Former Memphis Southwind football star Caesar Harris aiming to impress NFL scouts

Caesar Harris’ grandfather never saw him play a game during his college football stint William Penn University.

STOCK RISING --- Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn University in Iowa, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star 5-foot-8, 170-pound defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country. (Photos courtesy of WPU Athletics)

STOCK RISING — Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn University in Iowa, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star 5-foot-8, 170-pound defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country. (Photos courtesy of WPU Athletics)

Harris hopes that all changes if his dream of playing professionally comes to fruition.

Harris’ grandfather, James Harris, recently had open heart surgery. After being discharged on Christmas Eve, James Harris is now recouping comfortably at his home in Memphis. According to Caesar Harris, who has a close-knit bond with his grandfather, he describes James Harris as a “fighter” and that witnessing him battle through a severe procedure in which doctors sensed he had a 50 percent chance to survive has given him a newfound disposition about life.

“That’s just him being the strong man I know he is,” Caesar Harris told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “He’s 70 years old. He never got to watch me in college so I want him to see me play since he hasn’t. That would mean a lot to me and him.”

Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional level. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country.

The NFL Draft is April 28-May 2 in Chicago.

Having played one year at Lane College in 2011, Caesar Harris ultimately transferred to William Penn in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder enjoyed three productive seasons for the Statesmen of the NAIA Midwest Collegiate Conference.

During his senior campaign, for instance, Caesar Harris was the catalyst of a WPU defense that helped steer the Statesmen to wins in five of their first six games and before finishing the year with a 7-4 mark. He appeared in five games and, to his credit, held his own in a final collegiate season in which he garnered looks from various pro scouts.

FAN FAVORITE --- Harris has become a household name among fans who follow William Penn football.

FAN FAVORITE — Harris has become a household name among fans who follow William Penn football.

Among his grandest accolades this past season was his keen ability to disrupt the opposition, having compiled 25 tackles, two interceptions, and five broken-up passes.

“(This past season) I switched out every other series because we had a lot of senior corners,” said Caesar Harris, who also spent time on special teams for the Statesmen. I played nickel corner as well.”

Looking ahead, Caesar Harris realizes there is much more work to do with regards to making a favorable impression on pro scouts. As he continues to make a strong case for playing at the professional level, he routinely partakes in conditioning and weight-training sessions, trends he says will enable him to increase his upper body strength and enhance his endurance, particularly for a player who has become a fixer in the secondary as well as one who customarily lines up against the opposition’s best wide receiver.

“I am pursuing my dreams of playing football at the next level and making a career out of it,” Caesar Harris said.

STAR WATCH --- As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit for his as he auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

STAR WATCH — As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit for his as he auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

A dream that undoubtedly will bring even his ailing grandfather to smiles. As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit as he steadfastly auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

“My grandfather and I had had a great relationship ever since I was a kid,” Caesar Harris said. “I used to go with my grandfather to help him mow yards, wash cars…anything that meant work, we would do it. But it didn’t matter as long as I was with him. We all support each other. That’s the kind of family I was raised in. You always look after one another and support one another no matter what.”

No doubt, James Harris’ beloved grandson appears destined to demonstrate to his grandfather his appreciation when the NFL Draft unfolds in the coming months.

No matter what.

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.

 

 

 

Former Packer Cletidus Hunt says Cowboys to endure ‘chilly experience’ in Green Bay

DALLAS — Cletidus Hunt on Wednesday took a moment to reminisce on his first visit to Green Bay.

As the former Memphis Whitehaven High star and Packers defensive tackle tells it, such a recollection still brings him to chills.

Literally.

According to Hunt, he and former University of Memphis cornerback Mike McKenzie were a few weeks removed from having been drafted by the Packers in April 1999. What they discovered within minutes after emerging from the plane at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport was the frigid weather Hunt described as “downright painful.”

'ICE BOWL 2015' --- According to former Memphis Whitehaven High and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Cletius Hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are almost certain to have a "chilly experience" when they arrive to Green Bay, Wisconsin for this weekend for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers at historic Lambeau Field. (Getty Images photos)

‘ICE BOWL 2015′ — According to former Memphis Whitehaven High and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are almost certain to have a “chilly experience” when they arrive to Green Bay, Wisconsin for this weekend for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers at historic Lambeau Field. (Getty Images photos)

“Both of us flew up there together,” Hunt explained. “And when we got off that plane, it was so cold to the point where it gives you a culture shock. And when you play your first game, you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to get it done because it’s so cold.”

As far as Hunt is concerned, the streaking Dallas Cowboys (13-4) are almost certain to witness a similar brutally cold feeling when they fly into Green Bay, Wisconsin this weekend for Sunday’s 12:05 p.m. CST NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers (12-4) at Lambeau Field.

The overachieving Cowboys, winners of five consecutive games, have become the NFL’s hottest road team this season, having manufactured an unlikely 8-0 mark. Green Bay, on the other hand, won each of its eight home games during the regular season — trends that figure to make for one intriguing matchup when these teams square off on the frozen tundra.

One thing’s for certain: Something’s got to give in this win-or-go-home slugfest between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises, who are facing each other in a postseason game in Green Bay for the first time since the famous -15 degrees NFL Championship Game dubbed “The Ice Bowl” in 1967.

“I had some Dallas Cowboys (fans) tell me (Dallas quarterback) Tony Romo is from Wisconsin,” Hunt said. “But I told them he hasn’t been up there. He’s been in Dallas. When they first get there, they’re not stepping on the terminal because the airport is small. They’re stepping on the runway when they step off the plane. When you come to Green Bay and wake up for a 12 o’clock game and feel how cold it is in the hallway of your hotel, that’ll give you an indication of how cold it is on game day. That’s the thing I love about Green Bay. They’re going to make sure the guests have a chilly experience.”

COWBOY UP --- Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, will need another impressive outing in Sunday's frigid temperatures against the Green Bay if Dallas is to have a chance to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

COWBOY UP — Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, will need another impressive outing in Sunday’s frigid temperatures against the Green Bay if Dallas is to have a chance to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

A 30 percent chance of snow is expected in Green Bay Saturday afternoon with the high reaching 30 degrees. The forecast at the time of Sunday’s kickoff is expected to be partly sunny with a high of around 19 degrees.

Advantage, Packers?

“If you factor in the weather, there will be a disadvantage for Dallas,” said Hunt, adding he’s surprised the Cowboys didn’t travel to Green Bay earlier this week. “A lot of guys haven’t been in bad weather like that. When I played, there were young guys who had never seen snow, and when it snowed in Green Bay, they were fascinated by it. And when it got really cold, they were to tap out. They were ready to (get traded).”

Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt, 39, said that while he enjoyed his tenure in Green Bay — he admittedly left his Wisconsin home unlocked in the offseason while in Memphis — there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures for which the city is customarily known.

“The football is going to be hard. The ground is going to be extra hard,” Hunt said. “But we’ve got some extra (gear) up there. Green Bay is always prepared because that’s the backyard. That’s the home team. If you don’t know how to prepare for it, it won’t work for you. Guys don’t even want to go out there during warm-ups. But the thing about it, they’ll try to play through it. But that 12th man is on that field…that snowman on the field.”

Although Dallas is accustomed to playing in much warmer climates than the one it will witness against the Packers, Hunt believes the Cowboys can stage an upset if DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, proves to be his usual reliable self. Dallas averages 147.1 rushing yards per game, second only to Seattle (172.6).

In addition, the Cowboys are seventh the league in total offense, averaging 29.2 points per game. Green Bay, meanwhile, is sixth in the league in total offense, having registered 30.4 points per game.

COLD MEMORIES --- Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt said there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures Green Bay is customarily known for.

COLD MEMORIES — Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt said there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures Green Bay is customarily known for.

Among the keys for the Packers, who enter Sunday’s game off a first-round bye and have proven to be difficult to contain at hostile Lambeau Field, is putting pressure on Romo early and often, taking away Dallas’ potent rushing attack, and witnessing quarterback Aaron Rodgers continue to dissect the opposing secondary.

“He’s done some impressive things all season,” Hunt said of Rodgers. “And then to go 8-0 and throw not one interception, those are some really impressive stats. And he’s still battling injuries. That leg is still bothering him, but he’s had some time off.”

Still, while there has been much hoopla surrounding the Cowboys’ undefeated streak on the road and the Packers’ unblemished mark at home, the winner of Sunday’s game likely will be the team that proves it’s capable of conquering what undoubtedly will be a brutally freezing encounter on the frozen tundra.

“Get on your knees, pray, and buckle your (expletive),” said Hunt, “because it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

A ride that, in Hunt’s estimation, could very well bring back memories of what transpired when the Cowboys and Packers last met for a postseason game in Green Bay.

“It’s going to be a repeat of the Ice Bowl,” Hunt said. “Ice Bowl 2015 is about to take place.”

Only this time, there will be a light heat wave, one that is expected to rise 13 degrees below the freezing mark.

Literally.

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

Dallas Fort-Worth’s Unique Corvette Club has ties to Memphis, other Mid-South cities

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — In May 2007, Keith King established a rather unique vision, one that was birthed in the confines of his stunning sports car.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT --- The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, Keith King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years. (Photos submitted by Larry Pena)

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT — The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, Keith King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years. (Photos submitted by Larry Pena)

The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years.

“We’re just Corvette enthusiasts who want to ride together,” King told MemphiSport during a recent interview at Legends Sports Bar & Grill in Duncanville. “It didn’t take long for us to realize we are a unique group of people.”

As Unique Corvette Club entered its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do this year is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

MAKING STRIDES — As Unique Corvette Club entered its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do this year is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is geared largely toward partaking in various community service activities. Generally, this group, in which each member owns a Chevy Corvette, has developed a reputation for steadfastly being a viable presence in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, particularly downtrodden communities.

Unique Corvette Club routinely strives to make life fulfilling for others, from feeding the homeless, to making regular hospital and nursing home visits, to awarding scholarships to college-bound students. Just recently, the group gave away school supplies and sponsored its annual toy drive weeks leading Christmas. And, in mid-January, the club once again will participate in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in South Dallas. In addition, the club customarily participates in a food pantry activity through the North Texas Food Bank.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

“The biggest misconception is when people see these cars, they think we drive up in these cars to pick up women,” Pena explained. “I can pick up women walking. Our actions speak for themselves. As people observe us, they see we are about giving back to the community.”

SOLID RESUME --- An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is largely geared toward partaking in various community service activities.

SOLID RESUME — An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is largely geared toward partaking in various community service activities.

Giving back to the less fortunate isn’t all this Corvette-inclined, male organization does regularly. These men also make it a point to establish a camaraderie, of sorts, amongst other.

“It was like I came in from Kuwait,” said longtime club member Nik Gilbert of Athens, Louisiana. “And one of our members recruited me. Once we got everybody together, we started pulling things together. It wasn’t about us. It was about doing things for the community.”

An organization that includes business owners, military veterans, and law enforcement officials, among others, Unique Corvette Club thrives largely off the brotherhood it has erected as a group.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

“We pray together, go to church together, and break bread together,” said club member Bengy Warren of Oak Cliff, Texas. “We call it ‘Family Time.’”

As Unique Corvette Club enters its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

The more other organizations become involved in community service, King said, the more people would come to embrace his Corvette-savvy club, one that, given its solid track record, figures to be around for some time.

“Ideally, I’d like to see us continue to grow and touch as many people who are less fortunate,” Warren said. “I think traditionally, we’ve had some opportunities to do some things. But I think personally, some things we haven’t been able to do because we are of the minority. When you look at that car, that’s a dream.”

A dream that was birthed, courtesy of King’s unique vision nearly eight years ago.

For more for information about Unique Corvette Dallas Forth-Worth, call president Keith King at 972-765-6049.

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.

 

Dallas Mavericks express appreciation for Cowboys’ unlikely resurgence this year

DALLAS — When the Dallas Cowboys punched their ticket to the playoffs by dismantling the Indianapolis Colts, 42-7, in Weeks 16, among those who seemed in high spirits was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Ever since the Cowboys’ shocking win at defending Super Bowl champion Seattle in Week 6, Cuban has been among those often making bold predictions about a Dallas franchise that hadn’t advanced to the postseason since 2009.

LOYAL FAN --- Dirk Nowitzki is among the Dallas Mavericks players who has been complementary of the Dallas Cowboys' resurgence this season. The 12-time All-Star says the Cowboys are peaking at the right time and could very well win it all in February. (Photo by Brad Mills/Getty Images/NBAE)

LOYAL FAN — Dirk Nowitzki is among the Dallas Mavericks players who has been complementary of the Dallas Cowboys’ resurgence this season. The 12-time All-Star says the Cowboys are peaking at the right time and could very well win it all in February. (Photo by Brad Mills/Getty Images/NBAE)

Cuban, in fact, doesn’t shy away from the notion that he believes this year for the high-powered Cowboys could very well end the way last season ended for the Seahawks.

Dallas’ quest for a sixth NFL championship begins Sunday when the Cowboys (12-4) welcome the Detroit Lions (11-5) to AT&T Stadium at 3:40 p.m. CST in an NFC Wild Card game.

“Wasn’t that exciting?” said Cuban, when asked his reaction after the Cowboys had clinched their elusive playoffs berth, coupled with the Philadelphia’s loss a day earlier against Washington that eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention. “It’s awesome, man. I love it.”

So much, in fact, that Cuban, a Cowboys season-ticket holder, has gone as far as to predict that Dallas will represent the NFC in Super Bowl 49 February 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

As Cuban tells it, the Cowboys (12-4), winners of four consecutive games after routing each of their opponents in December, appear destined to claim their sixth Lombardi trophy in the franchise’s tradition-rich history.

“Hey, I predicted them to go to the Super Bowl and beat Denver, 52-51,” Cuban said. So I’m sticking to that…for them to win against the Broncos.”

Although Cuban wasn’t in attendance to witness Dallas’ lopsided win against the Colts that earned the Cowboys the NFC crown, he said he’s mostly happy for Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

“It was good for Jerry,” said Cuban, adding he has yet to reach out to and congratulate the Cowboys’ longtime owner. “I’m happy for him.”

Like Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign.

“Now everybody certainly is jumping on the (Cowboys’) bandwagon,” Mavericks 16-year veteran and 12-time NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, they can keep it going and win it all.”

Like Mavs owner Mark Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

‘WE DEM BOYS’ — Like Mavs owner Mark Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

On Friday, the NFL’s All-Pro team was released, with the Cowboys having garnered a league-best four players on the roster. Among the notable players making the team was running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Dallas’ Zack Martin was the lone rookie to make the All-Pro squad.

Still, in a year that essentially has given way to pandemonium throughout Dallas’ Metroplex, as well as a slew of accolades off the field, the Cowboys’ success this year undoubtedly has prompted their global fan base to anticipate a lengthy postseason run, one America’s Team hopes will culminate with a downtown Dallas parade, blanketed by confetti and the hoisting of a sixth Lombardi trophy sometime in mid-February.

So much for what many expected to be yet another disastrous season.

“Those guys look good, man,” Mavericks guard Raymond Felton said. “They’ve been doing great all year. I’m glad to see them keeping it going. I hope they make a long, a far push and win it all.”

Surely, a win on football’s grandest stage would silence more critics in what has already has been deemed a remarkable season in Big D.

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.

Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Ellington rejoins Lakers after murder of his father

DALLAS — As his eyes began to flood with tears, Wayne Ellington sat in front of his locker in the visiting locker room Friday night in the American Airlines Center and told reporters something his father had inspired him to do ever since he first picked up a basketball as a child growing up in the outskirts of Philadelphia.

Former Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Wayne Ellington rejoined the Lakers Thursday, less than two weeks after the death of his father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Wayne Ellington, Sr. was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant. (Photo by  Juan O'Campo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Wayne Ellington rejoined the Lakers Thursday, less than two weeks after the death of his father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Wayne Ellington, Sr. was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant. (Photos by Juan O’Campo/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I will get through it,” Ellington said. “Obviously, it’s a situation where you’ve got to get through it.”

Ellington was alluding to the death of his 57-year-old father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Ellington’s father — also named Wayne — was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant, news that sent shock waves to Ellington and the Lakers organization moments before the team was about to face the Charlotte Hornets.

Ellington, 27, who signed with the Lakers after training camp in September, was granted an indefinite leave of absence, but rejoined the team Thursday, one day after the Lakers’ win at Houston.

Although Ellington participated in a pregame shootaround, Lakers coach Byron Scott told reporters before Friday’s game against Dallas that Ellington likely would not see action.

“He’s okay,” Scott said of Ellington. “I think he’s trying to get back familiar with us and familiar with his surroundings. I think the more he’s with us, the better he’ll be.”

Ellington was informed of his father’s death following the Lakers’ November 9 win over the Hornets at the Staples Center.

So far, no arrests have been reported.

Ellington He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

Ellington He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

While addressing the media Friday, a mostly teary-eyed Ellington recalled how instrumental his father had been during his basketball career, most notably during his days at the University of North Carolina and when he entered the NBA ranks after leading the Tar Heels to the national championship in 2009.

“You know, this is what he wanted for me,” Ellington said, when asked what memorable lesson his father taught him. “While at Carolina, you know, he was the guy who was always talking about tradition. He said when you go to Carolina, you look up and see all the banners. He was so ecstatic when I signed here before training camp. He was telling me how proud of me he is. He was saying, ‘You’re back in that same Carolina-type situation.’ He was like, ‘I really feel like this is the spot for you.’”

While several Laker players expressed their disappointment after learning of the death of Ellington’s father, the six-year pro said he was especially pleased with the support shown by Scott, the Lakers first-year coach for whom Ellington played during his brief stint with Cleveland last season.

Drafted 28th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, Ellington also played briefly for Memphis and Dallas.

“Coach Scott has been a great for me,” Ellington said. “He was great for me in Cleveland as well. When I played in Memphis, we had a lot of guys in the rotation. We were deep every night and I wasn’t playing as much. And then when I came to Cleveland and was playing for him, that kind of gave me a boost of energy, that boost of confidence. And that helped me and it was the same thing when I got here. He’s a guy who has tremendous confidence in me and I thrive off that.”

Besides Scott, Ellington said Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant contacted him regularly to show support during his nearly two-week absence from the team. Also, Ellington fielded phone calls from former Grizzly teammates Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.

“He reached out almost every day,” Ellington said of Bryant. “It was unbelievable as our leader. Obviously, the season didn’t start off the way we liked. But we’re family here and (the Lakers) made me feel like that.”

While Ellington is expected to see action Sunday night when the Lakers host Denver, the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania native said he sensed earlier this week it was time to reunite with his teammates. He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

Ellington has appeared in six of the Lakers’ 13 games, averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. He scored a season-best 13 points in 25 minutes in an October 9 loss to Phoenix.

“It was just a feeling,” said Ellington, explaining his decision to return to the team. “And in talking to my family, they kind of pushed me as well. They wanted me to get back to doing what I love to do and to take my mind off of it. Being here has been a lot easier for me. So yeah, man, I’m leaving it all out there every single day, every time I step out there on that floor. I’m going to do something special for him.”

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.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley: ‘Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance’

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Mike Conley, Jr. entered the NBA ranks in 2007, he was widely viewed as an unproven rookie and the son of Olympic gold and silver medalist triple jumper Mike Conley, Sr. Now in his seventh professional season for the Memphis Grizzlies, Conley, the longest-tenured player on the roster, has emerged as arguably the most underappreciated point guard in the NBA. No doubt, the 27-year-old Conley is the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that boasts the league’s best record and is a legitimate contender to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year. During a recent exclusive interview with MemphiSport NBA Southwest Division reporter Andre Johnson, Conley spoke about the lofty expectations for this year’s team as well as assessed what has been a stellar career for the native of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Here are 11 questions for No. 11.

BOLD CONFESSION --- Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn't shy away from the notion that he's aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis' second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

BOLD CONFESSION — Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn’t shy away from the notion that he’s aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis’ second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

ANDRE: A lot has been said about the organization drafting Memphian Jarnell Stokes back in June. What’s so special about his presence on the team?
MIKE: Jarnell’s done a great job for us since Day 1. He has brought energy to our team. You know, he’s a hard-nosed worker and he wants to get better. He has two great big men to learn from in Marc (Gasol) and Zach (Randolph) and even Kosta (Koufos) and Jon (Leuer). You know, those guys have a wealth of experience and can help Jarnell. I think he’s done a great job with the minutes he’s been given. He really hasn’t been able to show much out there as he wants to. But for the most part, in his short time, he’s done a great job, knowing the plays, where to be on the floor, being in the right spots and capitalizing off that.

ANDRE: Zach Randolph decided in the offseason to return to the organization. There were many speculations as to whether he might move on, but he’s back in a Grizzlies uniform. In your estimation, how special is it having Zach back?
MIKE: It is huge. He’s the head of this ship, man. He always will be. He’s made this team what it is today. So without him, we wouldn’t be here. With him, we’re like family, so it’s awesome to have him back.

ANDRE: Did the Grizzlies get better in the offseason?
MIKE: I thought we did get better in the offseason. And not only because of (the acquisition) Vince Carter and the rookies, but a lot of guys have added a little bit more to their game. So we’re looking forward to a lot of guys stepping up and taking on different roles. They’ll have more on their plate, so hopefully that’ll improve our team and give us a chance to make a deep run.

ANDRE: Much had been said about your constant progress last year, particularly before the All-Star break. In fact, there were a lot of national media prognosticators who sensed you should have gotten serious consideration to represent the West in the All-Star Game. But because the West is so deep at that position with the Chris Pauls and Damian Lillards of the world, you weren’t selected. Do you feel at this stage in your career you’re getting the respect you deserve?
MIKE: Um…slowly. You know, it’s a journey, man. It’s been a journey for me just trying to get better every year and getting attention by adding more to my game and proving that I can play. So I think people are starting to understand my style of play and I just want to keep getting better and not worry about whether people will respect me or not. I just want to go out there and play the best basketball I can.

HUGE IMPACT --- A majority of Conley's seven NBA seasons has been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets' coach in July.

HUGE IMPACT — A majority of Conley’s seven NBA seasons have been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets’ coach in July.

ANDRE: Obviously, this team would like to finish in the top three or top four in the Western Conference standings heading into the postseason. But what are your personal expectations in this, your seventh NBA season?
MIKE: I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better leader for this team, want to be someone everybody can count on. Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance. You know, everyone wants to be an All-Star. But I’m beyond that. I just want to win. If we win, I think we’ll get the attention we deserve.

ANDRE: Now, of course, (Grizzlies head coach Dave) Joerger is back after much reshuffling in the front office in the offseason. Describe your relationship with your coach.
MIKE: It was good that Dave came back because we didn’t need a new rotation of coaches coming in. We need that stability. He’s been here pretty much my entire career and just to have him here as the head coach two years in a row will be great. After his first season, he’s going to be much better.

ANDRE: Speaking of head coaches, Lionel (former Grizzlies coach Hollins) has resurfaced in the head-coaching ranks in the league. Of course, a lot of people felt he should have landed a head coaching job last year. Lionel was very, very big on you, particularly when people said negative things about your style of play. How happy were you when he resurfaced in the NBA?
MIKE: I was very happy for him. I texted him, called him and congratulated him. It was well-deserved, man. He’s a great coach. I know they (Brooklyn Nets) got a good one and he’s looking forward to that opportunity and he’s going to make the best of it.

ANDRE: In terms of NBA point guards, you’ve made a name for yourself. Clearly, your stock has risen and people are now starting to respect your overall body of work. But who are among of the NBA point guards Mike Conley likes to watch?
MIKE: Who Mike Conley likes to watch? Well, I like to watch the ones on all 32 teams.

ANDRE: Of course, I can’t let you off the hook that easily, Mike. Tell me. Who do you like to watch the most?
MIKE: Well, every team has a great point guard. You have athletic points like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. You have some smaller points…Isaiah Thomas is a good one and plays well. Eric Bledsoe is another good one. So you have a lot of good ones. But I can tell you it’s tough to play against them. It’s not too much to watch them. But I have to deal with them on the court.

ANDRE: Is there any player on the team you hang out with on a regular basis?
MIKE: I pretty much hang out with all of them. We try to do as much together as we can. But Marc is probably the closet one I’m with.

ANDRE: Do you expect to be more vocal this year as the Grizzlies’ floor general?
MIKE: I do. I figured I’ve earned the respect to do that, just coming out and being assertive and more vocal because they believe in me running the show.

ANDRE: Here’s a bonus question, Mike. Of course, you’re an Ohio State man after having played two seasons for the Buckeyes. This is seemingly a down year for Michigan football. But I’ve got to ask you this as these schools prepare to meet in a few weeks. Ohio State or Michigan?
MIKE: Ohio State, man.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.