Prep hoops standout Tiffany Byrd making her presence felt in Tennessee and Texas

TiffanyHOUSTON — Tiffany Nicole Byrd is what one would describe as a military child.

How else to explain why she’s resided in a number of establishments across the country.

Born in Pensacola, Florida, Byrd has lived in Bartlett, Tennessee — which is the outskirts of Memphis — and Chesapeake, Virginia. Since earlier this year, she’s been a resident of Houston, where the rising basketball standout seemingly hasn’t missed a beat following masterful stints for Bon Lin Middle and Bartlett Ninth Grade Academy.

A newcomer to Houston’s George Ranch High basketball team this upcoming season, the speedy point guard figures to contribute immediately for a Lady Longhorn squad that ended the 2014-15 season having won eight of its last 12 outings to end the year with a 16-12 mark.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT --- A newcomer to Houston’s George Ranch High basketball team this upcoming season, Tiffany Byrd figures to contribute immediately for a Lady Longhorn squad that ended the 2014-15 season having won eight of its last 12 outings to end the year with a 16-12 mark.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT — A newcomer to Houston’s George Ranch High basketball team this upcoming season, Tiffany Byrd figures to contribute immediately for a Lady Longhorn squad that ended the 2014-15 season having won eight of its last 12 outings to end the year with a 16-12 mark.

Known largely for her resiliency and keen ability to be a facilitator on the floor, Byrd’s ability to create her own her shot coupled with her passion for the game will almost certainly prompt scouts to inquire about her services once her prep hoops career ends.

“I’ve been playing (basketball) since I was four,” Byrd told longtime journalist Andre Johnson. “I love the sport. When I play, I don’t think of anything else when I’m on the court.”

Because passion and enthusiasm for a sport are attributes coaches can’t merely teach athletes, the admiration Byrd’s exemplifies for basketball could prove beneficial now that she will be afforded the golden opportunity to put her hoops heroics on display in Texas, where they do things bigger here.

No one, it seems, realizes this more than her mother, Tena Byrd, who served 28 years in the Navy. As she tells it, ever since she first witnessed her daughter reach for a basketball nearly a decade ago, she sensed she would ultimately blossom into an efficient athlete.

MOM KNOWS BEST --- Because passion and enthusiasm for a sport aren’t attributes coaches can’t merely teach athletes, the admiration Byrd’s exemplifies for basketball could prove beneficial now that she will be afforded the golden opportunity to put her hoops heroics on display in Texas, where they do things bigger here.  No one, it seems, realizes this more than her mother, Tena Byrd, who served 28 years in the Navy.

MOM KNOWS BEST — Because passion and enthusiasm for a sport aren’t attributes coaches can’t merely teach athletes, the admiration Byrd’s exemplifies for basketball could prove beneficial now that she will be afforded the golden opportunity to put her hoops heroics on display in Texas, where they do things bigger here.
No one, it seems, realizes this more than her mother, Tena Byrd, who served 28 years in the Navy.

To Tiffany Byrd’s credit, she has been nothing short of impressive on the amateur hoops circuit.

“I was very proud of her and excited at the same time,” said Tena Byrd, recalling the first time Tiffany picked up a basketball at Bartlett Community Center.

As for a typical weekend, particularly as a basketball mom, Tena Byrd said that by all accounts, three words come to mind.

“Practice, practice, practice,” she said, “whether it’s going to a local, college, or NBA game. But I love to see her play, love it when she steals a ball and hits her (three-pointers).”

In her rise a basketball standout, Tena Byrd said she was mostly impressed when her daughter earned a spot on Bartlett’s junior varsity team last.

Once again, she didn’t disappoint. Instead, she made a strong case that surely, she has a future in the sports she has come to embrace.

“I was even happier to see her start (on JV),” Tena Byrd said in assessing her daughter’s play last year. I’m very happy for her. I pray that she stays focused off and on the court…prays she makes varsity. But if not, I hope she gets lots of playing time on JV.”

In addition to her impressive showing last year, Tiffany Byrd had proven to be just as effective off the court, in large part because she trained intensely under the direction of Cedric Anderson, her personal training coach. Besides basketball, she played T-ball for two-years and strongly considered soccer before deciding to settle solely on playing hoops.

“Her coaches have been very supportive,” Tena Byrd said. “I tell her constantly to get good grades, stay positive, and that basketball is a team sport. That means she is to respect her teammates because everyone makes mistakes.”

BRIGHT FUTURE --- Known largely for her resiliency and keen ability to be a facilitator on the floor, Byrd’s ability to create her own her shot coupled with her passion for the game will almost certainly prompt scouts to inquire about her services once her prep hoops career ends.

BRIGHT FUTURE — Known largely for her resiliency and keen ability to be a facilitator on the floor, Byrd’s ability to create her own her shot coupled with her passion for the game will almost certainly prompt scouts to inquire about her services once her prep hoops career ends.

As Tiffany Byrd — who has begun to build a solid rapport with her George Ranch teammates and coaches — continues to prepare for first full season of varsity basketball, her mother, like many others who have witnessed her development as a young athlete, knows the sky’s the limit for a kid who possesses the skills to play at the collegiate level.

“Because she is a child of God, anything is possible,” Tena Byrd said. “If she gives 100 percent at practice, stays positive, stays focus, and takes responsibility for her actions and respects others, there’s no limit to where she can go.”

Regardless of where around the country this military kid resides.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Raleigh-Egypt OLB Dennis Garmon looking to impress scouts in pivotal senior season

Den1No one has to tell Dennis Garmon to get excited about this, his upcoming final season of high school football.

Garmon, in fact, wasted little time taking to his Facebook page Tuesday morning to sound off about such excitement.

Said Garmon, Raleigh-Egypt High’s rising senior in a social media post he assembled at 11:54 a.m. Tuesday: “I’m coming up! Football gone get me out the hood.”

To get a thorough understanding of why Garmon is enthusiastic about this upcoming season, look no further than the strides he has made for a Raleigh-Egypt team that is starting to escape years of futility.

For starters, Garmon, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound outside linebacker, played an integral role for a Pharoah defensive unit that held the opposition to single digits twice and managed to record a shutout (a 21-0 win in Week 9 against cross-town rival Fairley) last year.

In addition, Garmon, who had proven to improve his mechanics heading into his pivotal junior campaign, helped propel Raleigh-Egypt to an elusive postseason berth, although the team ended the year one game below the .500 mark (5-6).

To his credit, his assertiveness, by all accounts, was amongst the reasons the new look Pharaohs, under the direction of coach Terry Smith II, enjoyed a winning record in District 16-AA play, having won five of eight league outings.

After a year in which the Pharaohs re-emerged as a playoff team, coupled with the fact that Garmon is aiming to add to what was a productive year, and it’s no wonder this kid boasts lofty aspirations of using football as an outlet to vacate the inner city.

In a nutshell, Garmon doesn’t shy away from the notion that at this stage in his athletic career, he’s destined to make a strong case of putting his football skills on display at the collegiate level.

“What I can do to continue to make my mother proud would be to understand that I must get my education first,” Garmon told MemphiSport on Wednesday. “Because I know that will take me even further in life after football…to always stay positive and stay level headed. I also must continue to work harder toward my goals and achieving my goals.”

As Garmon tells it, nothing would be more gratifying than to be afforded the golden opportunity to sign his name on a National Letter of Intent in early February when prep football players will be allowed to make their official commitments to colleges.

“I love the sport of football because it teaches you the meaning of having a role model, discipline, and conditioning your mind and body,” Garmon said. “And most importantly, it prepares you for life through those teaches (of coaches).”

Garmon’s mother, Yolanda Garmon, who has witnessed her son intensely transcend from the Memphis-area youth football league to the high school ranks, is impressed with her son’s overall progress both on and off the field.

MAKING STRIDES --- Dennis Garmon, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound outside linebacker, played an integral role for a Raleigh-Egypt defensive unit that held the opposition to single digits twice and managed to record a shutout (a 21-0 win in Week 9 against cross-town rival Fairley) last year. (Photos submitted by Y. Garmon)

MAKING STRIDES — Dennis Garmon, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound outside linebacker, played an integral role for a Raleigh-Egypt defensive unit that held the opposition to single digits twice and managed to record a shutout (a 21-0 win in Week 9 against cross-town rival Fairley) last year. (Photos submitted by Y. Garmon)

Without question, she believes her son has the poise and skills to play on Saturdays around this time next year.

“He started playing with the Memphis Bears, a little league team at the age of 13,” Yolanda Garmon said. “My overall reaction was that he could be successful at the sport when he came to me and said he wanted to play. He is a committed young man in everything he does and I knew all along (football) would be no exception.

“As a mother, I was nervous to know he was going to play high school football,” Yolanda Garmon continued. “But I had to respect that this sport creates men, and knowing that he loves it so much, I had to support him.”

As Raleigh-Egypt prepares to open the season in the coming weeks, Dennis Garmon said his primary objectives in the meantime are to help lead his team to another postseason berth, let alone continue to make a case to land a scholarship.

And he said…

“Also to take my queen with me wherever I go once I succeed at such goal.”

That queen to whom he’s referring is his mother.

His grandest supporter since Day 1.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Arlington High RB Keelon Webber primed to upgrade his recruiting stock this season

STOCK RISING --- Keelon Webber, a 6-foot, 205-pound speedy rusher was a pivotal force for an Arlington High team that finished 11-4 last year, ran the table in District 14-AAA play, and manufactured an impressive postseason display before falling in the Tennessee Class 6A quarterfinals to perennial power Whitehaven. (Photos submitted by C. Webber)

STOCK RISING — Keelon Webber, a 6-foot, 205-pound speedy rusher was a pivotal force for an Arlington High team that finished 11-4 last year, ran the table in District 14-AAA play, and manufactured an impressive postseason display before falling in the Tennessee Class 6A quarterfinals to perennial power Whitehaven. (Photos submitted by C. Webber)

Listening to Carsett Franklin Webber weigh in on the athletic heroics of her son, Keelon Webber, and it would be rather easy to tell she’s an avid football mom.

One who, without question, knows exactly what she’s talking about.

Take, for instance, earlier this week when she was asked what she deems mostly intriguing about his son’s progress as the featured running back for Arlington High.

As usual, Carsett Webber was forthright and direct.

“He has passion for the game and he is very respectful and coachable,” Carsett Webber told MemphiSport. “Over the years, he has evolved into a beast of a football player.”

Indeed he has, a trend about which Keelon Webber hopes college scouts will take into account as he readies for what figures to be a productive senior campaign in the coming weeks.

To his credit, a 6-foot, 205-pound speedy rusher was a pivotal force for an Arlington team that finished 11-4 last year, ran the table in District 14-AAA play, and manufactured an impressive postseason display before falling in the Tennessee Class 6A quarterfinals to perennial power Whitehaven.

CHECK OUT KEELON WEBBER IN ACTION VIA VIDEO: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/3413846/highlights/213806383/v2

According to a season-ending poll released by Maxpreps, the Tigers finished 52nd overall in the state.

And, because the nucleus of Arlington’s starters will return in 2015, surely, Keelon Webber and Co. will be expected to make yet another brilliant run at that elusive state crown.

The Tigers open the season August 21 when they play host to Kirby.

GOOD AS ADVERTISED --- Fortunately for Keelon Webber, the assertiveness and poise he exhibited under the Friday night lights gave way to his being nothing short of impressive.  For starters, this bruiser, rugged back was a catalyst for an Arlington potent rushing attack that emerged as one of Shelby Metro’s finest last season, a unit that compiled nearly 200 yards rushing per game.

GOOD AS ADVERTISED — Fortunately for Keelon Webber, the assertiveness and poise he exhibited under the Friday night lights gave way to his being nothing short of impressive.
For starters, this bruiser, rugged back was a catalyst for an Arlington potent rushing attack that emerged as one of Shelby Metro’s finest last season, a unit that compiled nearly 200 yards rushing per game.

“I had a great junior season,” Keelon Webber said. “I showed I am a versatile playmaker. I continued to get better and better every week. Every game, I worked harder.”

Fortunately for Keelon Webber, the assertiveness and poise he exhibited under the Friday night lights gave way to his being nothing short of impressive.

For starters, this bruiser, rugged back was a catalyst for an Arlington potent rushing attack that emerged as one of Shelby Metro’s finest last season, a unit that compiled nearly 200 yards rushing per game.

Having appeared in a prep career-best 13 games as a junior, Keelon Webber had 1,270 all-purpose yards, including 1,104 yards on 204 carries and 16 rushing touchdowns. In addition, he registered 166 receiving yards while making 17 catches and one score as he complemented the play of then-senior Joe Stevenson.

Add to the fact that he led Arlington with 100-plus yards per outing, and it’s no wonder Keelon Webber is destined to generate interests from colleges this upcoming season.

As he tells it, that’s certainly one of his short-term — yet monumental — goals as he and the Tigers look ahead to training camp in the coming days.

KeelonIn addition, the summer months were indeed all business for a talented kid who boasts lofty aspirations of playing at the collegiate level. Keelon Webber made valiant attempts to establish a favorable athletic resume after attending such camps as the Rivals Combine, AEA Combine, as well as camps hosted by the University of Memphis and Tennessee State.

While he has yet to generate real interest from any schools, many figure that undoubtedly will change early and often this upcoming season.

Carsett Franklin Webber

Carsett Franklin Webber

“I am a hard worker. I give my all to my team,” said Keelon Webber when asked what direct message he’d like to send to college scouts. “I’m a leader, a motivator to my teammates. I am coachable. I can easily pick up new skills and plays. I am not a quitter.”

Surely, no one can vouch for that more than his mother who, on Friday, was seen witnessing her son’s continuous progress during the team’s scrimmage.

“In middle school, he had a natural talent for football,” said Carsett Webber, whose son has been playing competitive football since the age of six. “I’m always praying for an injury free game. Playing football will help him get a college scholarship to the college of his choice.”

Spoken like an avid football mom.

One who, without question, knows exactly what she’s talking about.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Memphis entrepreneur James Herndon making much noise through his clothing line

As the old saying goes, “Mom knows best.”

In the case of James Herndon, given his continuous success as a rising entrepreneur, it’s safe to assume that, well, son, too, knows best.

Yact2A 1995 graduate of Memphis Trezevant High, Herndon is the founder of Yachts & Treasures Clothing Company, an up-and-coming clothing line created to give consumers comfort and quality, yet stylish. Yachts & Treasures (or YT, as a majority of Herndon customers call it) is a rather unique brand Herndon acknowledges that represents integrity, particularly amongst those who are not afraid to “have big dreams and try to pursue them.”

A business that is starting to have a viable presence throughout the Mid-South and Southern regions, Yachts & Treasures were birth, in large part over a brief exchange between Herndon and his mother, Gwendolyn Herndon.

NIFTY PRODUCT --- A 1995 graduate of Memphis Trezevant High, James Herndon is the founder of Yachts & TreasuresYachts & Treasures, an up-and-coming clothing line created to give consumers comfort and quality, yet stylish. Yachts & Treasures (or YT, as a majority of Herndon customers call it) is a rather unique brand Herndon acknowledges that represents integrity, particularly amongst those who are not afraid to “have big dreams and try to pursue them.” (Photos submitted by J. Herndon)

NIFTY PRODUCT — A 1995 graduate of Memphis Trezevant High, James Herndon is the founder of Yachts & TreasuresYachts & Treasures, an up-and-coming clothing line created to give consumers comfort and quality, yet stylish. Yachts & Treasures (or YT, as a majority of Herndon customers call it) is a rather unique brand Herndon acknowledges that represents integrity, particularly amongst those who are not afraid to “have big dreams and try to pursue them.” (Photos submitted by J. Herndon)

“In the beginning when I told my mom I was starting a clothing line, she laughed and asked, ‘Who do you think will buy a shirt from you?’ James Herndon explained during a recent interview with MemphiSport. “At that moment, a drive fueled in me in the form of self-determination. I was determined to launch my clothing line. Presently speaking, my mom is one of my greatest supporters.”

MOTHERLY LOVE --- A business that is starting to have a viable presence throughout the Mid-South and Southern regions, Yachts & Treasures were birth, in large part over a brief exchange between Herndon and his mother, Gwendolyn Herndon.

MOTHERLY LOVE — A business that is starting to have a viable presence throughout the Mid-South and Southern regions, Yachts & Treasures were birth, in large part over a brief exchange between Herndon and his mother, Gwendolyn Herndon.

Aside from his mother proving to be one of his grandest supporters, James Herndon’s venture also has garnered tireless his support by his wife, Sabrina, and their five children (James, Jacobs, Joshua, Markayla, and Brean).

Having attended Grandview Heights Elementary during his childhood days of growing up in North Memphis, James Herndon attended Trezevant High, where he starred in basketball through his senior year.

Assuming mostly the point guard position, James Herndon said the competitive drive through sports essentially played an integral role in his launching a business, one about which many Mid-Southerners are starting to embrace.

“From the competitive stance in sports perspective, it taught me that you have to work hard,” James Herndon said. “You can’t be afraid to take the shot. You have to be willing to pass the ball. In the clothing industry, that means to come up with new ideas. In addition, as it is said, ‘There is no “I” in team.’ That remains true in the fashion world. You have to network, not only with consumers, but with other designers.”

CHECK OUT Yachts & Treasures ONLINE or call 901.870.7576-: www.yachtsandtreasures.com.

Generally, Herndon said his fashion line caters mainly to teenagers and young adults, although his products are also available to individuals of all ages and various walks of life.

Generally, Herndon said his fashion line caters mainly to teenagers and young adults, although his products are also available to individuals of all ages and various walks of life.

James Herndon said arguably the most intriguing attribute about his up-and-coming business is witnessing consumers walk around town sporting his brand, a trend he says gives ways to what he describes as an “awesome and humbling feeling.”

Generally, he said his fashion line caters mainly to teenagers and young adults, although his products are also available to individuals of all ages and various walks of life.

When asked where do he see his business in the next couple of years, James Herndon said amongst his primary objectives is to ultimately run his own flag-ship store.

By and large, his desire to launch his clothing was inspired largely by renowned entrepreneurs JayZ (RocaWear), P.Diddy (SeanJohn), and Damon Johnson (Fubu), among others.

“It is imperative to inspire others,” said James Herndon, “because I was inspired by someone and I would want to inspire someone as well. My biggest supporters have been my family and friends.”

Especially his mother.

Which, of course, means that mom knows best.

Then again, so does her son.Yact3

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an entrepreneur, author, musician, model, athlete, or pastor/minister who is seeking exposure and would like to share your story with an in-depth news feature, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him under “Andre T. Johnson” for details.

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Memphian Makenzie Flake defying odds, pursuing her dream as a thriving dancer

JrGrizzliesMinisDALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team is a reality television series that premiered in 2006 on Country Music Television.

Surprisingly, Makenzie Alexis Flake began tuning in to the show in its second season.

Nevermind that she was only seven years of age at the time.

Yes, as strangely as it seemed in this, the modern technology era, CMT managed to grasp the attention little Makenzie, something about which her mother, Sherita Flake, welcomed wholeheartedly.

STAR WATCH --- The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team is a reality television series that premiered in 2006 on Country Music Television.  Surprisingly, Makenzie Alexis Flake began tuning in to the show in its second season. She was only seven years. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

STAR WATCH — The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team is a reality television series that premiered in 2006 on Country Music Television.
Surprisingly, Makenzie Alexis Flake began tuning in to the show in its second season.
She was only seven years. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

“When Makenzie was seven, she would watch the “Making of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” for hours and she was obsessed with becoming a dancer,” Sherita Flake told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “She would always tell us she was going to become a professional dancer.”

Now at 14 years of age, Makenzie Flake has gone to great lengths to ensure she navigates resiliently after her dreams, much like the professional dancers for America’s Team.

DREAM CHASER --- Now at 14 years of age, Makenzie Flake has gone to great lengths to ensure she navigates resiliently after her dreams, much like the professional dancers for America’s Team.  Having trained what her mother described as “heavily” a few months removed from having first witnessed the behind-the-scenes events surrounding the famous Cowboy cheerleaders, Makenzie’s parents signed her up for regular dance lessons at the House of Talent, all while her older sister, Caela, took part in ballot lessons.

DREAM CHASER — Now at 14 years of age, Makenzie Flake has gone to great lengths to ensure she navigates resiliently after her dreams, much like the professional dancers for America’s Team.
Having trained what her mother described as “heavily” a few months removed from having first witnessed the behind-the-scenes events surrounding the famous Cowboy cheerleaders, Makenzie’s parents signed her up for regular dance lessons at the House of Talent, all while her older sister, Caela, took part in ballot lessons.

Having trained what her mother described as “heavily” a few months removed from having first witnessed the behind-the-scenes events surrounding the famous Cowboy cheerleaders, Makenzie’s parents signed her up for regular dance lessons at the now-defunct House of Talent, all while her older sister, Taylor, took part in ballet lessons. Prior to her family’s move to Virginia, she trained intensely at Teran Gary’s SubRoy Studios in Memphis.

Consequently, her passion and enthusiasm for dancing gave way to her earning a spot on the NBA’s Junior Grizzlies Dance Team.

Fortunately for Makenzie, whose family recently relocated from Tennessee to Virginia, the more acclimated she had become with dancing, the more her parents devised ways to enhance her newfound craft as a way to enable her to find her niche.

SHOW STOPPER --- Among Makenzie’s accolades are: The PULSE Atlanta - Solo Awarded “Most Swagged Out Routine,” Hollywood Dance Jamz - Highest Score Overall Solo; Solo - 1st Place in Teens; Convention Scholarship; Debbie Reynolds Studio Scholarship, Recipient of Future Star Award Monsters of Hip Hop - Intermediate Convention Scholarship; Advanced Convention Scholarship; Alvin Ailey Performing Arts Scholarship, and the USA Gymnastics Tumbling and Trampoline - Tennessee State Champion.

SHOW STOPPER — Among Makenzie’s accolades are: The PULSE Atlanta – Solo Awarded “Most Swagged Out Routine,” Hollywood Dance Jamz – Highest Score Overall Solo; Solo – 1st Place in Teens; Convention Scholarship; Debbie Reynolds Studio Scholarship, Recipient of Future Star Award
Monsters of Hip Hop – Intermediate Convention Scholarship; Advanced Convention Scholarship; Alvin Ailey Performing Arts Scholarship, and the USA Gymnastics Tumbling and Trampoline – Tennessee State Champion.

Boy did she ever.

“We are very supportive and see how she enjoys dance,” Sherita Flake said. “We were surprised at the many facets that dance offers. Dance is just as demanding as an athletic sport. It takes training, dedication, and hard work. We are just amazed at the gift that she has because neither of her parents can dance or move the ways she does.

“Well…her father thinks he could (dance), so now he thinks she has her moves from him,” Sherita joking continued. “We also look at her with satisfaction.”

Today, Makenzie has flourished into an awarding-winning dancer with a resume that will undoubtedly continue to expand in years to come. Among Makenzie’s accolades are: The PULSE Atlanta – Solo Awarded “Most Swagged Out Routine,” Hollywood Dance Jamz – Highest Score Overall Solo; Solo – 1st Place in Teens; Convention Scholarship; Debbie Reynolds Studio Scholarship, Recipient of Future Star Award Monsters of Hip Hop – Intermediate Convention Scholarship; Advanced Convention Scholarship; Alvin Ailey Performing Arts Scholarship, and the USA Gymnastics Tumbling and Trampoline – Tennessee State Champion.

And, just last week, she made the dance audition at the Washington, D.C.-area Capitol Movement (or CMI), which provides programs and opportunities for all, despite socioeconomic barriers, by offering traveling classrooms for schools and community partners in need of arts education programming.

In addition, this longstanding organization assist young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds via dance scholarship programs as well as training at our summer camp intensives, annual conventions, and outreach classes. Capitol Movement strives to make it possible for all residents of the DC Metropolitan area to participate in and patronize the arts.

What’s so astounding about Makenzie’s rise as a thriving dancer — one who boasts lofty aspirations of performing on a stage similar to that the Cowboys cheerleaders — is that she’s persevering toward her lifelong ambition while simultaneously battling arguably the grandest obstacle of her young life.

For years, Makenzie has battled Von Willebrand’s Disease, which is the most common hereditary coagulation abnormality described in humans, although it can also be acquired as a result of other medical conditions. According the www.mayoclinic.org, it arises from a qualitative or quantitative deficiency of von Willebrand factor (or vWF), a multimeric protein that is required for platelet adhesion.

SHE SAID IT --- Yes, as strangely as it seemed in this, the modern technology era, CMT managed to grasp the attention little Makenzie, something about which her mother, Sherita Flake, welcomed wholeheartedly at the time.  “When Makenzie was seven, she would watch the "Making of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders" for hours and she was obsessed with becoming a dancer,” Sherita Flake told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “She would always tell us she was going to become a professional dancer.”

SHE SAID IT — Yes, as strangely as it seemed in this, the modern technology era, CMT managed to grasp the attention little Makenzie, something about which her mother, Sherita Flake, welcomed wholeheartedly at the time.
“When Makenzie was seven, she would watch the “Making of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” for hours and she was obsessed with becoming a dancer,” Sherita Flake told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “She would always tell us she was going to become a professional dancer.”

Also, there are three forms of vWD: hereditary, acquired, and pseudo or platelet type, as well as three types of hereditary vWD: vWD Type I, vWD Type II, and vWD Type III.

Named after Erik Adolf von Willebrand, a Finnish physician who first described the disease in 1926, Type I is the most common type of the disorder and those that have it are typically asymptomatic or may experience mild symptoms such as nosebleeds although there may be severe symptoms in some cases.

As it relates to the causes and affects surrounding the disease, Sherita Flake said, “She wanted to be a cheerleader, but it was hard finding a team that would take her and only let her tumble. She was only allowed to tumble due to the bleeding disorder. Then we tried her in other sports, but as she got older, the types of injuries she was subjected to prevented her from continuing the sport.”

Fortunately for the young, vibrant Makenzie, she ultimately found her first love: Dancing.

“My talents as a dancer are definitely unique and special,” Makenzie said. “I would like casting companies and choreographers to know that I am willing to do whatever it takes to be a professional dancer, singer, an actress, and a triple threat. I have a very strong desire for this career and work hard for what I believe to be my destiny.”

In assessing how her youngest daughter has defied an assortment of odds in recent years, Sherita Flake and her husband, Derek, are grateful that Makenzie never used her physical challenges as a deterrent to fulfilling her dream, one that was birth, thanks in large part to Country Music Television.

“When she found dance and was good at it, we were over joyed,” Sherita said. “So we look at her with amazement because she never gave up despite her minor disability until she found something she could do without any restrictions.”

What a difference sitting for countless hours in front of Country Music Television has made.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an author, musician, model, entrepreneur, athlete, or pastor/minister who is seeking exposure and would like to share your story with an in-depth news feature, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him under “Andre T. Johnson” for details.

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Mid-South-area prep baseball standout Ben McCardle having impact on and off the field

COTTONWOOD, Alabama — Kim McCardle on Wednesday was asked what normally goes through her mind whenever she’s sitting in the stands watching her son, Cottonwood (Ala.) High baseball standout Ben McCardle, play the game he loves.

Ben1“I’m always concerned about him as an individual player,” Kim McCardle said. “I try not to compare his talents with others, but I love to watch him pitch and guess which combination of pitches he comes up with. I also like to see him get along with his team. That means they trust each other.”

It is, in fact, because of how Ben McCardle has gone about adjusting comfortably to varsity baseball that he appears destined to fulfill his dream of playing collegiate baseball once his prep career ends.
A 15-year-old rising sophomore for Cottonwood, Ben McCardle was as good as advertised this past season for a Bears team that finished third in the four-team Alabama Area 2A standings.
Given how the speedy 5-foot-6, 140-pound ace had performed this past season, it’s safe to assume that with three full seasons of varsity ball ahead of him, the possibility exists that college scouts and recruiters will almost certainly inquire about his services in the coming years.

MOM KNOWS BEST --- “I'm always concerned about him as an individual player,” Kimberly McCardle said. “I try not to compare his talents with others, but I love to watch him pitch and guess which combination of pitches he comes up with. I also like to see him get along with his team. That means they trust each other.” (Photos submitted by K. McCardle)

MOM KNOWS BEST — “I’m always concerned about him as an individual player,” Kim McCardle said. “I try not to compare his talents with others, but I love to watch him pitch and guess which combination of pitches he comes up with. I also like to see him get along with his team. That means they trust each other.” (Photos submitted by K. McCardle)

“My goals are clear for me to play baseball outside of high school,” Ben McCardle said. “I live baseball and it’s a drive for me like no other. I want to get a degree on Agriculture whether it is in Agronomy and Soils or some other branch of the Ag family.”

To grasp a thorough understanding of why Ben McCardle has his mind set on pursuing a degree in Agriculture, look no further than his job in the comfortable confines of Cottonwood, one of Alabama’s smallest cities that is comprised of just 1,278 residents, according to a 2013 census report.

Ben, along with his older brother, Cody, work regularly on his family’s watermelon farm, something about which seems more like a hobby, of sorts, for the two teenagers, considering the gig has afforded them to travel frequently throughout the Mid-South.

“The boys have been throwing melons since they were five,” Kim McCardle said. “They were on the Birmingham farmers market since they were in diapers. Now they go between games and stay in our camper and resale and wholesale to people from Arkansas to Indiana from Mississippi to Ohio. It’s just part of life.”

Fortunately for Ben McCardle, hurling melons seemingly has benefited him mightily on the mound, although Cottonwood coaches Danny Coachman and Jake Kirkland often assigned him to outfield duties.

Not bad for a newcomer who, given how masterfully he performed this past season, is determined to upgrade his mechanics during the summer months.

DUAL THREAT --- Ben is a fixture for the Dothan (Ala.) Post 12 Youth baseball team that competes regularly throughout the region.  Dothan Post 12 is scheduled to play this weekend in the Junior State Championship in Hartselle, Alabama.

DUAL THREAT — Ben is a fixture for the Dothan (Ala.) Post 12 Youth baseball team that competes regularly throughout the region.
Dothan Post 12 is scheduled to play this weekend in the Junior State Championship in Hartselle, Alabama.

That’s because Ben is a fixture for the Dothan (Ala.) Post 12 Youth baseball team that competes regularly throughout the region.

DOUBLE DUTY --- Ben, along with his older brother, Cody, work regularly on his family’s watermelon farm, something about which seems more like a hobby, of sorts, for the two teenagers, considering the gig has afforded them to travel frequently throughout the Mid-South.

DOUBLE DUTY — Ben, along with his older brother, Cody, work regularly on his family’s watermelon farm, something about which seems more like a hobby, of sorts, for the two teenagers, considering the gig has afforded them to travel frequently throughout the Mid-South.

Dothan Post 12 is scheduled to play this weekend in the Junior State Championship in Hartselle, Alabama.

Aside from competing on the competitive circuit, Ben McCardle often makes it a point to work on his pitching and hitting fundamentals with members of the Cottonwood coaching staff.

As he tells it, because of the lofty aspirations to which he’s clinging with regards to playing at the collegiate level, there is no time to slow down.

At least not right now. Not with a potential athletic scholarship at stake.

“I have just started quick videos of my work and set up a profile and intend to be in touch with several colleges,” Ben McCardle said. “I want people to look back and remember me as Benjamin McCardle. A hard-working family guy who loves his baseball diamond and his farm life.”

And, for a 15-year-old rising baseball standout, Ben McCardle seems to be a kid who customarily says all of the right things.

For instance…

“Sitting around never gets you anywhere,” he said. “You have to work and work hard but respect people as you take the journey. That’s who I am.”

Spoken like a student athlete who not only boasts dreams of playing major college baseball someday, but one who is destined to savor a bright future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Gymnast Caela Flake representing Mid-South superbly with the aid of former Olympian

Long before making three Summer Olympic appearances, Dominique Dawes was taught to steadfastly shoot for the moon.

FLakeUSEFortunately for Caela Flake, Dawes inspired her to follow suit.

Clinging to lofty aspirations of someday appearing on sports’ grandest international stage, the 17-year-old Flake has made continuous strides on the amateur gymnastics circuit in recent years.

From her days of drawing rave reviews as a rising gymnast while representing Memphis and the Mid-South in recent years, to relocating recently to Virginia with her family, Flake doesn’t shy away from the notion that her tireless pursuit of following in the footsteps of Dawes is amongst her notable ambitions.

In many aspects, she admittedly has Dawes to thank.

A 2012 Tennessee state champion, Caela Flake trained intensely under Dawes when her parents, Derek and Sherita Flake, sent her to Maryland a few years ago to broaden her mechanics at the ex-Olympian’s facility.

In assessing her overall progress, Caela Flake acknowledges that having the luxury to train and upgrade her fundamentals under the direction of Dawes not only was a testament to how much her parents aspired to see her prosper, but it also enabled her to grab a firm hold of her passion for the sport.

 

OLYMPIC HOPEFUL --- In many aspects, Caela Flake admittedly has Dawes to thank for her recent success as a rising gymnast. A 2010 Tennessee state champion, Caela Flake trained intensely under Dominique Dawes when her parents, Derek and Sherita Flake, sent her to Maryland a few years ago to broaden her mechanics at the ex-Olympian’s facility. In assessing her overall progress, Caela Flake acknowledges that having the luxury to train and upgrade her fundamentals under the direction of Dawes not only was a testament to how much her parents aspired to see her prosper, but it also enabled her to grab a firm hold of her passion for the sport. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

OLYMPIC HOPEFUL — In many aspects, Caela Flake admittedly has Dawes to thank for her recent success as a rising gymnast.
A 2010 Tennessee state champion, Caela Flake trained intensely under Dominique Dawes when her parents, Derek and Sherita Flake, sent her to Maryland a few years ago to broaden her mechanics at the ex-Olympian’s facility.
In assessing her overall progress, Caela Flake acknowledges that having the luxury to train and upgrade her fundamentals under the direction of Dawes not only was a testament to how much her parents aspired to see her prosper, but it also enabled her to grab a firm hold of her passion for the sport.
(Photos submitted by S. Flake)

Nowadays, though, it is a foregone conclusion that this vibrant, resilient young gymnast hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in the foreseeable future.

If nothing else, Caela Flake — as Dawes had advised her time and again — is shooting for the moon.

“Yes it has inspired to shoot for the moon and even if I miss I’ll land among the stars,” Caela Flake, during a recent interview with MemphiSport, said of training with Dawes. “Also, she has inspired me to never give up and to seize every moment like how she had to do when she had to fill in for her injured teammate during the Olympics.”

The now-retired Dawes is widely remembered for being the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She is also one of only three female American gymnasts, along with Muriel Grossfeld and Linda Metheny-Mulvihill, to compete in three Olympics and was part of three Olympic medal-winning teams: Barcelona 1992 (bronze), Atlanta 1996 (gold), and Sydney 2000 (bronze).

Since her family’s recent move from Memphis to Virginia, Caela Flake once again has made her presence felt now that she’s routinely trains at G-Force Gymnastics Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia.  G-Force Gymnastics offer programs in both non-competitive recreational classes and competitive team, from beginner to elite.   From 18 months to 18 years, G-Force has a program and series of classes with clear progressions and assessments that allow both the gymnast and the parents to follow along and track progress.

Since her family’s recent move from Memphis to Virginia, Caela Flake once again has made her presence felt now that she’s routinely trains at G-Force Gymnastics Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia.
G-Force Gymnastics offer programs in both non-competitive recreational classes and competitive team, from beginner to elite. From 18 months to 18 years, G-Force has a program and series of classes with clear progressions and assessments that allow both the gymnast and the parents to follow along and track progress.

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.

In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama and, according to her mother, Caela Flake already been accepted to a college as she prepares for her senior year of varsity competition at John Champe High School in Aldie, Virginia.

Also, Caela Flake is currently coached by Macey Watson, a nationally-acclaimed boys training coach, as well by Annia Hatch, a 2004 Olympian and two-time silver medal winner.

Given the considerable progress, coupled with solid resume she has compiled on the amateur circuit in recent years, it’s safe to assume that Caela Flake’s track record is such that other schools are almost certain to inquire about her services.

“Her current coach is very instrumental in the recruiting process and he offers her guidance on what to do at the appropriate time,” Sherita Flake said. “She is currently sending introductory letters and preparing videos to submit for colleges. She received an invitation to attend the Southeast Missouri State’s Gymnastics Precision Camp this summer. She has also been recently accepted at Bowling Green State University. She has also received information from Ursinus (admissions sent her information via email requesting she plan a visit), Temple University (admissions sent her information via email requesting she plan a visit), and University of Wisconsin – Whitewater (coach requested a video).”

Caela is Flake is just weeks removed from having fielded an acceptance letter from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, news that brought her parents to smiles.

“We were excited,” Sherita Flake said. “We have told her to explore all options available to her.”

She’s doing just that.

WE ARE FAMILY --- The Flake Family

WE ARE FAMILY — The Flake Family

Since her family’s recent move from Memphis to Virginia, Caela Flake once again has made her presence felt now that she’s routinely trains at G-Force Gymnastics Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia.

G-Force Gymnastics offer programs in both non-competitive recreational classes and competitive team, from beginner to elite. From 18 months to 18 years, G-Force has a program and series of classes with clear progressions and assessments that allow both the gymnast and the parents to follow along and track progress.

For Caela Flake, training at a tradition-rich establishment will only help propel her to immense heights on what undoubtedly is a competitive gymnastics circuit.

As always, however, she’s destined to embrace the assortment of challenges, much like her beloved mentor, Dawes, had done long before making her Olympic debut in 1992.

“I am so glad that I am at G-Force Gymnastics,” Caela Flake said. “I am learning so much and my coaches are working with me on perfecting my skills. I appreciate all of their insight and coaching.”

Not to mention their willingness to steadfastly help inspire her to shoot for the moon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Golden State’s Andre Iguodala dished out notable assist in shout out to NBA chaplains

COMMENTARY

AndreDALLAS — For a sportswriter who has covered the NBA for the past five years, among the trends that never generate headlines is when players meet with the chaplains as part of their pregame rituals.

Because of the constant traveling and customary back-to-backs that make up an 82-game regular season, players rarely get to partake in worship inside of an actual edifice.

Besides, as NBA veteran Tayshaun Price told me during a 2013 interview regarding this subject, meeting with chaplains on game days provides players with the spiritual guidance and wisdom they need which, as a result, will enable them to keep life in its proper perspective.

So how commendable that in the wake of the Golden State Warriors’ Game 6 NBA Finals win Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers that gave them their first world championship in 40 years, Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED --- Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and MVP Andre Iguodala celebrate after their team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 to win the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Warriors took the best-of-seven series four games to two over the Cavaliers to claim their first title since 1975. (Photo by Timothy Clary/Getty Images)

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and MVP Andre Iguodala celebrate after their team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 to win the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Warriors took the best-of-seven series four games to two over the Cavaliers to claim their first title since 1975. (Photo by Timothy Clary/Getty Images)

“I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

HEART OF GOLD --- Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.  ““I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player. (Photo by David Liam/Getty Images)

HEART OF GOLD — Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.
““I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player.
(Photo by David Liam/Getty Images)

Consequently, Iguodala’s rare acknowledgement to the NBA’s men of the cloth brought tears to the eyes of longtime Memphis Grizzlies chaplain Donald Johnson.

Johnson, in telephone interview from Memphis on Wednesday, said he befriended Iguodala when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers from 2004-2012. Both, Johnson acknowledged, had often communicated via text messaging during the Warriors’ playoff run and, after their championship-clinching win, Johnson wasted little time reaching to his friend.

“I texted him (Tuesday) night and told him, ‘Congratulations on the championship’ and ‘job well done,’” Johnson, the pastor of Memphis’ historic Oak Grove Missionary Church, said. “I told some people he was going to be the Most Valuable Player not because he is a great player, but because he’s a man of God.”

PLAYERS' PASTOR --- Donald Johnson, the longtime Grizzlies chaplain, spoke with such eloquence in December 2012 on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God's word because, according to Johnson, "they both go hand in hand."  As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night's game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

PLAYERS’ PASTOR — Donald Johnson, the longtime Grizzlies chaplain, spoke with such eloquence in December 2012 on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God’s word because, according to Johnson, “they both go hand in hand.”
As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night’s game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

According to www.sportschaplaincy.org, sports chaplains have been fixtures to the sports community, having existed since the early mid-20th century. Also, the presence of sports chaplains have grown considerably over the past two decades, the website states, and the United States, United Kingdom and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.

Since I began covering the NBA, I’ve witnessed array of players meet with Johnson roughly 90 minutes before tipoff in a designated room adjacent to FedExForum’s media hospitality area. Players from Mike Miller, Jeremy Lin, Dwight Howard, Stephen Curry, to the entire Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Heck, I even recall last season when Houston Rockets point guard James Harden shoved me out of the way in the FedExForum tunnel after a pregame shoot around session so he could meet Johnson in time for to hear a mini-sermon.

Ironically, I actually sat in on Iguodala’s pregame session with Johnson the day after Christmas in 2012, during which Iguodala was in a contract season with 76ers.

I recall like yesterday how Johnson spoke with such eloquence on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God’s word because, according to Johnson, “they both go hand in hand.”

As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night’s game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.

Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”

After the Warriors’ historic season had come to a ceremonious end, after they emphatically had proven that their 67-win regular season wasn’t a fluke, Iguodala, whose primary role — at least for this season — was to fill in nicely whenever Klay Thompson took a breather, paid homage not just to his Creator, but to those who are responsible for dishing out the assists and tip-ins only a few seem to recognize.

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O'Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.  Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”  (Photo by Timothy Clay/Getty Images)

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.
Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”
(Photo by Timothy Clay/Getty Images)

Those much-needed spiritual assists and tip-ins that will empower them daily to keep life in its proper perspective.

“That really did touched my heart,” said Johnson, explaining his reaction to Iguodala’s postgame shout out to chaplains. “I was really humbled by that and I texted him and said, ‘Brother, thank you. I can’t lie to you. A tear began to dwell in my eye. It’s great to get the recognition.”

A newsworthy subject that surely had been long overdue for generating headlines.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

LeBron James has earned the right to say he’s ‘the best player in the world’

COMMENTARY

AndreDALLAS — Two days after the NBA All-Star break last year, I walked inside of American Airlines Center, where the Miami Heat had just completed their morning shootaround session.

Then-Heat superstar LeBron James had retreated to the opposite end of the arena away from his teammates.

Consequently, I headed toward the area where James sat and, although he didn’t take questions from reporters, he and I partook in a rather brief exchange.

It had nothing to do with basketball.

WORLD'S FINEST --- Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, an 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WORLD’S FINEST — Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, an 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Instead, I congratulated James on his recent marriage to the former Savannah Brinson, his longtime girlfriend of 13 years.

Suddenly, I jokingly asked James, “Do you have any marital advice you’d like to pass along to me?”

James, a seemingly ecstatic newlywed, then turned away from his cell phone and, without hesitation, said to me, “Choose your battles, man. Happy wife, happy life.”

It was, in fact, following that intriguing dialogue that I had drawn the conclusion that James isn’t merely the villain many sensed he had become in the aftermath of his infamous “The Decision” prime-time national television special when he unequivocally coined the phrase, “taking my talents to South Beach.”

But rather I had drawn the assessment that James is one who, love him or hate him, doesn’t shy away from the notion of always keeping it real.

In my estimation, he’s kept it real ever since.

Such was the case when after a memorable four-year run in Miami in which James guided the Heat to back-to-back world titles and four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, he revealed in a first-person essay to Sports Illustrated that he intended to rejoin the Cavaliers.

Such was the case when he met last summer behind closed doors with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to mend their well-publicized differences.

Such was the case following Cleveland’s 104-91 loss at the Golden State Warriors in Sunday’s Game 5 of their NBA Finals best-of-7 series.

Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” James, after his 40-point, triple-double outburst, said when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It’s that simple.”

While many media pundits sense that Golden State — just like in its previous series against Memphis — has made the necessary adjustments to take control of a series the Warriors are favored to win, James, meanwhile, was only stating the obvious following a loss that now have the Cavs on the brink of witnessing yet another franchise heartbreaker heading into Tuesday night’s Game 6 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

That is, he uttered with such fearlessness a dauntless declaration many around the sports world had been professing for some time.

Love him or hate him, James, to his credit, surely has earned the right to say he’s the world’s best player, given his masterful, awe-inspiring display on basketball’s grandest stage.

SWEET HOME OHIO --- Such renewed hope and enthusiasm wouldn’t have come to fruition in Cleveland if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and returned to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years. All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

SWEET HOME OHIO — Such renewed hope and enthusiasm wouldn’t have come to fruition in Cleveland if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and returned to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years. All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

For starters, the 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries.

Not only that, the 30-year-old James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player who finished third in this year’s league MVP race, has virtually done it all on both ends of the floor, most notably as the Cavs’ facilitator in a series showdown against Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the league’s reigning MVP.

How else to explain why Cavs undrafted shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova has filled in superbly for the injured Irving, thus manufactured his pro basketball coming out party?

How else to explain why Clevelanders who, on several occasions, had become accustomed to witnessing their professional sports teams wound up on the wrong side of arguably the most memorable moments in the history of sports — the Browns’ disheartening loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game known as The Drive and Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot over Craig Ehlo two years later, for instance — were ultimately given some renewed hope and enthusiasm when the Cavs surprisingly stole homecourt advantage with a decisive win in Game 2 against the heavily-favored Warriors?

POSITIVE APPROACH --- Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead. “"I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world," said James, when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It's that simple." (Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

POSITIVE APPROACH — Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead. “”I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” said James, when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It’s that simple.” (Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

Make no mistake, such renewed energy wouldn’t have come to fruition if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and went back to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years.

All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP.

All of which is why James, because of his undeniable excellence and astounding body of work in recent years, undoubtedly has earned the right to say he’s the best player in the world.

Love him or hate him.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Young gymnast Leeiah Davis having international impact on amateur circuit

LeeiahDADJust recently, amateur Leeiah Destanee Davis was asked what are amongst her essential plans during the summer.

“This summer I want to go back to my hometown in Florida and get in the gym with one of my favorite gymnast, Derrian Goburne, and hope to run into Gabby Douglas,” Davis, during a recent interview, said while chuckling.

For Davis, a 10-year-old rising gymnast phenom who has enjoyed an array of success on the amateur circuit in recent years, it would be rather simple to grasp a thorough concept as to why she is destined to meet Douglas, who emphatically caught the sports world by storm when she became the first African-American woman to capture gold medals in both the all-around and team competitions in the 2012 Summer Games.

For starters, just like the young Douglas, Davis has proven to be just as big a gym rat, a trend that has ultimately has given way to a brutally immense work ethic, let alone a passion for the sport her parents initially discovered she embraced some five years ago.

CHECK OUT LEEIAH: gofundme.com/SupportLeeiahd

As Martha Tatham-Davis recalls, her then-baby daughter was seen jumping and tumbling off of virtually everything in their home that would suggests that this vibrant, happy-go-lucky kid was showing flashes that a future in gymnastics was essentially a foregone conclusion.

My reaction was, ‘Oh my!’ Tatham-Davis explained. “God has given her an awesome gift and I want to encourage her to explore it.”

The rest, as they say, was history.

Five years removed from being caught flipping off of house furniture as her parents looked on in wonderment, Leeiah, to her credit, has enjoyed a wealth of success as an amateur gymnast, a trend that has afforded her the golden opportunity to put her skills on display even outside of the United States.

TRACK DOWN LEEIAH: (Google #leeiahd)

LeeiahMainAmong the reasons is that Leeiah, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe — Vicenza, Italy to be exact.

That’s because Leeiah was — and still is — a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.

In fact, as Leeiah — who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas — tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

DADDY'S GIRL --- Among the reasons is that Leeiah Davis, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe --- Vicenza, Italy to be exact.  That’s because Leeiah was --- and still is --- a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.  In fact, as Leeiah --- who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas --- tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

DADDY’S GIRL — Among the reasons is that Leeiah Davis, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe — Vicenza, Italy to be exact.
That’s because Leeiah was — and still is — a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.
In fact, as Leeiah — who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas — tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

“Leeiah is extremely close to her dad, and when certain things like separation anxiety sets in, gymnastics are her outlet,” Tatham-Davis said. “Nothing relaxes her like being in the gym, so it’s not just a past time for her, or something to do after school. It’s her therapy, it’s her job, and it’s her passion.

A student at Pershing Hill Elementary in Fort Meade, the 4-foot-10 Leeiah practices her craft as a gymnast for as close to 18 hours a week, according to her mother.

While often observing her daughter in action in the gym — or in her “sanctuary” of sorts, Tatham-Davis acknowledges — she even recalls a memorable encounter about which still brings her to smiles to this very day.

“The most memorable encounter would be watching her learn gymnast through the art of the sport itself due to the language barrier of beginning her career in a foreign country,” Tatham-Davis explained. “There is no limit, because God has blessed her infinitely. You don’t read about upcoming gymnasts that are a part of a military family every day. And while one might not think that’s a big component of her career, it truly is.”

Which, by all accounts, is among the grandest reasons that Leeiah — who is also an avid track and field standout — appears destined to leave it all out on the floor whenever she makes her much-anticipated presence in the gymnasium.

Whether in the states or anywhere else around the globe.

“I want to go to (the University of) Florida Gators for gymnastics or be a professional gymnast,” said Leeiah, explaining her future goals and ambitions. “It’s my dream to help take care of my parents and my brothers and sister. My dad is amazing. He is a soldier and he works hard for me so I want to make him happy with making good grades and follow my dreams.”

Something she hopes Olympic gold medalist phenom Gabby Douglas will hear about.

At some point in time.

Maybe, perhaps, this summer in Florida.

MAKING STRIDES --- Davis is also an avid track and field standout.

MAKING STRIDES — Davis is also an avid track and field standout.

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AndreAndre 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.