the day, they have their own votes and they’ll go from there.”

Heading into the final week of the regular season, it appears all signs point toward Durant being the heavy favorite to possess the league’s MVP award. Through 77 games, Durant undoubtedly has been the NBA’s most efficient player, averaging a league-best 32 points per game. In addition, the seven-year veteran and five-time All-Star is shooting .505 from the field, which is best in the NBA, and shooting .875 from the free throw line, second only to Golden State’s Stephon Curry (.878).

Second only to New York’s Carmelo Anthony in minutes played (38.5), Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone “King James” of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in Tuesday night’s win at Sacramento. While Durant appeared relieved to witness the streak end, James, meanwhile, was complimentary of Durant’s display in recent months.

Asked if he felt Durant is the frontrunner for MVP, James, the NBA’s third-leading scorer said, “I would say he’s playing the most consistent basketball as far as MVP this year. I mean, he’s put up some great numbers.”

James' game-high 37 points Wednesday weren't enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami's leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

James’ game-high 37 points Wednesday weren’t enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami’s leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

 

Indiana’s Paul George, whose Pacers appear to be on a collision course to meet Miami in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, said while the winner of the MVP award is of “no concern” for him, he hinted that James still has a chance to make up ground.

 

 

“It’s up for grab,” George told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “It’s a lot of guys who are doing a great job. (Durant) is having a heckuva year.”

James’ teammate, Heat center Chris Bosh, on the other hand, was rather candid while chiming in on the league MVP race following Miami’s 107-102 loss against the Grizzlies. Bosh, in fact, believes James’ streak of consecutive MVP awards will end in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think so,” said Bosh, when asked if James has a legitimate chance of surpassing Durant in the MVP race. “I think they’ve made up their minds. But you know, no matter what happens, it’s easy for me to say it’s a trophy and you can’t win it every year.”

Although Durant will likely win this year's MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

Although Durant will likely win this year’s MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

What the Heat can accomplish as they prepare to defend back-to-back NBA titles, Bosh said, is use Durant’s likely dethroning of James as motivation, of sorts, once the playoffs commence.

“You can look for anything as motivation for sure,” Bosh said. “When you’re on top, it puts a big X on your back. So it’s not just (motivation) for LeBron, but for everyone.

You know, it’s a unique situation. I don’t know how (winning MVP feels). I never will.”

Regardless of who is named league MVP, James said his primary focus is to help the Heat accomplish the necessary things to ensure the franchise maintain the NBA’s most covenant award for a third consecutive year. In doing so, he said Miami will need a healthy Dwyane Wade back for what figures to be another intense postseason run.

Wade ran sprints on the FedExForum court roughly 90 minutes before Wednesday’s game, but sat out while he continues to recuperate from a strained left hamstring. It was the eighth consecutive game Wade has missed. In all, he has missed 27 outings this year.

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Heat a half game behind Indiana for the top spot in the East.

“It’s very important,” James said of having a healthy Wade in the lineup. “He’s one of Big Three. We’ve won two championships for the most part because we had our Big Three on the floor. When he’s out there, we’re a dynamic team.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Patrice Robinson, NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White built solid rapport in mid-1980s

PatriceMainOf all the Super Bowls Patrice Robinson has watched, the Green Packers’ win against the New England Patriots in 1996 for the franchise’s third world championship is the one she recalls the most.

Among the reasons is that Robinson and Hall of Fame linebacker Reggie White befriended each other when White was a member of the Memphis Showboats of the now-defunct United States Football League (USFL) in the mid-1980s.

At the time, Robinson was a job specialist at Mitchell High School during which a mutual friend introduced her to White, a former University of Tennessee All-American.

As Robinson recalls, meeting White was a memorable encounter, given she crossed paths with one of the greatest linebackers in pro football history. Not only that, what Robinson — who also met boxing great Muhammad Ali in Memphis in the early 1990s — deemed mostly intriguing is that White was a notable humanitarian with whom her students could easily identify.

A 13-time Pro Bowler, White played 14 NFL seasons before he died in December 2004 of an apparent cardiac dysrhythmia at the age of 43.

PEOPLE PERSON --- Before NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Reggie White entered the NFL ranks, Robinson met the him during his stint with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in the early 1980s.

PEOPLE PERSON — Before NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Reggie White entered the NFL ranks, Robinson met the him during his stint with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in the early 1980s.

“He was part of an organization for Christian athletes,” Robinson told MemphiSport. “You know how you just hit it off with a person? Reggie is one of the most loving and carrying persons that I have met. He always wanted to help students and he ministered to them as well. He came to my classroom and talked to my kids about his career. I thought it was a great opportunity for African-American students to meet a successful African-American male. He was giving back to the community because of his love for God and people.”

Like White, Robinson, 58, has devoted virtually her entire life to enhancing the lives of youths, particularly those in inner city communities throughout Memphis. Her wealth of experience as an educator and school board member is among the reasons she is lobbying to fill the Shelby County Commission District 9 seat.

Early voting takes place April 16 through May 1 followed by the primary May 6. The general election is August 7.

After announcing that he would be endorsing Robinson, prominent judge Joe Brown told a crowd of supporters that Robinson “belonged downtown and is a conscientious and knowledgeable candidate.”

Having adopted the catchphrase, “Voice Of Reason,” Robinson is hopeful the 53,000-plus registered voters that make up District 9 will take into account her strong ties and steady contributions to Whitehaven and its neighboring communities. A 1972 graduate of Whitehaven High, Robinson is widely known for having served 12 years as commissioner of the Memphis and Shelby County school boards.

After the merger, she served on the unified board through August of last year.

In addition, Robinson, a longtime Whitehaven resident, is a retired supervisor for Memphis, Light, Gas, and Water Division.

She said the thought of running for County Commission’s District 9 post — which is comprised of Whitehaven, Westwood, Walker Holmes, Indian Hills, and Coro Lake and small portion of South Memphis — initially surfaced some time in 2012 during which the school districts had undergone a substantial reduction in revenue.

“The most important ingredient for a good, quality education is sustainable funding,” Robinson said. “As county commissioner, one of the most important responsibilities of that office is to approve the school district’s budget which is a third of the county’s budget.”

BIG WIGS --- Renowned judge Joe Brown was among those who have endorsed Robinson as she lobbies for the Shelby County Commission District 9 seat. (Photo by John Payne)

BIG WIG — Renowned judge Joe Brown is among those who have endorsed Robinson as she lobbies for the Shelby County Commission District 9 seat. (Photo by John Payne)

If elected, among Robinson’s immediate priorities is to do away with year-to-year budgeting that had become a difficult task for school officials in recent years.

“Budgeting year-to-year without a strategic plan is difficult for the school administrators,” Robinson said. “The county has to have a budget plan so the school district can plan. People think because of the merger, we lost jobs. We lost key positions because of lost revenue, flat funding for six years, students left the district to attend charter schools, and state-controlled schools. It was a roller coaster. People thought it was one thing. It was a number of issues. When your revenue is flat and your expenses go up, it creates a gap in your budget.”

Besides implementing fiscal policies and strategic planning, Robinson’s Platform For Progress Agenda includes: promoting quality vocational/technical job training, devise a balanced approach to educational funding, and educating the public on major issues.

“Your budget determines your tax rates,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to have a good handle on the budget. Our citizens are concerned about jobs. But at the same time, I want to encourage citizens to become more technically inclined. We’ve got some folks who are still scared to turn on a computer.”

Given she has what she describes as an effective plan in place, Robinson believes she is the frontrunner to assume the District 9 seat. Among the reasons is that like White, she quickly points out that her track record is such that she has a heart for people, a key attribute she hopes citizens will take into consideration when they cast their ballots.

“Yes, I am (the frontrunner),” Robinson said. “I have the professional background, experience, and a heart for people.”

Something that was easily discovered by one of the greatest linebackers in pro football history.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

AAU standout Kennedy Chandler learning from game’s finest point guards

MAD SKILLS --- Kennedy Chandler is only 11 years. But according to those who have followed him on the AAU basketball circuit in recent years, he boasts more experience at the point guard positions than his peers. (Photos submitted by Kylan Chandler)

MAD SKILLS — Kennedy Chandler is only 11 years. But according to those who have followed him on the AAU basketball circuit in recent years, he boasts more experience at the point guard positions than his peers. (Photos submitted by Kylan Chandler)

If you’re going to be the best, you might as well watch the best.

That is the message Kylan Chandler was trying to get across to his son, Kennedy, when he accompanied him to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.

For the 11-year-old Kennedy, that he was among thousands in attendance to witness mighty Kentucky shock top-seeded and previously-unbeaten Wichita State is something he will recall for some time.

“I had a lot of fun,” Kennedy said. “I learned a lot from watching those (college) players. I learned to always have a good attitude when you lose. I’m happy because God made a great person to play basketball. You should keep your head up no matter what.”

To Kennedy’s credit, he has gone to great lengths to become a fixture while playing competitive basketball, particularly on the AAU circuit, where he has skills have drawn rave reviews from his peers and coaches.

A fifth grader at Briarcrest Christian School, Kennedy has been playing AAU basketball since he was seven but, according to many who have followed his progress, his skills are more advanced then players his age. For starters, this 5-foot-2 speedy point guard has been successful as an amateur, in large part because he his relentless ball-handling skills, let alone his ability to become a facilitator.

In a nutshell, as Kennedy goes, so does those to whom he’s dishing nifty outlet and crosscourt passes.

That was evident Saturday when Kennedy checked into the game midway through the first quarter at Memphis University School. Playing reserve point guard for one of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s 11-and-under AAU teams, Kennedy was his usual reliable self as he wasted little time dictating the pace of the game.

He broke down opposing defenses with his blazing speed and breath-taking penetrations to the basket. He went for loose ball and converted baskets in transition. He routinely got other playing involved in an offensive rhythm while helping propel his team to a decisive 15-point win.

“At his age, God has given him a gift,” said Kylan Chandler. “His court awareness on the floor is impeccable. His court awareness on the floor is special. He’s all about getting his teammates involved. If he scores 15 points, you won’t know it because he’s so focused on getting others involved.”

Raheem Shabazz, Kennedy’s strength and conditioning coach, said among the things that separates Kennedy from other players is his relentless work ethic while preparing for competition.

Among the events in which Kennedy will participate in the coming weeks is LeBron James' Shooting Stars tournament later in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

NATIONAL STAGE — Among the AAU events in which Kennedy will participate in the coming weeks is LeBron James’ Shooting Stars tournament in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

“Kennedy has progressed tremendously during training,” said Shabazz, owner of Team Shabazz Speed And Agility Training. “He had become more explosive through speed, agility, and strength training through various techniques and explosive moments. He is an extremely hard worker and is eager to become stronger and more athletic everyday.”

Said Kennedy’s AAU coach Carlos Williams: “I have been watching Kennedy since second grade when he won the AAU nationals. It’s just a blessing that he’s playing with us now. Of all the talent I’ve seen, Kennedy is the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2021. There is nothing he can’t do. He can dribble under pressure. He can shoot from three or mid-range, play man defense, make plays for his teammates, and facilitate for his team. He’s just a point you would love to have.”

While Kennedy, in most instances, is the smallest player on the floor in many of his games, his skills essentially overshadows his small frame. Among the reasons is that not only this self-proclaimed “gym rat” works vigorously on his mechanics, but he spends an ample amount of time watching the brightest floor facilitators in the world.

Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul and Cleveland Cavaliers phenom Kyrie Irving to name a few.

“I always watch other point guards so I can learn their moves,” Kennedy said. “They’re really good and they work hard and so that’s what I need to do to get to the NBA.”

With the guidance of his father and his step mother, Rosalind Chandler, Kennedy has become a force in his brief time on the AAU circuit. As a member of the We All Can Go All-Stars 11-and-under team last year, he averaged a team-best 23.3 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals per game. In addition, he engineered the eight-and-under team to national championship in 2011 and guided the nine-and-under squad to 31-3 mark in 2012.

FATHERLY LOVE --- Kylan Chandler is arguably Kennedy's grandest fan, considering he travels throughout the country to watch his son perform on the AAU circuit.

FATHERLY LOVE — Kylan Chandler is arguably Kennedy’s grandest fan, considering he travels throughout the country to watch his son perform on the AAU circuit.

That he has developed a keen knack for winning and has proven to be unselfish at his age prompted one premiere college coach to applaud his rise as a young athlete, one whose best days are ahead of him.

“Coach (University of Memphis) Pastner told him to work on his assists-to-turnover ratio,” Kylan Chandler said.

He will have plenty of opportunities to do just that in the coming weeks and during the summer months.

Kennedy’s AAU team is scheduled to make trips to North Carolina, New Jersey, and Ohio over the next few weeks, most notably an appearance to play in Miami Heat star LeBron James’ James Shooting Stars Tournament in Akron, Ohio.

For the Chandlers, their son’s itinerary will allow him to generate more exposure, let alone add to his basketball repertoire on the AAU circuit.

“You should always have fun while playing and then take (what you learned) to the gym and work on them,” Kennedy said. “When I don’t have anything to do, I work on (my skills). But first, I do my homework and then I work on them.”

Yet another message about which his parents have taught him since he first picked up a basketball.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Memphis attorney Van Turner building solid resume on local political landscape

Growing up, Van Turner described himself as a good listener.

No one can attest to that more than Stan Collins, who coached Turner during his days as a football player for Whitehaven High.

As Collins is quick to recall, Turner exhibited something one can’t merely teach. That is, an individual who deemed it necessary to esteem others above himself.

VINTAGE VAN --- Van Turner boasts a solid political resume that includes working alongside Harold Ford, Jr. when the former congressman ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004. Turner, a Memphis-based attorney, is currently running to fill the newly-established Shelby County Commission District 12 seat. (Photos submitted by Antonesha Houston)

VINTAGE VAN — Van Turner boasts a solid political resume that includes working alongside Harold Ford, Jr. when the former congressman ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004. Turner, a Memphis-based attorney, is currently running to fill the newly-established Shelby County Commission District 12 seat. (Photos submitted by Antonesha Houston)

“He’s true to form on that because all good leaders are first good followers,” Collins, who coached at Whitehaven from 1979-1996, told MemphiSport. “That he entails that, you know he was listening when he was younger.”

More than two decades later, Turner realizes his listening skills could prove beneficial, let alone parlay what could jump-start a monumental chapter in his career as a flourishing Memphis-based attorney. Turner, 39, is running to fill the office of Shelby County Commission District 12.

The newly-established seat, which covers areas between eastern Hickory Hill Road and Hacks Cross in Southeast Memphis, surfaced as a result of a vote by the County Commission to eliminate what they deemed “Super Districts” and organize single sectors.

For Turner, occupying such a seat once all ballots are cast following the August 7 general election would further strengthen a resume for someone is relatively new to the local political arena. Turner twice was named chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party in 2009 and 2011.

Before embarking upon a career of law, Turner played football for three seasons at Whitehaven High and was offered scholarships by Tennessee Tech and Duke. (Photo courtesy of Hampton House photography)

Before embarking upon a law career, Turner played football for three seasons at Whitehaven High and was offered scholarships by Tennessee Tech and Duke. (Photo courtesy of Hampton House photography)

Prior to assuming that post, he volunteered to work alongside Harold Ford, Jr. when the former chairman of the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council ran for the U. S. Senate in 2002 and 2006.

As for overseeing the local democratic party, Turner said, “It really a launched me, especially in 2009. It was a hard-fought campaign. As a newcomer, I had to convince these democratic stalwarts that I was worthy of a chance. So when they gave me that chance, I was excited.”

Even during his days as an athlete, Turner established a reputation as one who took advantage of golden opportunities. After lettering on special teams his entire high school career and playing a significant amount minutes at the wideout position, Turner was installed as a full fledge starter on offense his senior year. To his credit, he evolved into one of Whitehaven’s most efficient players, in large part because of his blazing speed.

Such a key attribute drew rave reviews from college scouts, given Whitehaven was viewed as a revolving door, of sorts, for recruiters, many of whom routinely visited the school in hopes of landing quality players.

Turner, it turned out, was among those who had left a favorable impression on college coaches, considering he was offered scholarships to play football at Tennessee Tech and Duke. However, after consulting with his spiritual father, former Metropolitan Baptist Church pastor Fred C. Lofton, Turner sensed enrolling at Morehouse College would best suit him.

Turner has been married for 12 years to his high school girlfriend, Tammie. The couple has three children: Malik 8, Masai 6, and Malia 2.

Turner has been married for 12 years to his high school girlfriend, Tammie. The couple has three children: Malik 8, Masai 6, and Malia 2.

“More than anything, football taught me discipline and fortunately I was able to attend Morehouse,” Turner said. “(Earning an academic scholarship to Morehouse) was something I couldn’t say no to. Going to school in the shadows of Martin Luther King, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others was something I couldn’t pass up.”

After graduating from Morehouse in 1997 with a degree in English and Linguistics, Turner moved to Japan, where he spent two years as an English instructor. Upon returning to the states, he enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Law.Consequently, he embarked what has been a stellar law career when he began working for a sizable and notable Memphis-based firm. Three years later, he partnered with Monice Moore Hagler and T. Kevin Bruce to form what is now Hagler-Bruce-Turner, or HBT.

As Turner explains, there is a unique correlation between playing football and practicing law.

“What I learned on the football field helped me in law,” said Turner, who has been married for 12 years to his high school girlfriend, Tammie Turner. “You have to overcome fears. Law school was intimidating. What you learn in law school is that everyone was in the top of their class. You’re with the brightest of the brightest. In football, Whitehaven had to compete with the best. So you’ve got to work harder and you’ve got to play harder, and you’ve got to want it more than others.”

If elected to oversee District 12, Turner said among his key objectives would be to place an emphasis on education and job growth, particularly in a Hickory Hill community where a number of businesses have either ceased operations or relocated to other areas.

“I think that Memphis and Shelby County are positioned for greatness,” Turner said. “But I think it’s to take strong leadership, compromising when necessary and fighting when necessary to make sure our schools properly funded to sustain our communities. I’m vested. I just think we have to get it right as it relates to education. We’re educating our future leaders, business owners, and public servants through education.

“We have to grow small businesses,” Turner added. “Small businesses are the No. 1 mechanism for hire, which supports other businesses. That has to be a basic premise to operate from.”

All predispositions aside, Collins said Turner’s track record as a fledging political figure is such that he should be considered a heavy favorite to solidify the Shelby County Commission District 12 seat.

“Clearly, not only should he be the frontrunner,” said Collins, “but Van should be the winner when this is all over with. When the dust settles, Van should be the winner of this race and Memphis will be better for it.”

Among the reasons is that Turner pledges to do more listening than talking while serving the citizens of Memphis.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.