Kevin Durant on criticism in bolting Team USA: ‘I’ve put in work for my country’

DALLAS — Kevin Durant insists he hasn’t lost any sleep.

Even after the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player was criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash.

“To be honest, I really don’t care,” Durant told reporters after Friday’s shootaround in American Airlines Center. “I slept the same right after I made that decision.”
An eight-year NBA veteran, Durant withdrew from Team USA, citing “mental and physical fatigue.”

KEEP IT MOVING --- Despite being criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash. (Photo by Jim Cowert/AP)

KEEP IT MOVING — Despite being criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash. (Photo by Jim Cowert/AP)

Durant’s decision to leave the team came days after Paul George sustained an open tibia-fibula fracture. The Indiana Pacers star landed awkwardly at the base of a basket stanchion after fouling James Harden during a Las Vegas scrimmage and is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

Durant’s departure followed previous withdrawals by All-Stars Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Consequently, various media pundits questioned Durant’s timing in leaving the team, going as far as to label the 2010 FIBA World Championship MVP a “quitter.”

“If you attended camp in Las Vegas, and if you called coach (Team USA coach) Mike Krzyzewski to ask for advice on how to be a “leader” when camp resumed in Chicago, and then you blindside Coach K and every other member of the national team, you have “quit,” longtime NBA writer Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com wrote in an August 15 column.

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks on Friday refuted the criticism surrounding his star player, saying Durant’s decision to leave Team USA had “nothing to do with quitting.”

“Well, I haven’t heard anybody call him a quitter,” Brooks said. “Quitting is when you’re not playing, when you fall down and don’t get back up again. And that’s the last thing on Kevin’s mind. Kevin’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. And he’s obviously very talented and his work ethic is definitely at a high, high level. He goes into every offseason looking to add to his game on both ends (of the floor). “This year is no different. He’s gained some strength through all of the work he’s put in with our group. He’s come back. His attitude has always been great. His leadership skills have improved every year. I think he’s in a good position right now to lead us where we want to get to.”

Still, Durant, who scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 17 minutes in OKC’s 118-109 preseason win at Dallas Friday night, said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA.

Many, in fact, sensed the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by George’s gruesome injury.

 

While addressing the media on Friday, Durant said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA in August. Many speculated the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by Paul George’s season-ending leg injury during a scrimmage.

While addressing the media on Friday, Durant said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA in August. Many speculated the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by Paul George’s season-ending leg injury during a Las Vegas scrimmage. (Photo by C. L. Guy)

“I made the decision based on me, but it makes people uncomfortable,” Durant said. “So I understood and it comes with the whole territory when you do something like that. So I understand that. I try not to let it affect me and I’ll keep pushing. It’s one of those things where if you keep throwing rocks, it’s not going to penetrate because I know what I really do. I’ve put in work for my country.”

Since George’s injury, Durant said he often reaches out to the two-time All-Star, who appears to be recouping comfortably and haven’t ruled out a comeback this year.

During an interview last week, the 24-year-old George told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth, “It’s very possible that I can play this season.”

“I talk to him all the time,” Durant said of George. “I call in and check on him. He looks like he’s doing extremely well. I saw him the other day walking with the boot. So that’s good to see that his recovery is coming along pretty well.”

As for the criticism that ensued amid a withdrawal from Team USA that “blindsided everyone,” according to Krzyzewski, Durant said that didn’t affect his offseason routine of doing the necessary things to ensure OKC remains a serious contender to compete for a championship.

Last year, the Thunder lost to eventual NBA champion San Antonio in six games in the Western Conference Finals.

“(The offseason) was fun,” Durant, the reigning NBA scoring champion, said. “I worked hard. I enjoyed my summer. That’s really it. I had a lot of off-the-court stuff to do. But what it really boiled down to was the court. I always make time to get out on the court.”

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Dallas-area hoops standout Shayla Dampier boasts dreams of playing for UConn

IRVING, Texas — Shayla Dampier’s heart goes out to Paul George.

 

TEXAS SIZE DREAMS --- MacArthur High basketball standout Shayla Dampiere boasts high hopes of playing for UConn once her prep career ends. (Photos submitted by Lisa Cooper)

TEXAS SIZE DREAMS — MacArthur High basketball standout Shayla Dampier boasts high hopes of playing for UConn once her prep career ends. (Photos submitted by Lisa Cooper)

When George, a two-time NBA All-Star, landed awkwardly at the base of a basket stanchion after fouling James Harden and suffered a compound fracture of both bones in his lower right leg during a Team USA Blue and White scrimmage August 1 in Las Vegas, Dampier was amongst the millions of viewers who witnessed the freak injury live.

Dampier, a rising sophomore combo guard for MacArthur High in Irving, Texas, said that while she was somewhat bothered by George’s injury, his setback was, by and large, reminiscent of her season-ending injury last year.

“It was shocking to see somebody in the NBA have to go through something like that,” Dampier said of George, who is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season. “You know, you don’t respect it. I just kind of cringed and was kind of in shock. After I watched the video a couple of times, I could feel what he felt like. After an injury like, I knew he would never be the same.”

For Dampier, who has been playing competitive basketball since she was seven years old, while she contends injuries such as the one George sustained customarily gives way a psychological effect on athletes, she believes players can still manage to perform effectively. Last summer, during an AAU game in Arlington as a member of the North Texas Strive, Dampier’s left knee buckled while converting a layup.

“I was mostly in pain and fear,” Dampier said of her injury. “I really didn’t know what it was.”

As swelling to her knee steadily increased, Dampier underwent an MRI three days later. Consequently, it was revealed that she had torn her ACL, thus sidelining her for all of her freshman campaign for MacArthur. For Dampier, the season-ending injury was too much stomach.

“I wasn’t too sure if I’d play again,” Dampier said.

Fortunately for Dampiere, a Seattle native, after undergoing successful surgery and months of rehabilitation, Dampiere’s recouping comfortably from her injury. Nowadays, she has begun to partake in regular workout and conditioning sessions. While doctors have yet to clear her to rejoin the Lady Cardinals --- who open the season November 25 when they Plano --- Dampiere is expected to be cleared to return to full, contact drills before preseason practices begin.

Fortunately for Dampier, a Seattle native, after undergoing successful surgery and months of rehabilitation, Dampier’s recouping comfortably from her injury. Nowadays, she has begun to partake in regular workout and conditioning sessions. While doctors have yet to clear her to rejoin the Lady Cardinals — who open the season November 25 when they Plano — Dampier is expected to be cleared to return to full, contact drills before preseason practices begin.

Fortunately for the Seattle native, after undergoing successful surgery and months of rehabilitation, Dampier’s recouping comfortably from her injury. Nowadays, she has begun to partake in regular workout and conditioning sessions. While doctors have yet to clear her to rejoin the Lady Cardinals — who open the season November 25 when they Plano — Dampier is expected to be cleared to return to full, contact drills before preseason practices begin.

“I never thought that she wouldn’t play again,” said Lisa Cooper, Dampier’s mother and arguably her grandest supporter. “I just knew it was just a setback for a (comeback). I knew because of my faith, I just prayed about it.”

Days after her daughter’s injury, Cooper fielded an email from a close acquaintance about the torn ACL former UConn basketball star Sue Bird suffered during her illustrious tenure with the tradition-rich Lady Huskies.

“It was very encouraging,” Cooper said of the Bird’s story in which the current Seattle Storm star recovered from a torn ACL. “It showed (Dampier) that this doesn’t have to be the end.”

Which is, of course, among the reasons she is destined to make up for lost time in this, the upcoming season.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA’s Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Bethany College’s Leaky Jones drawing comparisons to ex-Memphis star D-Rose

For Calique Jones, it’s a question he’s been asked quite frequently in recent years.

Do you believe you were overlooked by Division I colleges coming out of high school?

FRESH START --- Though playing basketball for a Division III private school isn’t as glamorous as the putting his skills on display at the Division I ranks, many believe the sky’s the limit for a speedy floor general such Bethany College's Jones.  (Photos submitted by Mia Crow)

FRESH START — Though playing basketball for a Division III private school isn’t as glamorous as the putting his skills on display at the Division I ranks, many believe the sky’s the limit for a speedy floor general such Bethany College’s Jones. (Photos submitted by Mia Crow)

As usual, the 18-year-old Jones’ response is virtually the same.

“Yes I thought I was overlooked because I’m a good player especially at the point guard position,” Jones told Bleacher Report during a recent interview.

To get a full understanding of why Jones contends his immense basketball skills were overlooked by college scouts as a prep standout, look no further than the strides he’s made in recent years.

For starters, Jones first began playing competitive hoops when he was five years old. Consequently, his mother, Mia Crow, helped his to enhance his mechanics by signing him up camps and, ultimately, an AAU team in the Pittsburgh area.

He is widely remembered for having played for the Dejuan Blair All-Stars AAU squad and evolving as a standout at Obama Academy of International Studies.

Today, Jones is a freshman at Bethany College in West Virginia. The oldest private college in the state, Bethany has a student body of approximately 1,030 and is a Division III institution that is a member of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (or ECAC).

Though playing basketball for a Division III private school isn’t as glamorous as the putting his skills on display at the Division I ranks, many believe the sky’s the limit for a speedy floor general such Jones.

Among the reasons is that this vibrant, streaky 6’ 0” point man is armed with the ability to create his own shoot much like a swingman and has demonstrated time and again the ability to become a facilitator on the floor.

In a nutshell, as Jones goes, so does his supporting cast.

LASTING IMPRESSION --- With preseason camps just days away, Jones said is expects to assume a key role and contribute immediately for a Bethany team he hopes will compete an ECAC title this season.

LASTING IMPRESSION — With preseason camps just days away, Jones said is expects to assume a key role and contribute immediately for a Bethany team he hopes will compete an ECAC title this season.

“I honestly do think I can have an impact on this team,” Jones said. “My coach and I really close yet but soon we’ll be really close.”

While Jones continues to establish a solid rapport with the Bethany coaching staff as well as become acclimated to college life, he acknowledges his primary focus is to concentrate on academics and polish his skills as fall preseason practices loom.

To his credit, many have likened Jones’ skills to NBA stars Derrick Rose and John Wall, in large part because of his immense quickness, scoring and ball-handling ability, not to mention his keen ability to penetrate to the basketball.

“Those two are my top point guard that I base myself off of,” Jones said of Rose and Walls. “I believe I play just like both of them from quickness to natural speed to shooting…all of that. I work hard to be like them and I actually got some compliments saying that my speed reminds people of D-Rose.”

So how exactly did Jones wound of falling through the cracks and going virtually unnoticed by major college scouts?

“My grades weren’t close enough to get accepted into the (Division I) school so they kind of just backed off if that makes sense,” said Jones, assessing why he sensed he was passed up by bigger schools. “I have to work extremely hard…no slacking at all.”

Although he acknowledged that Bethany was his “last option” during a recruiting process in which he generated interest from UMass, South Florida, Norfolk State, and Robert Morris, Jones said his primary focus is to do what is necessary to help his the Bison excel.

Although he acknowledged that Bethany was his “last option” during a recruiting process in which he generated interest from UMass, South Florida, Norfolk State, and Robert Morris, Jones said his primary focus is to do what is necessary to help his the Bison excel.

Among those whom have supported Jones intensely as he prepares to play his first collegiate game November 15 when the Bison host Frostburg State is his mother.

Like many of Jones’ peers, Crow senses the bigger schools past up a golden opportunity to acquire a true freshman.

“Calique was a major factor in the success of his high school team as well as his AAU team,” Crow said. “He competed last year on a national level, played tough teams in front of many top Division I coaches, and he did really well. Calique is a born leader and dedicated to the sport of basketball and he would be such an asset to any team he plays for.”

With preseason camps just days away, Jones said is expects to assume a key role and contribute immediately for a Bethany team he hopes will compete an ECAC title this season.

Although he acknowledged that Bethany was his “last option” during a recruiting process in which he generated interest from UMass, South Florida, Norfolk State, and Robert Morris, Jones said his primary focus is to do what is necessary to help his the Bison excel.

As for a basketball future at the professional level, Jones would be the first to tell you that is on his list of short-term goals.

How else to explain why he’s drawn comparisons to Rose and Walls?

“Playing professionally will be important,” Jones said. “I just want to make sure my mom is going to be good, my brothers will be good and my friends.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA’s Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

 

Tyson Chandler thrilled to be back in Dallas after title run three years ago

NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT 

DALLAS — As far as Tyson Chandler is concerned, it’s the “little things” that matter.

Such was the case when Chandler in June was traded back to the Dallas Mavericks after a three-year absence from the team.

Within hours after news spread of his return to the organization, Chandler fielded text messages and emails from close acquaintances with whom he established close-knit bonds during his lone season with the team in 2010-11.

HAPPY RETURN --- During the Dallas Mavericks' Media Day session Monday at American Airlines Center, veteran center Tyson Chandler said he's happy to have reunited with the team he helped capture its first NBA championship three years ago. A 13-year pro, Chandler was traded back to the Mavs in June. (Photo by Andrew Jackson, Jr.)

HAPPY RETURN — During the Dallas Mavericks’ Media Day session Monday at American Airlines Center, veteran center Tyson Chandler said he’s happy to have reunited with the team he helped capture its first NBA championship three years ago. A 13-year pro, Chandler was traded back to the Mavs in June. (Photo by Andrew Jackson, Jr.)

It was, in fact, a memorable campaign for Chandler, considering the 13-year-veteran helped propel Dallas to its first world championship in franchise history when the Mavericks upset the heavy-favorite Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.

So it was no surprise that within days upon his return to the Mavericks, the city of Dallas showed their appreciation to the All-Star center by posting a picture of Chandler wearing a Mavs jersey on an electronic billboard near American Airlines Center that reads: WELCOME BACK, TYSON!

A career that includes stints with Chicago, New Orleans, Charlottle, and New York, Chandler said returning to Dallas has brought about a feeling he describes as “surreal.”

“It feels great to be back,” Chandler said during Monday’s Media Day session at American Airlines Center. “At first, it was surreal. I was a visitor for the last three years. But it’s great to be back and see familiar guys.”

While addressing reporters, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said virtually everywhere he’s gone of late, Chandler emerged as the center of conversation.

“He’s the most popular one-year player of any franchise in the history of professional sports,” Carlisle jokingly said of Chandler. “In fact, at a couple of speaking engagements I’ve had over the past couple of weeks, I said, ‘Tyson Chandler’s back.’ And folks go crazy. He’s the kind of guy that you can’t help but love to watch because of his approach and enthusiasm. You know, he’s winner.”

Not to mention a fan favorite, given the courtesies he’s acquired since his unexpected return to Big D.

POSTSEASON FORM --- Having started in each of the Mavs’ 21 postseason games in 2011, Chandler averaged 32.4 minutes, his best game coming in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when he registered 13 points and 16 rebounds to help Dallas even the series. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

POSTSEASON FORM — Having started in each of the Mavs’ 21 postseason games in 2011, Chandler averaged 32.4 minutes, his best game coming in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when he registered 13 points and 16 rebounds to help Dallas even the series. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Because of the favorable impression Chandler left with the team three years ago, it’s safe to assume both sides were grateful to rekindle after Chandler announced six months after the Mavs’ title run that he had agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Knicks worth a reported $58 million.

Acquired by Dallas on July 13, 2010 in exchange for Matt Carroll, Erick Dampier, and Eduardo Najera, Chandler started 74 regular season games for the Mavs, averaging 10.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 27.8 minutes per game.

He was especially efficient during the team’s title run, particularly as the centerpiece on the defensive end, where he was forced to occupy more minutes because of the injury to backup center Brendan Haywood.

Having started in each of the Mavs’ 21 postseason games, Chandler averaged 32.4 minutes, his best outing coming in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when he registered 13 points and 16 rebounds to help Dallas even the series.

While Chandler admittedly didn’t know what to expect during his first run with the Mavs, he doesn’t shy away from the notion that much is expected of him this time around.

Chandler was especially efficient during the Mavs’ title run, particularly as the centerpiece on the defensive end, considering he was forced to occupy more minutes because of the injury to backup center Brendan Haywood. (Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Chandler was especially efficient during the Mavs’ title run, particularly as the centerpiece on the defensive end, considering he was forced to occupy more minutes because of the injury to backup center Brendan Haywood. (Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP)

“Obviously, having been here and winning a championship, the expectations are a little different,” Chandler said. “There are a bunch of new faces. But the motivation is still the same. And the expectations within me are still the same if not more.”

Among those who appears mostly intrigued by Chandler’s return is Mavs franchise player Dirk Nowitzki. In July, Nowitzki restructured his contract, thus allowing the team to acquire a number of key players, most notably Chandler, Chandler Parsons (from Houston), and Jameer Nelson (from Orlando).

“I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Nowitzki said of Chandler. “Obviously, the chemistry was there a few years ago, so I’m not worried about.”

As the Mavs open training camp Tuesday morning, among the key challenges for Carlisle is to devise ways to distribute minutes for a roster that boasts immense depth. Conversely, Carlisle acknowledges because of the key offseason acquisitions, much of the pressure won’t fall solely on Nowitzki to generate the bulk of the offense and on Chandler to steer the Mavs defensively.

Dallas opens preseason play October 7 when it hosts Houston. The Mavs’ season-opener is October 28 at defending NBA champion San Antonio.

“We’ll make sure (Chandler’s) minutes are reasonable, because we don’t want to overtax anybody too soon,” Carlisle said.

Regardless of how the Mavs choose to utilize Chandler this season, one thing is seemingly for certain: The smile he exhibited Monday while addressing the assembled media was indicative of just how delightful he is to have landed back at his old stomping ground.

“It’s so funny because I only spent one year here and everybody thinks I’ve spent my entire career here,” Chandler said. “You know, everybody thinks I was here four or five or six years. But it was just one, long, really incredible year.”

A year Mavs fans will never forget.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Memphian Kaye Davis celebrates September 11 birthdays of son, older brother

DREAM FULFILLED --- Though Jackson State was dealt a lopsided 35-7 loss to Tennessee State in Saturday's Southern Heritage Classic, Memphian Kaye Davis still was left smiling and gazing into the blue skies as her son, JSU's Maurio Batts, took part in what was an exuberant performance during the halftime’s “Battle of the Bands.”

DREAM FULFILLED — Though Jackson State was dealt a lopsided 35-7 loss to Tennessee State in Saturday’s Southern Heritage Classic, Memphian Kaye Davis still was left smiling and gazing into the blue skies as her son, JSU’s Maurio Batts, took part in what was an exuberant performance during the halftime’s “Battle of the Bands.”

No doubt, the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City will forever be labeled a day of infamy in United States history.

But for Memphian Kaye Davis, that day also is one she will cherish for the rest of her life.

As Davis tells it, anytime someone brings of the terrorist attacks that transpired 13 years ago, she quickly enlightens them that such a tumultuous event unfolded on the birthdays of her son, Maurio Batts and her older brother, Kevin Whitmore.

For Davis, a Whitehaven High graduate, arguably the most identifiable day in American history essentially brings her to smiles, considering it affords her the opportunity to pay homage to two individuals whom she describes as two of her most favorite.

“In my eyes, 9/11 has to be a special day because it created two very special people in two very different times, in 1964 and 1996, in the same family on September 18 years ago,” Davis told MemphiSport during a recent interview.

Looking back, Davis can recall exactly where she was at the time news spread of the attacks on New York.

“I was picking up my son from daycare,” Davis explained. “Now I have not been to New York, but I would say that we have come a long way because we are aware of terrorism and the cover-ups in Washington.”

Nowadays, however, Davis often becomes the beneficiary of an array of jokes and punch-lines surrounding September 11.

“Well I get a lot of jokes about 9/11” said Davis, “because so many people died. But the way I look at it is God created some good people on that day also.”

Among those “good people” is Batts, Davis’ 18-year-old son who, to his credit, continues to bring joy to the life of his mother.

A 2014 graduate of East High, Batts is currently a member of Jackson State University’s band that is has been famously deemed “The Sonic Boom Of The South.”

During Saturday’s 25th annual Southern Heritage Classic, Davis and a host of family members were was among the estimated 50,000 spectators on hand to watch Jackson State square off against Tennessee State.

A 2014 graduate of East High, Batts is currently a member of Jackson State University’s band that is has been famously deemed “The Sonic Boom Of The South.” During Saturday’s 25th annual Southern Heritage Classic, Davis and a host of family members were was among the estimated 50,000 spectators on hand to watch Jackson State square off against Tennessee State.

A 2014 graduate of East High, Batts is currently a member of Jackson State University’s band that is has been famously deemed “The Sonic Boom Of The South.”
During Saturday’s 25th annual Southern Heritage Classic, Davis and a host of family members were was among the estimated 50,000 spectators on hand to watch Jackson State square off against Tennessee State.

Though JSU was dealt a lopsided 35-7 loss to their arch rivals, Davis still was left smiling and gazing into the blue skies as her son took part in what was an exuberant performance during the halftime’s “Battle of the Bands.”

“I was proud of him for making the band,” Davis said of her son, who was named a member of the JSU band in early August. “I knew he could do it because that is all he ever did. I was there and cheering him on when he came to the Liberty Bowl. I couldn’t wait because we haven’t heard the trumpet since he left (for school). He has been through some changes these past 30 days and he overcame every problem that came his way. We got our tickets as soon as we found out he made it.”

Following Batts on-field display, Davis bolted the stadium and joined the rest of her family for a joyous, festive occasion for her brother, a Hamilton High and Morehouse College graduate who turned 50 on September 11.

By all accounts, that she got to savor the best of both worlds — watching her son fulfill his dream of performing as part of a college band and celebrating her brother’s 50th birthday — days after arguably the most historic day in American history gave way to what was a memorable weekend.

Never mind that her son’s school wound up on the losing end of Saturday’s game.

“It was my first time celebrating with a new family,” Batts said of the halftime performance.

Though he was five years old at the time the terrorist attacks transpired, Batts said that hasn’t in any shape or form overshadowed the splendor surrounding his birthday.

“I was only five,” Batts said. “I remember seeing it all over the news for a while. But my main focus (weeks leading to the Southern Heritage Classic) was outplaying TSU.”

As far as his mother is concerned, he did just that.

Next up for Batts: A Battle of the Bands showdown Saturday versus Grambling State at 6 p.m. CDT.

No doubt, his mother will be all smiles once again.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NFL and the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him atandre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

 

 

Dallas couple moved by DeAngelo Williams’ unique tribute to his late mother

IRVING, Texas — On the afternoon of September 7, LaTisha Jarrett figured she’d watch an NFL game with her husband, Otis.

What she witnessed shortly thereafter brought her to tears.

While watching the Carolina Panthers’ season-opening game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LaTisha noticed Panthers star running back DeAngelo Williams sporting pink dreadlocks.

DeAngelo Williams, the Carolina Panthers’ all-time leading rusher, dyed his signature dreadlocks and painted his toenails pink in the season-opener against Tampa Bay in honor of his late mother, who in May lost her battle with breast cancer.  Williams also had four aunts to die of this dreaded disease. (Photos by Chris Graythem/Getty Images)

DeAngelo Williams, the Carolina Panthers’ all-time leading rusher, dyed his signature dreadlocks and painted his toenails pink in the season-opener against Tampa Bay in honor of his late mother, who in May lost her battle with breast cancer.
Williams also had four aunts to die of this dreaded disease. (Photos by Chris Graythem/Getty Images)

“When I saw it, when I saw the pink dreads, I just wanted to look more into it,” LaTisha said.

What she learned during an online search was that Williams, Carolina’s all-time leading rusher, dyed his signature dreadlocks and painted his toenails pink in honor of his late mother, who in May lost her battle with breast cancer.

TRUE LEADER --- Williams, 31, has been quiet instrumental of the NFL's breast cancer awareness campaign and is credited with persuading the league to allow players to wear pink in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

TRUE LEADER — Williams, 31, has been quiet instrumental of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign and is credited with persuading the league to allow players to wear pink in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Williams also had four aunts to die of this dreaded disease.

Williams, 31, has been quite instrumental of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign and is credited with persuading the league to allow players to wear pink in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

While watching the Panthers’ outlast Tampa Bay, 20-14, LaTisha and her husband were moved by Williams’ unique gesture in paying homage to his mother, in large part because they can relate to Williams’ experience of losing a loved one to breast cancer.

In July 2002, less than two years before the couple met, Otis’ mother, Carolyn Jarrett, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She ultimately went into remission approximately eight months later after having one of her breasts removed. However, the cancer eventually spread to her other breast nearly a year later.

Carolyn died in November 2005, days after Otis proposed to LaTisha to marry him.

“We thought that she would go into remission after (having the second breast removed) and that would take care of everything because she had the first breast removed,” LaTisha said she wiped away tears Sunday afternoon at West Irving Church of God In Christ. “It was very drastic. It happened so fast. She passed three days after Thanksgiving. She could not come to (Thanksgiving) dinner because she was too weak.”

While watching Williams --- a former University of Memphis star who made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2009 when he rushed for 1,117 yards on 216 carries and seven touchdowns on 216 carries --- play the season opener in honor of his late mother inspired the Jarretts to reflects on Carolyn’s memory, the couple hope to someday meet Williams to commend him for steadfastly promoting breast cancer awareness.

While watching Williams — a former University of Memphis star who made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2009 when he rushed for 1,117 yards on 216 carries and seven touchdowns on 216 carries — play the season opener in honor of his late mother inspired the Jarretts to reflects on Carolyn’s memory, the couple hope to someday meet Williams to commend him for steadfastly promoting breast cancer awareness.

As LaTisha continued to wipe away tears, she couldn’t help but reflect on the memorable moments she enjoyed with her mother-in-law.

“The relationship that I built with her in that year-and-a-half was remarkable,” LaTisha said. “The way she just embraced me and brought me in was remarkable. (Her death) was hard for me because OJ (Otis) was actually taking her to chemotherapy. And seeing her and seeing how weak she would get and…and we’d put her in bed and that was painful for me.”

While watching Williams — a former University of Memphis star who made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2009 when he rushed for 1,117 yards on 216 carries and seven touchdowns — play the season opener in honor of his late mother inspired the Jarretts to reflects on Carolyn’s memory, the couple hope to someday meet Williams to commend him for steadfastly promoting breast cancer awareness.

“I would love to tell him I appreciate everything he’s doing for breast cancer and awareness and to not let (his vision) die,” Otis Jarrett said.

As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month looms, LaTisha’s itinerary is filling up with regards to participating in various 5K activities. Among them is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk October 18 in Plano, Texas.

After learning of Williams’ story, LaTisha said she feels compelled to pay tribute to his mother during the month of October.

“I would love to walk in his mother’s honor,” said she as she continued to fight back tears. “I would love to put his mother’s name on my back. This young man didn’t ask for his mother to get breast cancer. He’s playing the game in his mother’s honor. He needs more exposure for what he’s doing because it’s positive. People need more awareness as it relates to breast cancer.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NFL and the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him atandre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Memphis record producer Gregory Lofton becoming a fixture among Grizz, Tiger Nation

You came from Vancouver, where you struggled to survived. Walked a road of adversity, yet you did it all in stride. When you came to Memphis, where you struggled to rebuild. Made personnel changes, it became a struggle still. But we’re getting it together, and we’re turning it around. got our act together to beat our enemies down. No more losing our battles, we’re taking a stand. We’re getting it together to get that title in our hands. With courage in our hearts we will reach the top. Now we’re on the move, and we can’t be stopped. — Memphian Gregory Lofton, on his recently released Grizzlies fight song

SILKY SMOOTH PRODUCER --- Memphian Gregory Lofton has garnered an array of attention as one of the Mid-South’s up-and-coming record producers. The founder and chief executive officer of Memphis-based Silky International Records, Lofton'S unique style of song-writing and producing have become a popular trend particularly among local female media pundits. (Photos submitted by Gregory Lofton)

SILKY SMOOTH PRODUCER — Memphian Gregory Lofton has garnered an array of attention as one of the Mid-South’s up-and-coming record producers. The founder and chief executive officer of Memphis-based Silky International Records, Lofton’S unique style of song-writing and producing have become a popular trend particularly among local female media pundits. (Photos submitted by Gregory Lofton)

As Gregory tells it, he doesn’t buy dreams.

“I sell them,” Lofton told MemphiSport during a recent interview.

What Lofton, 58, is alluding to primarily is the attention he has garnered as one of the Mid-South’s up-and-coming record producers. The founder and chief executive officer of Memphis-based Silky International Records, Lofton unique style of song-writing and producing have become a popular trend particularly among local female media pundits.

Not bad for a local rising music producer who has studied under the jurisdiction of legendary producer Kenny Gamble and his Grammy award-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame producing team, as well as alongside the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti Labelle, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler, among others.

“The thing that I remember and appreciate mostly about my quest is that it gave me an opportunity to promote my beautiful city of Memphis and its attractions, especially our beautiful female newscasters,” Lofton said.

To his credit, Mid-South-area media members aren’t the only ones who have embraced Lofton’s assortment of musical projects. Arguably Memphis’ most celebrated basketball teams have come to recognized the true talent Lofton has become since he and his brother launched Silky International Records four years ago.

TRUE BLUE FAN --- Lofton's Memphis Tigers fight song was played with my by local sports radio personality Jon "The Rainman” Rainey during his afternoon show, The Southern Sports Report, on WHBQ 56 AM. The hit was played during the U of M’s men’s basketball team’s 2008 national championship run during which the Tigers were dealt an overtime defeat by Kansas in San Antonio’s Alamodome.

TRUE BLUE FAN — Lofton’s Memphis Tigers fight song was played with my by local sports radio personality Jon “The Rainman” Rainey during his afternoon show, The Southern Sports Report, on WHBQ 56 AM. The hit was played during the U of M’s men’s basketball team’s 2008 national championship run during which the Tigers were dealt an overtime defeat by Kansas in San Antonio’s Alamodome.

CHECK OUT GREGORY LOFTON’S LATEST PROJECTS AT: www.silkyinternationalrecords.com.

How to explain the ongoing buzz and hoopla surrounding the his recently-released hit dedicated solely to the Grizzlies’ organization, a song even the Grindfather himself, Grizz shooting guard Tony Allen, could very well come to enjoy.

You came from Vancouver, where you struggled to survive. Walked a road of adversity, yet you did it all in stride. When you came to Memphis, where you struggled to rebuild. Made personnel changes, it became a struggle still. But we’re getting it together, and we’re turning it around, got our acts together to beat our enemies down. No more losing our battles, we’re taking a stand. We’re getting it together to get that title in our hands. With courage in our hearts we will reach the top. Now we’re on the move, and we can’t be stopped.

And then there’s the second verse:

We’re starting a new journey, and we’re on our way back. To our foes in the game, prepare yourselves for a grizzly attack. Our house is in order, and we’re bad to the bone. Go out and fight, fight. Bring our championship home, bring it home.

According to Lofton, he sent his compelling hit via certified mail to new Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera, although he has yet to generate any feedback from front office reps. Luckily for the Vietnam Army veteran all was not lost.

That’s because the copyrighted unpublished version of his Memphis Tigers fight song was played with my by local sports radio personality Jon “The Rainman” Rainey during his afternoon show, The Southern Sports Report, on WHBQ 56 AM. The hit was played during the U of M’s men’s basketball team’s 2008 national championship run during which the Tigers were dealt an overtime defeat by Kansas in San Antonio’s Alamodome.

“They used my song to open the show and played snip-it all during the first hour of the show,” Lofton said.

Fortunately for Lofton, among those who had come to admire his work is U of M basketball coach Josh Pastner. “I thank him for his support,” Lofton said his relationship with Pastner.

Fortunately for Lofton, among those who had come to admire his work is U of M basketball coach Josh Pastner. “I thank him for his support,” Lofton said his relationship with Pastner.

Fortunately for Lofton, among those who had come to admire his work is U of M basketball coach Josh Pastner.

“I thank him for his support,” Lofton said his relationship with Pastner.

Without hesitation, Lofton, a former member of the Performing Arts Division of The Black Music Association, commenced to sharing his Tiger fight song that is starting to become popular among alumni and those with ties to the basketball program.

Weeeee got tiger fever, we’re burning up, we have fire in our eyes. We’re the Memphis Tigers, and we eat our foes alive. Weeee got tiger fever, we are the u of m. The University of Memphis. The mighty U of M. We are the mighty U of M.

Lofton relishes the fact Pastner passed his project on to university officials.

“Not only is he a great coach but he is worth his weight in gold as a coach and humanitarian,” Lofton said of Pastner. “Within one year of this release I plan to be in a position to put Memphis music back on the map and keep it there.”

No doubt, he appears well on his way, courtesy of Silky International Records.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Sports journalist Andre Johnson pays tribute to his mother, who turns 55 August 28

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Friday, August 28, 2009, longtime sports journalist Andre Johnson paid tribute to his mother, Betty Pegues, during her 50th birthday celebration before family, friends, and a host of well-wishers. MemphiSport decided to republish Johnson’s emotional tribute he gave five years ago. Johnson’s mother turns 55 on Thursday. 

 

 

SUPER MOM --- MemphiSport NBA reporter Andre Johnson credits his mother, Betty Pegues, for helping him fulfill his dream of covering the NBA and NFL. Johnson, who resides in Dallas, covers the NBA Southwest Division and is a regular contributor for The Dallas Morning News.

SUPER MOM — MemphiSport senior writer Andre Johnson credits his mother, Betty Pegues, for helping him fulfill his dream of covering the NBA and NFL. Johnson, who resides in Dallas, covers the NBA Southwest Division and also is a regular contributor for The Dallas Morning News.

The year was 1988.

My sister, Tiffany, and I were preparing for the upcoming school year at Havenview Jr. High. Tiffany was entering junior high for the first time. I, on the other hand, was about to start eighth grade.

For years, Tiffany and I had become accustomed to mama sending us off to school on the first day in new clothes. School uniforms weren’t a requirement during those days, so basically going to school in new threads was a popular trend, especially in the ’80s.

But twenty-one years ago, something strange occurred days before school began. Mama informed me that while Tiffany would be going to school with a few new clothes, she was unable to purchase any for me, considering money was tight and that she had to reserve funds for more important things.

Granted, as an immature junior high kid who, like a number of my peers, thought mama was blessed with an unlimited flow of cash, I admittedly felt cheated and that mama had let me down. I sensed that mama had felt that way too. A couple of days before school began, she vowed to make it up to me, a promise that has impacted my life for the past two decades, a promise that I find myself reflecting upon every now and then, a promise that is worth mentioning and highlighting and embracing, especially in a setting such as the one that’s unfolding tonight.

Surely, many of you are here to pay tribute to Betty Pegues on her 50th birthday, in large part because this influential woman of God has touched your life, one way or the other. But for the past 34 years, Tiffany and I can attest to just how much of an impact she has had not just on us, but others who have come to know her.

She moved out of her parents’ home at a relatively young age, probably before she entered her twenties, and never returned even when the struggles and challenges of the real world seemed too overwhelming. Instead, mama, as Tiffany and I have known her, conducted herself as the strong woman she is.

From Frayser, to Binghampton, to Whitehaven, the results were always the same.

While often burning the candle at both ends by working two jobs so that we could live comfortably, mama made sure the house stayed cleaned and that we took part in our share of chores. Never do we recall going without a hot meal and, even though I endured what I believe was the worst beating of my life when I ripped and dismantled my bedroom nightstand on my fifteenth birthday because I didn’t get the gift I wanted, mama made it point to wash our clothes frequently. Then there were the memorable family moments, those intimate times that produced a unique relationship between a mother and her kids, times that, in a nutshell, explain why tonight’s grand occasion is so befitting.

DEFYING THE ODDS --- Despite giving birth to her children before the age of 17, Betty Pegues often worked two jobs to ensure Andre and Tiffany lived comfortably in their three-bedroom, Whitehaven-area apartment.

DEFYING THE ODDS — Despite giving birth to her children before the age of 17, Betty Pegues often worked two jobs to ensure Andre and Tiffany lived comfortably in their three-bedroom, Whitehaven-area apartment.

The silly and witty side of mama very much existed in our home. How can we forget the times mama would often play her 70s and 80s hit records and dance and laugh and poke fun at us in a joyous atmosphere she created in the first place? How can we forget the times she took us out to eat and to church, often reminding us just how special we are, even during an era in which single-parent homes had become all to familiar? How can we forget the times that, when we strolled in mama’s house with bad report cards, how she would repeatedly yell at, punish, and explain to us the importance of an education?

It was, after all, those life-changing moments and childhood lessons that made me realize why tonight’s celebration makes all of the sense in the world. You see, God gave me what I believe to be a big-hearted mother. A mother who had a wealth of patience in raising two hard-headed kids. A mother who would nurture and confront and uplift us when we were treated unfairly by the outside world.

A mother who was quick to chasten us with switches, belts, phone cords, and fisticuffs when necessary, not to mention one who was just as quick to praise, reward, and encourage us when we met or exceeded her expectations. So as we continue to reflect upon and appreciate the most celebrated woman in my life, I would be remiss if I didn’t double check my thank-you checklist.

Thank you, mama for:

Raising Tiffany and me the best way you knew how.

Thank you for every single word you uttered when you asked God cover and protect us, from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet.

Thank you for demanding that we go to church and introducing us to Jesus Christ, even though we were brought up in communities that were stricken by drugs and crime.

MAKING HISTORY --- Johnson's mother, who turns 55 on Thursday, is responsible for putting her son through college. In May 2000, he became a first-generation college graduate when he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Memphis.

MAKING HISTORY — Johnson’s mother, who turns 55 on Thursday, is responsible for putting her son through college. In May 2000, he became a first-generation college graduate when he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Memphis.

Thank you for all of the free hot meals, utilities, toilet paper, soap, beds, cable television, clothes, and nightstands, even though we often acted unappreciatively and took those things for granted.

Thank you for putting me through college, helping me get a leg up in my journalism career by taking me to seminars and job fairs, and showing off every sports article I wrote, even though you do not have a fond interest in sports.

Thank you for sticking by me during a time in which I felt I was at the lowest point in my life, even though I had gone against your wishes and downplayed your wisdom.

Most importantly, thank you, mama, for being the true Woman of God you are. A woman of integrity. A woman of character. A woman of excellence. A woman of tremendous beauty. A woman of powerful influence, not to mention a woman who, as far as I’m concerned, has always made it a point to deliver on her promise.

Johnson's mother gave birth to him when she was 15 years old. Pictured is a photo when he was eight months.

Johnson’s mother gave birth to him when she was 15 years old. Pictured is a photo when he was eight months.

No doubt, 1988 was no exception. Sure, I sat in my classes on the first day of school, wearing clothes from the previous year and, looking back on it, there is something I should have learned from that, the lesson of gratification. But after going to school the second week of classes in new clothes, I’ve come to realize that your legacy, as far as I’m concerned, is that you simply wanted the best for us.

Even if it meant burning the candles at both ends.

That, after all, explains why tonight’s grand occasion makes all of the sense in the world. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

And, if the Lord’s will, we will see you back here in ten years.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Ex-college majorette Setra Stevenson making presence felt as insurance agency owner

DALLAS — Growth and opportunities.

Whenever Setra Stevenson is asked why she deemed in necessary two years ago to relocate to Texas from Michigan, those are among the factors that top her list.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT --- After becoming fully licensed just two months ago, Detroit native Setra Stevenson has made her presence felt as a flourishing owner/agent for Farmers Insurance in North Dallas. (Photos submitted by S. Stevenson)

IMMEDIATE IMPACT — After becoming fully licensed just two months ago, Detroit native Setra Stevenson has made her presence felt as a flourishing owner/agent for Farmers Insurance in North Dallas. (Photos submitted by S. Stevenson)

A native of Detroit, Stevenson has gone to great lengths to ensure she savors the various benefits that come with moving to what many describe as a progressive market.

After all, like many of her peers, she’s aware they do things big in Texas.

“Texas is like No. 1 (in America) as far as like low unemployment,” Stevenson told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “But actually, when I came here, I wasn’t even thinking about insurance. I was trying to get into the schools to teach.”

To her credit, Stevenson who, like many who label Dallas an attractive, thriving market, appears to be adjusting comfortable in this, a rather unfamiliar establishment.

Aside from earning a reputation as an accomplished educator who boasts a heart of youngsters of various walks of life, Stevenson nowadays has found her niche in another ever-demanding insurance industry.

Stevenson is Owner/Agent of Farmers Insurance Setra Stevenson Agency at 15851 Dallas Parkway in Addison, an endeavor that is seemingly coming full circle for this Denton, Texas resident in such a brief time.

A former dual-sport athlete who is mostly remembered for being a majorette at Detroit’s Cooley High in the early 1990s, Stevenson also starred in softball before ultimately being offered a scholarship as a majorette to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

According to Stevenson, the competitive drive that comes with sports is what essentially jumpstarted her desire to engage in a career in the insurance industry. A little more than two months removed from having becoming a full licensed owner/agent, it’s safe to assume the sky’s the limit for his energy-driven, thriving entrepreneur who has demonstrated time and again to conquer the toughest of life’s obstacles.

One moment, she’s studying countless hours an array of essential material on what it takes to embark upon a fruitful, efficient tenure in insurance. Weeks later, she is overseeing her own agency from a facility in the heart of North Dallas.

“You can have your own agency and have your own building or you can have your own office,” Stevenson said. “But a lot of people don’t (want their own building) right off.”

Considering she has enjoyed success as agency owner in such a brief timespan, Stevenson said she relishes the fact that even while contemplating pursuing a career in education during which she worked for the Fort Worth Independent School District, she elected not to teach on a full-time basis. Among the reasons is that even while managing and overseeing an insurance agency, she makes it home in time to spend with her children.

“My passion has always been education,” said Stevenson, a mother of three who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Management in 2007 and a master’s in Business Management in 2009 from the University of Phoenix. “My heart is there, but when I got (to Dallas), I was the only (parent) in the house. As a single parent now, I have to think about the money because I have mouths to feed.”

RAISING THE BAR --- To her credit, Stevenson who, like many who label Dallas an attractive, thriving market, appears to be adjusting comfortable in this, a rather unfamiliar establish.

RAISING THE BAR — To her credit, Stevenson who, like many who label Dallas an attractive, thriving market, appears to be adjusting comfortable in this, a rather unfamiliar establish.

Aside from running her agency and tending to the needs of her family, among the attributes Stevenson — whose daughter is enrolled at the University of North Texas and son attends  North Central Texas College — makes certain to demonstrate is having a heart for people.

In other words, part of rapid success is because her reputation is such that she establishes authentic relationships with her clients.

“I never want to come across as a salesperson,” Stevenson said. “I want my clients to feel comfortable. I want to build a relationship with them. If you get a salesperson who never met with the client, there’s no relationship. I don’t want people to be discouraged. That’s something I said I didn’t want to do. I don’t want anybody to sale me something and I don’t hear from them.”

In assessing her brief time in the Lone Star state since she left Michigan, Stevenson strongly contends delving off into the insurance business was an opportunity worth taking.

A golden opportunity, that is.

“It’s a company that has tremendous growth where you can come in and within a year, you can have your agency.”

What a difference two months have made for this former college majorette.

Thanks in large part to the growth and opportunities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Farmers Insurance Setra Stevenson Agency, call her office at 972-726-0544, contact her via mobile at 817-995-6755, or log on to www.setrastevenson.com. Also, send email to sstevenson@farmersagent.com.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Sports journalist Andre Johnson pays homage to his grandmother as she turns 77

 

TWO PERFECT SEVENS --- On Saturday, MemphiSport NBA reporter Andre Johnson's grandmother, Vernice Johnson (center), will celebrate her 77th birthday. She was hired at as an employee at Memphis State the same year the Tigers advanced to the NCAA title game.

TWO PERFECT SEVENS — On Saturday, MemphiSport NBA reporter Andre Johnson’s grandmother, Vernice Johnson (center), will celebrate her 77th birthday. She was hired at as an employee at Memphis State the same year the Tigers advanced to the NCAA title game. Pictured also is Andre’s mother, Betty Pegues. 

COMMENTARY

DALLAS — I was weeks away from relocating to Dallas.

Besides covering the Memphis Grizzlies, I made certain to set aside time for my grandmother, Vernice B. Johnson.

Virtually every week, she’d call to ask if I can accompany her on her customary errands.

Whether it was to the bank, grocery store, or for routine doctor appointments, spending time with grandma undoubtedly was priceless moments about which I savored as I prepared to transition back to the Lone Star state.

In my estimation, arguably the most intriguing moment took place just days before I left Memphis.

While taking grandma for brunch at an East Memphis restaurant, she suddenly struck up a conversation about the best basketball player on the planet.

Never mind that she mistakenly misidentified him.

“Lamar James is playing some good ball,” Grandma said as I drove toward the restaurant displaying a slight grin.

Surely, I knew grandma meant to say LeBron James, the then-reigning back-to-back NBA MVP who was a member of the Miami Heat at the time. But witnessing her shift the dialogue to pro basketball, nonetheless, was a compliment, or sorts.

For starters, I am entering my fourth full season as an NBA writer. Not only that, my grandma — who admittedly never had a fond interest in sports unlike my late grandfather — indirectly reminded me that she had been following my work even while being avid viewer of TBN and the Church Channel, among others.

On Sunday, my grandmother will celebrate her 77th birthday. After our latest conversation, it’s safe to assume this vibrant, enthusiastic woman has hinted that she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

“I’ve got a birthday tomorrow,” Grandma said Saturday afternoon during a telephone interview from my native hometown of Memphis.

For me, it will be a day in which even hundreds of miles away in North Texas, I deem it essential to pay homage to a woman who’s had a monumental impact on the lives of countless individuals during the course of her life.

LASTING LEGACY ---Vernice Johnson was married for 51 years to former City of Memphis employee Edward Johnson, Sr. before his death in June 2008.

LASTING LEGACY —Vernice Johnson was married for 51 years to former City of Memphis employee Edward Johnson, Sr. before his death in June 2008.

Take, for instance, how she steadfastly had gone about changing the atmosphere at Memphis State, particularly in the early 1970s during which she was hired in the housekeeping department.

Hired roughly two months before the Tiger basketball team advanced to the 1973 national championship game against UCLA, grandma said her employment at the university came with much discussion, considering Memphis was widely viewed as a segregated city in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s horrific assassination five years prior.

“I remember,” Grandma said. “I sure do. “I tell you, at that time, it was far better than it is now. There weren’t so much killing. Of course, there were racial tensions. When I got there, they said they weren’t hiring any more (blacks). They claimed they weren’t going to hire anyone else.”

Just as she’s done virtually for the past 76 years, however, grandma’s persona was such that it was too appealing to overlook, particularly by those of the opposite race.

“A woman name Rachel Shelton hired me,” Grandma explained shortly after I interrupted her afternoon power nap. “And after she hired me, she let me stay.”

Aside from raising 15 children in the heart of North Memphis, her resilient work ethic consequently gave way to her remaining employed at the university for a little more than 29 years — a tenure that, to her credit, brought about close-knit relationships with faculty members, students, even administrators.

In a nutshell, to many with ties to the school, grandma wasn’t just the dedicated, reliable worker housekeeping needed. She was a beacon of light for practically the entire campus.

FAMILY MILESTONE --- Nearly nine months before his grandmother retired from the University of Memphis, Andre Johnson earned his degree in Journalism from the school in May 2000.

FAMILY MILESTONE — Nearly nine months before his grandmother retired from the University of Memphis, Andre Johnson earned his degree in Journalism from the school in May 2000.

“They said I was very encouraging,” said Grandma, a deaconess at the historic Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in downtown Memphis. “From the administrators to…I can’t even think of all the folks’ names. There were so many of them. A lot of students and teachers didn’t know what to do. That would go on all day. And by the grace of God, I still got my work done. A lot of them were hurting and going through problems. Some of them went to church with me.”

Because of the colossal impact she exhibited during her days at the university, many weren’t aware that my grandmother had dropped out of high school at the age of 17 in 1954 to land work and help take care of her mother.

Surely, it doesn’t matter 60 years later.

What mattered mostly is that this woman’s temperament has always been such that everyone would hasten to her office adjacent to the university center for wisdom and advice. No doubt, I’ve been one to find my place in such a long line of those who routinely looked to grandma as a life-lesson coach, of sorts, especially during my days as a student at the University of Memphis School of Journalism.

Fortunately for me, she stuck around long enough at the college to witness me become a first-generation college graduate before calling it a career in February 2001.

No one, it seems, wanted to see her go.

Everyone, it seems, only wish she’d come back, come back to an establishment she was responsible for changing for the betterment of college life in the first place.

GOTTA LOVE GRANDMA --- During a recent sports conversation with her grandson, Vernice Johnson referred to LeBron as "Lamar James." (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

GOTTA LOVE GRANDMA — During a recent sports conversation with her grandson, Vernice Johnson referred to LeBron as “Lamar James.” (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSportome back to an establishment she’s responsible for changing for the betterment of college life in the first place.

“I get letters from faculty and administrators still,” Grandma said. “I still interact with some of the people there. They didn’t want me to retire. They wanted me to stay. They said since I left, it hadn’t been the same. I was beginning to be tired. I was tired of getting up early. But I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. I never had a problem while I was there.”

Which is to say it is only befitting that as grandma raises the curtain on her 77th birthday, she is to be commended for the assortment of astounding contributions she made to the U of M, let alone to the life of a grandson who managed to graduate within months of her ceremoniously retirement.

“That was truly a joy to have a grandson to follow in my footsteps in some ways,” Grandma said. “It was a great privilege. That was a great impact to me.”

Not as great an impact she’s had on my life and sportswriting career, one that has afforded me to meet and interact several times with Lamar James.

Um, I meant to say LeBron James.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.