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.

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

 

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

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

COMMENTARY

DALLAS — I was weeks away from relocating to Dallas.

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

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

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

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

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

Never mind that she mistakenly misidentified him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely, it doesn’t matter 60 years later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, I meant to say LeBron James.

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

Fitness star Johnny Loper garners national recognition as motivational speaker

Loper3Long before Johnny Loper starred at wide receiver for South Carolina State from 1995-2000, he had lofty aspirations of making an NFL roster, in large part because he wanted to retire his mother from the factory job she had for years in his native hometown.

Fortunately for Loper, the Waynesboro, Miss. native made good on his ambition to his retire his mother, although it came courtesy of a much different route.

Nearly four years ago, Loper’s company, Jaylo Fitness, chose to partner with AdvoCare, a development that resulted in him earning approximately $18,000 within his first month after joining.

TRUE CHAMPION --- Loper, pictured with his wife, Weslynne, has become a fixture in recent months because of his rapid success as an entrepreneur. Loper takes part in regular speaking engagements to discuss health, wellness, and living a carefree lifestyle.

TRUE CHAMPION — Loper, pictured with his wife, Weslynne, has become a fixture in recent months because of his rapid success as an entrepreneur. Loper takes part in regular speaking engagements to discuss health, wellness, and living a carefree lifestyle.

Now that Loper has been afforded more freedom away from his gym and enjoys a mostly carefree lifestyle that includes frequent vacations and more time with his family, the former Arena Football League standout has taken part in another venture he believes will enhance the lives of others.

Because of his continuous success through Jaylo Fitness and Advocare in recent years, Loper, 38, has had the luxury of delivering speeches to an assortment of organizations throughout the Mid-South.

Given the thunderous applauses and favorable feedback he has garnered, his itinerary figures to expand in the foreseeable future.

Just recently, for instance, Loper spoke before approximately 25,000 witnesses during an Advocare Success School event at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT & T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“A little country boy from Waynesboro, Mississippi was given the opportunity to be center stage addressing an audience that size,” Loper told MemphiSport Thursday afternoon. “That in itself should let anyone know that anything in life is possible if you refuse to give up.”

To Loper’s credit, although he twice attempted to land an NFL contract — with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers — he never wavered with regards to earning a comfortable living.

Following a three-year stint with the now-defunct Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league in which he earned about $300 per week, Loper consequently started his business.

HOMECOMING --- As an avid motivational speaker, Loper will return to his native hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi next month to speak with various athletes.

HOMECOMING — As an avid motivational speaker, Loper will return to his native hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi next month to speak with various athletes.

At times, a regular work day for him lasted nearly 16 hours, a trend by which Loper wasn’t bothered at the time.

“I was actually enjoying life because I didn’t have kids,” Loper told MemphiSport during a February 28 interview. “It was just me and my wife. But when my little boy came along, it wasn’t about me anymore. I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth because my dad had to work all the time. He couldn’t make all of my sporting events.”

Since Jaylo Fitness partnered with AdvoCare in three years ago, Loper and his wife, Weslynne, have benefited mightily with one of the world’s premiere wellness companies, whose endorsers include an array of professional athletes, most notable Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl 44 MVP Drew Brees.

So much, in fact, that Johnny Loper has gained a newfound passion for sharing his success in front of sizable crowds.

As he tells it, speaking in front of large audiences essentially has become apart of his vision.

“It’s always special when you are presented with an opportunity to help someone else by sharing your story,” Loper said.  “There are a lot of people in this world who are hurting or who are in need of some form of inspiration in order to make it through the day.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to be view as a leader who has the heart of a servant.”

While his requests to give speeches have increased considerably in recent months, Loper acknowledges he doesn’t always know which topics and issues to discuss once he takes the podium.

In other words, he admittedly follows his instincts with regards to grasping his audience’s attention, something his attendees have come to embrace.

“Sometimes, I never know what I’m going to say until I’m in front of the audience,” Loper said. “But I can say that I enjoy sharing my core values with my audience.  At the end of the day, I believe that success comes from strong faith, strong commitment, strong family, and strong love.   I hope that after every speech, the audience looks at me, hears my message, and leave the room motivated by the thought of, “If he can make it, then I know I can make it.”

Among those who routinely make it point to attend Loper’s speaking engagements is his wife Weslynne. According to her, people are amazed at how her husband can freely go about grasping their attention with pure transparency and eloquence.

“I am absolutely so proud of Johnny,” Weslynee said. “He is not only an awesome husband but also an amazing father who is passionate about his family. He also loves helping other families grow. Johnny definitely has a servant’s heart. He is passionate about helping other families become healthier along with financial freedom. When you have better options in life, this definitely will make a family’s dynamics grow stronger. It is a true blessing when you can help others succeed.

Especially when one is from a small, rural town such as Waynesboro, Mississippi.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for the things he has allowed me to experience,” said Loper, who is scheduled to return to his hometown to deliver a speech in September.  “It is those constant thoughts of my hometown and my upbringing that keeps me humble. Those thoughts keep me grounded and fuel my drive to always want to help someone else achieve prosperity.”

Something his mother witnessed firsthand the moment he retired her from her job.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To book Johnny Loper for a speaking engagement, call 901-619-5662. Also, follow him on Instagram at JOHNNY LOPER (@ JAYLOFITNESS) https://twitter.com/ JAYLOFITNESS as well as like his Jaylo Facebook fan page. 

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

Memphis-based Parker’s Water Ice thriving, now looking to have a national presence

ICE, ICE BABY --- Parker's Water Ice has become a fixture throughout the Mid-South in recent years, most notably at AutoZone Park during Redbird games and the Memphis Zoo. (Photo submitted by Veronica Parker)

ICE, ICE BABY — Parker’s Water Ice has become a fixture throughout the Mid-South in recent years, most notably at AutoZone Park during Redbird games and the Memphis Zoo. (Photo submitted by Veronica Parker)

Veronica Parker-Robinson was raised in Williamstown, New Jersey, an unincorporated community in Gloucester County that is comprised of about 15,567 residents.

Though the rural town is relatively small, Parker-Robinson had a huge impact as a multi-sport athlete.

Growing up, Parker-Robinson was a fixture in array of sports, most notably basketball, baseball, field hockey, and track and field, among others.

COOL TREATS --- Parker's Water Ice serves gelati and boasts well over 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream.

COOL TREATS — Parker’s Water Ice serves gelati and boasts well over 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream.

Field hockey?

“I excelled in field hockey and track,” Parker-Robinson, who relocated to the Mid-South seven years ago, told MemphiSport. “I experienced being Tri-County champ in both of these sports as well as receiving newspaper and college scholarships to play both.”

While Parker-Robinson, a self-proclaimed “lazy athlete,” chose not to partake in collegiate sports, it was her competitive drive as a thriving athlete that ultimately fueled her desire to excel in entrepreneurship.

Parker2Today, Parker-Robinson, along with her younger brother, Therman, are owners of Parker’s Water Ice. Located at 7050 Malco Crossing in Southeast Memphis, Parker’s Water Ice is the only Italian ice store in the Mid-South that specializes in serving gelati and features well over 24 different flavors of soft serve ice cream.

In addition, Parker’s Water Ice boasts a mobile food truck which, according to Parker-Robinson, is its “mini store on wheels.”  Her company has especially evolved as a popular establishment for the Memphis Redbirds organization, considering customers can purchase her products at AutoZone Park. Not only that, Parker’s Water Ice treats are available at the Memphis Zoo.

“We are also known for our gelati which is the layering of Italian ice with serve soft serve ice cream,” Parker-Robinson said.

CHECK OUT PARKER’S WATER ICE ONLINE: www.parkerswaterice.com/

A family-run business whose mission is to provide its customers with high quality products at reasonably low prices, Parker’s Water Ice offers a kosher, fat free, cholesterol free and dairy free Italian ice. Parker’s business also host parties, company appreciations, church picnics, family reunions, offices parties, community sporting events, not to mention fairs and carnivals. Also, this company allows consumers and Mid-South-area businesses to hold fundraisers.

As Parker-Robinson tells it, it took her to actually fail in order to grasp a thorough appreciation for savoring success.

COOL FANS --- Parker's Water Ice has become one of the favorite treats for local baseball fans who attend Redbird games.

COOL FANS — Parker’s Water Ice has become one of the favorite treats for local baseball fans who attend Redbird games.

“During my senior year I placed second (in a race), getting nipped at the line in the qualifying meet for state,” Parker-Robinson explained. “I did not lose that race because the other girl was faster than me. I lost because I was out of shape and ran with the proverbial monkey on my back for the last 100 meters. All season long I was able to win my races doing just enough, but just enough was not enough when I faced better competition.

“What really bothered me was the fact that I should have won that race,” Parker-Robinson continued. “If I could come in second doing the minimum, what could I have achieved doing the maximum?  I decided from that day, I would no longer live with what if. Even in failing, at least I would know the end result and have given my all. That is why I did not run in college. I knew I had to choose between being a full time student or a part-time student or a part-time athlete. I knew myself. I was honest with myself and, at that point of time in my life, I was not the type to balance both.”

With sports all but a distant memory, Parker-Robinson consequently managed to fulfill her academic obligations, earning degrees in Journalism (with an emphasis in broadcasting) and Sociology from Rutgers University. Fortunately for Parker-Robinson, her academic success proved just as beneficial to her entrepreneurial success than her plethora of accolades as a multi-sport athlete back in the rural setting of Williamstown.

Athletics and academics, nonetheless, helped instill in her the essential attributes to thrive as a flourishing business owners, something about which Memphians have embraced wholeheartedly in recent years.

Parker-Robinson said plans are in the works to add a second location likely in the Bartlett or Cordova area sometime in March 2015.

“I think I was born with the gene, like my father,” Parker-Robinson said of her entrepreneurial success.  “My dad would purchase boxes of candy and my youngest brother and I would take the candy to school and sell it.  Years later it took shape into our family business.”

A business that figures to have a viable presence in Mid-South for quite some time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Parker’s Water Ice, call 901-624-7676.

 

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

Texas S.W.A.G. Track And Field thriving in Dallas, surrounding areas

PROVEN LEADERS --- Among the reasons Texas SWAG Track And Field has been a success is because its coaches boast a wealth of experiences. (From left to right): Ricky Madison, Texas SWAG founder William Henderson, and Isaac Bell.  (Not pictured): Trey Bates, Bob Bell, Tommy Cauley, Tommy Hamilton, Renwick Ridgeway, John Stewart

PROVEN LEADERS — Among the reasons the Texas SWAG Track And Field club has been a success is because its coaches boast a wealth of experiences. (From left to right): Isaac Bell, Texas SWAG founder William Henderson, and Ricky Madison.
(Not pictured): Trey Bates, Bob Bell, Tommy Cauley, Tommy Hamilton, Renwick Ridgeway, John Stewart (Photo by Andre Johnson)

ARLINGTON, Texas — In William Henderson’s estimation, it isn’t necessary to always attach a negative panorama to the term, “swag.”

“People tend to want to put a negative connotation to it,” Henderson told MemphiSport during a recent interview from Arlington’s Seguin High School. “In order to wear this, you’ve got to have swag.”

Henderson is referring to the newly-designed uniforms his Texas S.W.A.G. Track and Field Club will wear when it arrives to Texas State University in San Marcos next week for the USATF Region 12 Junior Olympic Track And Field Championships.

The regional competition will take place July 9-12 and will consist of athletes in various age divisions between eight and 18.

Two years ago, Henderson founded Texas S.W.A.G. Track And Field, a non-profit organization that serves specifically as a charitable, religious, and educational entity in Dallas’ Metroplex.

MOTHERLY IMPACT --- Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson chose pink as his club's primary color in honor of his mother Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

MOTHERLY IMPACT — Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson chose pink as his club’s primary color in honor of his mother Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

S.W.A.G., which stands for Success, Wisdom, Athleticism, and Grace, is currently comprised of about 90 athletes, many of whom compete for their respective middle and high school.

Come Wednesday, the first day of regional competition, Henderson’s troop will sport their customary pink and charcoal gray threads as they aim to advance to the national Junior Olympics trials later this month.

Since starting his track and field club, Henderson said he’s often been criticized for choosing pink as one of his club’s colors. Unfortunately, he points out, many aren’t aware of his logic by the colors.

A Tyler, Texas native, Henderson selected pink as Texas SWAG’s signature color in honor of his mother, Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years.

Texas SWAG Track And Field has more than doubled since its inception two years ago. The non-profit organization currently features as many as 90 athletes.

TEXAS SIZE EXPANSION — Texas SWAG Track And Field has more than doubled since its inception two years ago. The non-profit organization currently features as many as 90 athletes. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

“I think the NFL and (Major League) Baseball have really done a lot with pink, especially for the male gender,” Henderson explains. “Last year, in my first year, there were some negative comments from people. I remember one a lady saying, ‘I’d never let my son wear pink.’ It made me feel the mentality of some people. It also brought to light that we all have our own prejudices. It kind of made me feel sad, especially when you’re dealing with kids because they are at that age where they’re being developed mentally.”

Long before establishing Texas S.W.A.G., Henderson enjoyed a track and field career that afforded him to run at the collegiate level. A 1987 John Tyler High graduate, Henderson was a standout distance runner during his three-year varsity stint, having advanced to the Texas state regionals in the 800-meter event as a senior.

In addition, he also participated in the 4×400 meter relay at Tyler. Consequently, he joined the track and field program at nearby Jarvis Christian College, where he was a member of the 4×200 and 4×400 meter relay teams.

After nearly a 10-year hiatus from track and field, Henderson ultimately regained his passion for the sport in 2007 during which he was asked as a substitute teacher to work as a volunteer assistant at Kennemer Middle School in Duncanville, Texas.

“The head football coach who didn’t know much about track allowed me to come out and work with the kids,” Henderson explained. “One of the things I realized when I was subbing and coaching is that a lot of our kids aren’t bad. They just need someone to talk to. They way things are nowadays, there’s something in the word, ‘coach,’ that the kids love, respect, and lean on.”

Because of a coaching staff that includes individuals who have competed at the collegiate level, Texas S.W.A.G. currently is comprised of about 90 athletes, a figure that has more than doubled since Henderson officially launched the club in January 2013.

“I surround myself with good people, with coaches who are U. S. Track And Field certified,” said Henderson, who also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. “Most of my coaches are coaching at the high school level now, which adds legitimacy to our program because you’ve got people out here who know what they’re doing.”

YOUNG ENERGY --- Texas SWAG has athletes as young as seven years old.

YOUNG ENERGY — Texas SWAG has athletes as young as seven years old. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

Besides helping youths compete at a high level, among the skills Texas S.W.A.G. coaches emphasize to athletes is how to identify various forms and breathing or, as Henderson acknowledges, “how to run properly.”

“We have certain types of equipment for their arms like bird bands,” Henderson said. “We also train them for the quarter mile (or 400 meters). I was taught at John Tyler that if you can run the 400, you can run anything. That’s what I build my program on.”

An organization that ranges between the ages of seven and 18, among Texas S.W.A.G.’s key objectives is to promote good academic standing, particularly with regards to enlightening youth athletes on what it takes to earn scholarships upon graduating high school.

“We stay in contact with kids year round,” said Henderson, whose organization boasts indoor and outdoor seasons. “That in itself is how we help high schoolers. We also stay with them on their grades. We give them NCAA Clearing House packages that tell them what colleges expect.”

DOUBLE DUTY --- Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

DOUBLE DUTY — Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

Given its rapid growth in such a brief time as a non-profit organization, Henderson is appreciative of the fact that parents have bought into his staff’s unorthodox style of coaching, let alone his club’s unique colors.

“There’s a fine line between being swag and being cocky,” Henderson said. “I like running. All of my buddies in high school knew that track was going to be my deal.”

So far, so good for a flourishing program that is starting to have a viable presence in Dallas’ Metroplex.

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

UT among schools eyeing Cottonwood (Ala.) QB Cory Gill after combine at Ole Miss

While Cory Gill would not say specifically if sensed his stock had risen at the Southern Elite Top 150 Combine last week at Ole Miss, it sure seemed that way.

Gill, the starting quarterback for Cottonwood (Ala.) High, was nothing short of impressive during the invitation-only combine that was comprised of a number of the finest prep football players in the country.

STOCK RISING --- Cottonwood (Ala.) High quarterback Cory Gill made his presence felt at the invitation-only Southern Elite Top 150 Combine at Ole Miss last week. The Tennessee Vols remain among the slew of colleges showing interest in Gill. (Photos courtesy of Cottonwood Athletics)

STOCK RISING — Cottonwood (Ala.) High quarterback Cory Gill made his presence felt at the invitation-only Southern Elite Top 150 Combine at Ole Miss last week. The Tennessee Vols remain among the slew of colleges showing interest in Gill. (Photos courtesy of Cottonwood Athletics)

After a year in which he drew rave reviews from scouts when he engineered the Bears from their midseason funk to clinch a postseason berth, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Gill showed last week there is more to his offensive repertoire.

For starters, Gill performed superbly in an assortment of drills at a combine that attracted more 190 athletes. To his credit, he was especially impressive during the 7-on-7 drills, which ultimately resulted him being the only quarterback to finish among the top 30 prospects.

A multi-sport athlete who is pitching standout for Cottonwood’s baseball team, Gill, placed 11th overall at last week’s combine, a feat that is almost certain give way to his football stock rising as his senior campaign looms.

“I think I performed well,” Gill said, when asked to assess his overall display at his latest camp. “It was really important to me because it’s always good to go different places and show different scouts what you are made of and I really enjoy doing that.”

No one seemed more intrigued by Gill’s performance than his mother, Jennifer Gill, who made the trip to Oxford, Miss. to witness her son demonstrate why scouts are steadfastly inquiring about his services.

“I was enjoying watching all of the talent from the stands,” Jennifer Gill said. “It seemed like all the quarterbacks there were very talented.  I would hear the other parents and spectators talking about that tall dark-headed quarterback had a great arm and how accurate he was. Then I realized they were talking about Cory.  It’s a feeling I can’t express…definitely makes a mama proud.  He did have a great combine. I never saw him throw a bad pass.”

Still, despite having a favorable showing at the Southern Elite Combine, Cory Gill hinted that it is essential he continues to assume the business-like approach.

In other words, he emphasized his primary focus is to continue to upgrade his mechanics, worthy advice he acknowledged was given to him by scouts and recruiting analysts.

CREAM OF THE CROP --- While at Ole Miss last week, Gill was the only prep quarterback that placed in the top 30 among more than 190 the prospects around the country.

CREAM OF THE CROP — While at Ole Miss last week, Gill was the only prep quarterback that placed in the top 30 among more than 190 the prospects around the country.

“The coaches told me about the stuff I needed to work on,” Cory Gill said. “The mechanics I must work on is following through on my throw and my footwork.”

After an impressive showing at his latest combine, Cory Gill said he’s confident he will fine tune the necessary skills in time for what figures to be a remarkable senior season, one in which he is expected to pick up where he left off last year.

In his second full season as a starter, Gill was the catalyst of coach Toby Greene’s Cottonwood team that recovered from a midseason three-game winless streak and clinched a trip to the Alabama Class 2A playoffs. In engineering the Bears to a 6-5 finish, Gill demonstrated why college scouts have taken notice of his keen ability to manage a spread offense.

Gill amassed a career-best 2,574 passing on 183 of 325 attempts while throwing 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, which were best among Alabama quarterbacks.

To his credit, he has garnered interests from an array of colleges, most notably Tennessee, Auburn, Southern Miss, Samford, South Alabama, Alabama State, West Alabama, Florida, Florida International, Troy, Mercer, Western Kentucky, Appalachian State, Jacksonville State, and Furman, among others, he said.

Such a list is expected to increase as early as before his season season, according to his mother, who spoke with a number of analysts during last week’s combine.

“(Several 247 Sports representatives) stopped me to tell me how great he was doing,” Jennifer said. “They said he could really sling that football. Cory is a very hard worker and is very competitive. He doesn’t like to not be the best at what he does, so he works twice as hard when the competition is there.”

That was evident at his latest combine appearance, a trend that continues to impress scouts.

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

Former Duncanville sprinter to college coaches: ‘I’m going to give it my all and do my thing on the track’

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — D’Andre Jackson-Reeves loves track and field.

So much, in fact, that he deemed it necessary recently to consult an Olympic gold medalist for advice as he prepares to lobby for a spot on his college track and field team.

ON YOUR MARK --- D'Andre Jackson-Reeves emerged into a standout sprinter for Duncanville High in the Dallas area. After getting advice from two-time Olympian Rochelle Stevens recently, he hopes to earn a spot for Prairie View A & M track and field team this fall. (Photos submitted by Nathanial Reeves)

ON YOUR MARK — D’Andre Jackson-Reeves emerged into a standout sprinter for Duncanville High in the Dallas area. After getting advice from two-time Olympian Rochelle Stevens recently, he hopes to earn a spot for Prairie View A & M track and field team this fall. (Photos submitted by Nathanial Reeves)

Jackson-Reeves contacted Rochelle Stevens, a two-time Olympian who won a gold medal as part of the 4×400-meter relay team in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

A conversation he said lasted for about 15 minutes, Jackson-Reeves admittedly came away inspired as he clings to hopes of earning a spot on Prairie View A & M University’s track and field this fall.

“She talked to me about what coaches will be looking for in a college athlete and the times they would want,” Jackson-Reeves told MemphiSport during a recent interview. She asked what events I ran and what were my best times were. “She suggested that I run cross country to help me get in shape. The conversation was some what informative because she told me a lot of things I already knew about track and what it would take.”

While Jackson-Reeves, the former Duncanville High sprinter, did not compete for a spot on Prairie View’s track and field program his freshman year so he could focus primarily on his grades, he believes now the time has come to prove he’s worthy of putting his skills on display for PVAMU coach Chris Clay’s squad.

ALL WORLD --- Before winning an elusive gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Memphian Rochelle Stevens was a four-time national champion at Morgan State University in Baltimore. (Getty Images Photo)

ALL WORLD — Before winning an elusive gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Memphian Rochelle Stevens was a four-time national champion at Morgan State University in Baltimore. (Getty Images Photo)

Ever since Jackson-Reeves set foot on the Houston, Texas campus last fall, he has taken part in mostly individual workouts as a way of staying in favorable shape. Add to the fact that he has compiled a 3.5 grade point average, and it’s no wonder why he believes he could contribute immediately for PVAMU.

“I believe (the PVAMU coaching staff) saw me working out,” Jackson-Reeves said. “I’m fast and I’m a go-getter on the track. I have the attributes to help that team.”

Said Jackson-Reeves’ father, Nathaniel Reeves: “That’s one thing I’ve really pushed and that’s work ethic. Being in the military for years, you’re working as a team to get a job done. We go out as a team, we shoot as a team, move and communicate as a team. Not only does (Jackson-Reeves) does it on the (track), but he can do it in the classroom.”

Prior to enrolling at PVAMU, Jackson-Reeves enjoyed an efficient stint for Duncanville’s tradition-rich track and field program.

He ran the 100- and 200-meter dash and took part in the 4×100- and 4×200-meter relays his freshman and sophomore seasons before omitting the 100-meter dash from his events his final two seasons.

Looking back, he said he felt his second full year was his breakout season, in large part because Duncanville came away with assortment of hardware.

“It was just that year, my teammates and I were doing really good,” Jackson-Reeves said. We would go to every meet and come back with medals. The team chemistry was really good. And plus it was good because we were winning. It really boosted my confidence.”

Now, Jackson-Reeves is destined to exhibit that same winning attitude for Prairie View. Surely, he realizes it will take a monumental effort on his part. But as he tells it, he welcomes the lofty challenge of making his presence felt.

Once again.

“I have the grades,” Jackson-Reeves said. “So you never have to worry if I’ll be eligible to run. And I have the will power to compete. I just want to be another student who wants to compete on the track.”

Said Jackson-Reeves former high school track coach William Henderson: “I was Dre’s summer track for two-to-three years but our relationship with him and his family goes beyond the track.  I’ve always had a good relationship with him even to this day as he moves toward and pursue his passion in and out of the classroom.  I was always partial toward Dre’ because he has the same passion towards track as I do. He has always been a hard-worker and focused young man.  Dre is a self motivator and a leader which are essential elements in being a track athlete.  He’s very aware of his abilities but isn’t afraid to tackle those things that will make him better.  I think each team, no matter if it’s Pop Warner, high school, college, or professional needs people like Dre’ on their team.”

If given the chance to compete for Prairie View A & m, Jackson-Reeves said he would have fulfilled his dream of competing at the collegiate level.

“I’m going to give it my all and do my thing on the track,” Jackson-Reeves said.

For Jackson-Reeves, it was similar advice he absorbed from Stevens who, before striking Olympic gold, made her presence felt on the track for a historically black college (Morgan State University).

“She helped me to realize that I’m really going to have to bust my butt and start making a name for myself and let my speed do the talking for me,” he said. “And with (good grades) and good times, then I can get a scholarship. She sounded like a nice person and a person that keeps it real, because she didn’t want to lead me on to false information.”

Now it’s time to put on display what he was told by one of world’s finest sprinters to ever grace a track.

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