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.

Memphian and avid San Antonio Spurs fan praises organization on female coaching hire

DALLAS — At approximately 12:30 p.m. on January 7, Stella Faye Adams walked inside what was an empty FedExForum.

What she witnessed shortly thereafter is something she admittedly will cherish for the rest of her life.

HISTORIC HIRE --- The San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday hired WNBA veteran point guard Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first, full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff. (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

HISTORIC HIRE — The San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday hired WNBA veteran point guard Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first, full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff. (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

An avid San Antonio Spurs fan, Adams got to meet future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, whom she deems her “favorite athlete of all time.”

As Adams recalls, meeting Duncan, a 14-time All-Star, for the first time following the team’s shootaround is something she had envisioned for quite some time. A native Memphian who has supported the Grizzlies since their move from Vancouver to Memphis, Adams has had a greater admiration for the Spurs, in large because the team has proven to be what she labels the “model organization of the NBA.”

TRADING PLACES --- Once Hammon, a 16-year veteran point guard, retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

TRADING PLACES — Once Hammon, a 16-year veteran point guard, retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

“When I met Tim Duncan, my favorite player of a time and the Spurs, I felt like I was on top of the world,” Adams told MemphiSport on Wednesday. “I couldn’t wait to show off my pictures. I remember saying to him that it was nice meeting you. Tim said to me that it was nice meeting you also and I couldn’t contain myself. He is such a humble person. I will never forget that moment.”

Adams became an even bigger fan of the NBA world champions when the team on Tuesday announced the hiring of 37-year-old Becky Hammon as an assistant. A veteran point guard for the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars, Hammon has become the first, full-time paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.

The news of Hammon’s hiring was inspiring to Adams, a special education teacher at Kate Bond Elementary and cheerleading coach at the nearby middle school. According to Adams, Hammon’s unprecedented hiring has provided her and other women with lofty hopes of working their way through the ranks in their respective fields.

“This is definitely a sign of things to come,” Adams after learning of Hammon’s hiring. “You will see more females stepping out and trying something different whether it be in sports or something that is not expected of a female. She has inspired me to think outside the box. I will be exploring options whether it be in administration or in the community making a difference. I am going to use my education and experience to make myself even more marketable.”

A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon currently ranks fourth on the league’s all-time assist list. Once the 16-year veteran point guard retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

Like many women — whether sports fans or not — Adams, 42, will be among those tracking Hammon’s every move as she becomes acclimated in her new endeavor, one she believes undoubtedly has grasped the attention of other professional franchises.

TEAM SPURS --- Memphian Stella Faye Adams has been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs since Tim Duncan entered the NBA ranks. Adams, a cheerleading coach for Kate Bond Middle School, met Duncan for the first in January.

TEAM SPURS — Memphian Stella Faye Adams has been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs since Tim Duncan entered the NBA ranks. Adams, a cheerleading coach for Kate Bond Middle School, met Duncan for the first in January.

“I think that the Spurs as an organization is a trendsetter,” said Adams, when asked what was her initial reaction to Hammon’s hiring. “The things that they have done throughout the years makes them stand out. Allowing a female to come into the organization and share her expertise to males shows that it’s about the ability, not what you look like.”

As the Spurs, who open training camp in late September, look to defend their world title this upcoming season, Adams said the organization once again has given her and others a reason to support it, let alone some newfound enthusiasm, particularly with regards to the support and equality of women in corporate America.

“I was excited that they chose a female,” Adams said. “I believe she will bring some skills that will make the veteran players even better as a team. It’s makes me feel like I can step out and do something as unique as this.”

Having gone undrafted as a rookie following an All-American career at Colorado State, Hammon is in her 16th season and with her second WNBA team. She was signed by the New York Liberty in May 1999, enjoying a stellar rookie campaign while backing up starting point guard Teresa Witherspoon. Hammon spent seven seasons with the Liberty before being traded to the San Antonio Stars in April 2007.

En route to winning their fifth world championship in franchise history, the Spurs produced an NBA -best 60-20 record during the regular season and clinched the top seed in the postseason. San Antonio defeated the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA Finals.

ADreColumnndre 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, call him at 901-690-6587 or send email to andre@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.

Memphian Alena Kelley a thriving fashion designer in Dallas, surrounding areas

DALLAS — Alena Kelley was only six years old at the time.

FASHION AND BASKETBALL --- Memphian Alena Kelley used basketball while living in Binghampton as a child to inspire her to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer. Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz in Dallas, Texas. (Photos submitted by Alena Kelley)

FASHION AND BASKETBALL — Memphian Alena Kelley used basketball while living in Binghampton as a child to inspire her to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer. Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz in Dallas, Texas. (Photos submitted by Alena Kelley)

Still, despite her young age, she was just as electrified and enthused about what transpired to unite the citizens of Memphis in March 1985.

That year, the Memphis State men’s basketball team mounted arguably its most memorable run in school history, upending Penn, UAB, Boston College and Oklahoma to solidify the school’s second Final Four appearance and first in 12 years.

SIBLING SUCCESS --- Kelley and her older sister, Petra Thomas, started VogueGirlz in February. Their business has since become a success throughout various parts of the United States.

SIBLING SUCCESS — Kelley and her older sister, Petra Thomas, started VogueGirlz in February. Their business has since become a success throughout various parts of the United States.

Kelley, like many Memphians, was left gazing at the television in wonderment from the living room of her home in the heart of Binghampton. Like thousands of Tiger fans, Kelley embraced wholeheartedly the unity and pandemonium that was brought to Memphis.

“I remember vividly when the Memphis State basketball team went to the Final Four,” Kelley, a native Memphian, told MemphiSport Tuesday night from Grand Luxe Café in North Dallas. “I just remembered the excitement from my family cheering on the Tigers and seeing them glued to the TV. From that point, I knew I wanted to be a Tiger.”

Like many of her peers — most notably fellow Binghampton products Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and former Universit of Tennessee star Tony Harris — Kelley used basketball as an outlet, or sorts, to vacate poverty-stricken Binghampton. Growing up, she spent years attending summer camps and playing pickup games Lester Community Center, which was roughly one block from her home.

As Kelley tells it, the neighborhood community center not only kept her out of harm’s way in a setting where senseless crimes were a customary trend, but it provided her with the competitive drive to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer.

SHOP ONLINE NOW WITH VOGUEGIRLZ AT: www.iamvoguegirlz.com

Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz Accessories and Apparel. Based in Dallas, VogueGirlz offer ladies high-quality merchandise and gives them a distinctive look for casual and business settings.

CALIFORNIA ANGEL --- Kelley's career began 11 years when she relocated to Los Angeles, where she enjoyed a brief acting career.

CALIFORNIA ANGEL — Kelley’s career began 11 years ago when she relocated to Los Angeles, where she enjoyed a brief acting career.

Also, consumers are given the luxury of revitalizing their appearance with trendy clothes and accessories. Having opened for operations in early February, VogueGirlz has quickly flourished as one of the hottest black-owned establishments in Dallas and the surrounding the areas.

Four months removed from its inception, VogueGirlz is now starting to have a viable presence throughout the Southern and Eastern regions of the country. Not bad for a business that appeared difficult to come full circle seven years ago.

“I made attempts in 2007 to start a clothing line, but because of a lack of resources, we walked away from it,” said Kelley, who runs VogueGirlz with her older sister, Petra Thomas. “We gave it a shot, but it wasn’t our time.”

Fortunately for Kelley and Thomas, that certainly isn’t the case today.

Seven years ago, they were left selling clothes from the trunk of their vehicles in hopes of witnessing their business soar to immense heights. Today, however, their newly-established venue is drawing rave reviews from hundreds of thousands of consumers, many of whom have bought into VogueGirlz’s mission of providing customers with a wide selection of fashionable clothing and accessories at the most affordable prices.

RISING STAR --- Since moving to Dallas four years ago, Kelley has become a fixture in the fashion designing industry.

RISING STAR — Since moving to Dallas four years ago, Kelley has become a fixture in the fashion designing industry.

“It was funny because people were like, ‘This girl is hustling,’” said Kelley, recalling her initial attempt to launch her fashion designing business. “I took my student loan money and bought some merchandise and sold it out of my car. We didn’t get the building at Wolfchase (Memphis’ Mall). This is our second go around and this time we are hitting the ground running.”

Long before Kelley — who holds a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing from the University of Memphis — witnessed the progression of her up-and-coming clothing business, she admittedly had lofty dreams of becoming an actress, in large part because of her admiration for the renowned actress and super model Brooke Shields.

Luckily for Kelley, her break in Hollywood surprisingly happened within weeks after she relocated to Los Angeles in October 2003. Among the first celebrities she met upon her move to L. A. was singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes, who ultimately introduced Kelley to Tom Cruise.

Cruise, it turned out, was so intrigued by Kelley’s persona that she appeared in the movie, Collateral. Consequently, Kelley would later make appearances on The Bernie Mack Show, Gilmore Girls, Fat Albert The Movie, and OWN TV’s show entitled Help Desk.

For Kelley, though her move to the West Coast was short-lived — she resided in L. A. for four years — such memorable experiences, coupled with the competitive drive basketball created ultimately enabled her to become a more aggressive entrepreneur.

“With basketball being my first venture in being competitive, it taught me to never give up,” Kelley, a former Memphis East High graduate, said. “It taught how to be driven. I would say it carried over into my whole lifestyle. You have to know your competitor. You also have to have an eye for your surroundings. When you fall down, you get back up.”

To her credit, Kelley acknowledges that while she was raised in a poor community in Memphis, she always exhibited the notion of steadfastly seeing from beyond where she was.

VIABLE IMPACT --- Petra Thomas, like her younger sister, Kelley, has had a key role in the rebirth VogueGirlz this year.

VIABLE IMPACT — Petra Thomas, like her younger sister, Kelley, has had a key role in the rebirth VogueGirlz this year.

In a nutshell, Kelley always sensed there was more to life outside of the Bluff City, regardless of how much unity the Tigers brought to the city in the mid-1980s.

“I was (in Binghampton), but I knew I didn’t belong there,” Kelley said. “I knew that God had placed me in Binghampton for a reason. I always knew there was a world outside of Binghampton. I always thought we had money. I thought we were rich. Even though I was there, my thinking was outside of Binghampton. I was always a dreamer. Even when I was in the classroom, my mind was somewhere else. I just refused to be a product of my environment.”

Now that VogueGirlz is starting to evolve, Kelley has commenced to delve off into another business venture, one that has benefitted her considerably in recent weeks. Kelley has joined World Ventures, a home-based direct selling business in which individuals can become an entrepreneur and part of our travel club community.

Come Friday, Kelley will fly to Las Vegas to promote her latest business project, one that has already given way to her having an immediate impact since her arrival.

“I’m already leading the pack,” Kelley said. “It’s a growing company. They’re looking for people who are driven, so I’m looking to take my entrepreneurship to another level. I love it. I’ve already got my wings, which means I’m already qualified to make income.”

In assessing her career, particularly how she has managed to persevere through an assortment of challenges in recent years, Kelley is confident her best days as a rising entrepreneur are ahead of her.

So much for once selling clothes from the trunk of her vehicle.

“Since February, we’ve generated at least five figures,” Kelley, a mother of one, said of her business. “What we do is that we’re not on the payroll with VogueGirlz. We put the money back into the business. We want to grow the business because we want to tap into a market we haven’t tapped into yet. We know it’ll do well because of our taste.”

A taste that, to her credit, was first discovered while playing pickup basketball games at nearby Lester Community Center in the mid-1980s.

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

Memphian Kylan Chandler flies thousands of miles to support son on AAU hoops circuit

On Sunday afternoon, Kylan Chandler loaded his vehicle with a few belongings then took a long road trip with his son, Kennedy, a 616-mile drive from Memphis to Charlotte, North Carolina .

TIRELESS SUPPORT --- Since marrying former Hamilton High basketball player Kylan Chandler, Rosalyn Chandler has steadfastly aided her husband in supporting his son, Kennedy, who is a fixer on the AAU basketball circuit. (Photos submitted by Rosalyn Chandler)

TIRELESS SUPPORT — Since marrying former Hamilton High basketball player Kylan Chandler, Rosalind Chandler has steadfastly aided her husband in supporting his son, Kennedy, who is a fixer on the AAU basketball circuit. (Photos submitted by Rosalyn Chandler)

A commute that took approximately 11 hours, Chandler and his son arrived to the East coast at around 3 a.m. Monday.

For Chandler , a former Memphis entrepreneur, he’d be the first to tell you that traveling across the country with his son is something about which he’s come to embrace in recent years.

Kennedy Chandler is an 11-year-old standout for Nashville’s “We All Can Go All-Stars” 11-and-under AAU basketball team that competes nationally. He has been a force as the team’s floor general and facilitator, averaging 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals. 

To get a thoroughly understanding of how Kennedy has managed to enjoy success in recent years, particularly on the amateur hoops circuit, look no further than the unyielding support his father has demonstrated since his son first reached for a basketball.

Kylan Chandler, a former Memphis Hamilton High basketball player who was prep teammates with former University of Arkansas star and ex-NBA player Todd Day in the late 1980s, was granted custody of Kennedy when he was five years old.

No doubt, the father-and-son union has since become virtually inseparable.

For starters, Kylan decided to permanently shut down his business as a popular South Memphis-area restaurant owner, in large part so he could devote a majority of his time to Kennedy. As he tells it, he’s been blessed “beyond measures” ever since.

Now a manager for an ever-evolving company in Southeast Memphis, Kylan’s schedule is now flexible in that he is allowed to travel to practically each of his son’s practices and games.

HIGH RISER --- Kylan Chandler, a former Memphis business owner, was granted custody of his son when he was five years old. This year, he has flown more than 10,000 miles to watch his son play AAU ball.

HIGH RISER — Kylan Chandler, a former Memphis business owner, was granted custody of his son when he was five years old. This year, he has flown more than 10,000 miles to watch his son play AAU ball.

Whether by plane, train, or automobile, Kylan has become a fixer in gymnasiums throughout the country, regardless of where “We All Can Go All-Stars” are scheduled to play.

So far, the native Memphian has used more than 10,000 frequent flyer miles this year, traveling to places such as Indianapolis, Louisville, Atlantic City, San Diego, Chicago, and Hampton, Virginia, among others, to watch his son in action.

This weekend, “We All Can Go All-Stars” will play in the AAU National Tournament in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Surely, Kylan will be on hand in sunny Florida to witness his son put his skills on display once again, let alone continue to build a camaraderie among his peers.

“It’s mainly for him,” Kylan told MemphiSport during a telephone interview Monday afternoon from Charlotte . “God has given him a gift to play basketball. I’ve always told him if that is what he wants to do, we’re going to go out all out. If it takes me to sacrifice things, that’s what I’m going to do.”

To his credit, Kylan certainly has made an assortment of sacrifices to ensure his son is provided with the necessary exposure to someday play at the collegiate level.

Aside from ceasing operations of his business, Kylan covers all of his son’s travel expenses, most notably hotels, food, and equipment. In return, though, Kennedy is expected to put forth his best effort on and off the court.

WE ARE FAMILY --- Besides strong support from his wife, Kylan's parents also have been a fixer at Kennedy's games.

WE ARE FAMILY — Besides strong support from his wife, Kylan’s parents, who recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, also have been a fixer at Kennedy’s games.

Especially off the court, where it counts the most, his father often tells him.

“He’s a student athlete first,” Kylan said of his son, who attends Briarcrest Christian School, a Christian-based private institution in East Memphis. “That’s why I enjoy (traveling with him). I mean, I played (basketball), but I didn’t have a lot of opportunities as him. You’ve got a lot of camps. But it’s also about life’s lessons. You’re learning to build relationships with other kids. My wife and I enjoy it. We do a lot of sacrificing. I’ve always been able to do it, to take off from my job. But even if I couldn’t, I’d use my vacation time. As long as he loves it and enjoys the game, that all that matters.”

While traveling nationwide with Kennedy is a huge financial sacrifice, the presence of seeing his father in the stands is priceless.

“One time, my wife (Rosalind) called me while I was work and said, ‘Kennedy is having a bad game,’” Kylan recalled. “It wasn’t really a bad game. But when I got there, it was a 180-degree turnaround. I think that’s very important in a kid’s life, because they need that motivation. When a kid sees a dad comes to a game, that motivates them.”

Long before Kennedy came along, Kylan was raised in the heart of South Memphis. What he deemed most intriguing about his upbringing is that unlike many of his peers, he had both parents in the home, something he acknowledged enabled him to become the devoted basketball dad is he.

Kylan’s parents celebrated 50 years of marriage in February.

“I came from a basketball family,” Kylan said. “When I came up in South Memphis, (my dad) always came to my games at the YMCA and took me to and from practice. He came to all of my games. But my dad played too. He played all sports. He was always there for me. Since I was brought up like that, that lets me know that’s the way I need to bring up mine.”

Although traveling across the country can become exhausting at times, Kylan said seeing his son — whose young skills have drawn comparisons to Kyrie Irving of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers — play and flourish on the court is what he relishes the most. As he tells it, he hopes his personal life lessons with his son will inspire others to exhibit a tireless effort in the lives of their children.

“It’s very important,” Kylan said. “What you do can have an affect on your son. Every son wants to be like their dad if he’s involved in his life.”

In a nutshell, as the father goes, so does the child, Kylan hinted.

“If I’m yelling and acting up, he’ll start acting that way,” Kylan said. “Like any other parent, I’ll lead him on. That’s what parents do. But it’s very important to stay humble, because if I don’t, he’ll follow in my footsteps and be that way. I can’t do things that are out of character. I think that’s very important to a kid’s life.”

When the AAU portion of the season ends, Kylan said his son’s primary focus will be basketball, unlike in years’ past when he played both basketball and football.

“He had played football since the second grade and was MVP of his (youth) league and the Super Bowl,” Kylan said. “This year, he just wants to stay focused on basketball. That tells me right there that he’s serious. He has some great opportunities ahead of him.”

Surely, dad will be right along for the ride.

Whether by plane, train, or automobile.

 

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

‘We’re a more dynamic team with D-Wade’ LeBron James tells MemphiSport

One week before the end of the regular season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James spoke about the importance of the team having a healthy Dwyane Wade for the playoffs.

Now we know why.

Wade, an 11-year veteran who missed nine straight games late in the season while nursing a sore left hamstring, hasn’t shown any indications that his health is a concern.

Even after Lance Stephenson’s bold comments last week when the Indiana Pacers’ guard told reporters that Wade’s knee is “messed up” and that he got to be “more aggressiveness and make him run,” Wade hasn’t been anything short of magnificent in the Eastern Conference Finals.

HEATIN' UP --- Dwayne Wade proved in the Miami Heat's Game 2 win against the Indiana Pacers that he isn't fazed by the slew of injuries that sidelined him 28 games during the regular season. Wade scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting to help the Heat even their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals series versus the Pacers at one game apiece. (Photos by Michael McCoy/NBAE Getty Images)

HEATIN’ UP — Dwyane Wade proved in the Miami Heat’s Game 2 win against the Indiana Pacers that he isn’t fazed by the slew of injuries that sidelined him 28 games during the regular season. Wade scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting to help the Heat even their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals series versus the Pacers at one game apiece. (Photos by Michael McCoy/NBAE Getty Images)

Through the first two games versus Indiana, Wade has been the Heat’s top scorer, averaging 25 points while shooting a career playoff-best .531 percent from the field.

To his credit, the 32-year-old Wade undoubtedly has complemented the play of James during such a critical stretch in the season.

Such was the case in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 2, a game the Heat desperately needed after their sporadic performance in the final’s opener.

Wade, continuing what has been a super-efficient season despite missing 28 games due to an assortment of injuries, scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting to help Miami tie the series against the top-seeded Pacers at one game apiece with an 87-83 win. Wade and James combined for 22 of Miami’s 25 fourth-quarter points, including the team’s final 20.

Most importantly, the win allowed the second-seeded Heat to seize home court as the series shift to Miami’s American Airlines Arena for the next two games, starting with Game 3 Saturday night at 7:30 CST.

That Wade — who averaged 19 points per game in 54 regular-season appearances this year — has played a significant role in the Heat’s success of late is exacting what James had been stressing heading into the playoffs.

“It’s very important,” James told MemphiSport during a recent interview, when asked to assess the health of the former Marquette star. “Obviously, he’s one of our Big Three. We’ve won two (consecutive) championships for the most part because our Big Three were on the floor.”

Miami center Chris Bosh who, along with James, joined Wade at South Beach in July 2010, said when healthy, Wade could potentially emerge as the most dangerous player on the floor.

“I mean, he’s our second option,” Bosh said. “When you miss a player like that, you’re going to feel it. And in order for us to be successful, he has to play well. He’s the guy we rely heavily on defense and offense.”

Especially on the offensive end, where Wade has provided the Heat with some much-needed energy, particularly with the game hanging in the balance.

FIERCE TANDEM --- James told MemphiSport during a recent interview that the Heat are a "more dynamic team" with Wade in the lineup. James and Wade combined for 22 of Miami's 25 fourth-quarter points in Tuesday's win at Indiana. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE Getty Images)

FIERCE TANDEM — During a recent interview with MemphiSport, James said the Heat are a “more dynamic team” with Wade in the lineup. James and Wade combined for 22 of Miami’s 25 fourth-quarter points in Tuesday’s win at Indiana. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE Getty Images)

Wade, in fact, was just as impressive in the decisive fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Pacers when he scored 10 points, a display that was highlighted by his reverse two-handed slam off a dish from James in the waning moments that sealed it for the two-time defending champs.

“The way I look at, LeBron James’ presence alone makes most teams a title contender,” ESPN Miami Heat reporter Michael Wallace told MemphiSport Friday in a telephone interview from Miami. “But with Dwyane Wade, he puts them over the top. There’s a reason LeBron James came to join Dwyane in Miami and now we’re starting to see it.”

With the best-of-7 series shifting to Miami and a chance for the Heat to put a stranglehold on the upset-minded Pacers, the biggest question now is whether Wade’s heroics can be sustained.

So much for the dauntless comments about his health.

“It’s not going to be Lance Stephenson bringing out the best in Dwyane Wade,” Wallace said. “It’s Dwyane Wade who’s going to bring out the best in Dwyane Wade. So what we’re seeing is Dwyane Wade at his peak right now.”

A late-season resurgence James and Co. were expecting days before the playoffs began.

“We’re a more dynamic team when (Wade’s) out there,” James said.

Now we know why.

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

Pastor with Memphis ties plays Kevin Durant’s speech before his congregation

IRVING, Texas — Kevin Durant’s emotional speech last week during a new conference in which the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player not only impacted the sports world, but it also has left a favorable impression among various religious organizations.

CLUTCH SPEECH --- After being named the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the first in his career, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar caught the sports world by storm with an emotional speech in which he labeled his mother, Wanda Pratt, as the "real MVP." (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE Getty Images)

CLUTCH SPEECH — After being named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the first in his career, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar caught the sports world by storm with an emotional speech in which he labeled his mother, Wanda Pratt, as the “real MVP.” (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE Getty Images)

Such was the case Sunday morning when longtime West Irving Church of God In Christ senior pastor Andrew Jackson, Jr., played a portion of Durant’s 20-minute speech throughout the sanctuary’s loudspeakers as his congregation tuned in with intentness during its Mother Day’s service.

According to Jackson, Durant’s tribute to his mother, Wanda Pratt, during a tear-jerking, demonstrative speech was a vital reminder of the tireless contributions, particularly in homes run by single African-American women.

 

Andrew Jackson, Sr. and his wife, Sandra, moved in 1986 from Memphis to the Dallas area, where Jackson has since been pastoring West Irving Church of God In Christ. (Photo submitted by West Irving COGIC)

Andrew Jackson, Sr. and his wife, Sandra, in 1986 moved from Memphis to the Dallas area, where Jackson has since been pastoring West Irving Church of God In Christ. (Photo submitted by West Irving COGIC)

“Basically, in this society where we having so many homes being led by women, I think it’s important that they receive encouragement and support for what they do,” Jackson, who relocated to the Dallas area from Memphis in December 1986, told MemphiSport. “Raising boys and raising girls…the father may be missing in the home and all of that pressure and responsibility fall on the single mother. And to read Kevin’s Durant’s story and to hear of his story, his mother was his motivation. She encouraged and she pushed him even when they were told they were not going to make it.”

Pratt, the mother of four, gave birth to Durant when she was 21 years old. The Washington, D. C. native has since emerged as arguably the most-celebrated player in the NBA.

This year, Durant was a unanimous choice for league MVP after leading the NBA with 32 points per game, becoming the first player to win both the scoring title and MVP award in the same year since Allen Iverson did it in 2000-2001.

Durant scored a game-high 40 points in Game 4 of the Thunder’s best-of-7 playoff series Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers. But that weren’t enough as the Clippers erased a 22-point first half deficit to even the series at two games apiece with a 101-99 win.

Game 5 is Tuesday night at 8:30 CST in OKC’s Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant all but solidified the NBA’s highest individual achievement award when he registered at least 25 points for 41 consecutive games, a stretch that prompted Miami’s LeBron James to hint that his two-year run as league MVP was nearing an end.

KING DETHRONED --- Durant amassed 119 of the possible 125 first-place votes in ending Miami Heat superstar LeBron James' two-year league MVP run. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE Getty Images)

KING DETHRONED — Durant amassed 119 of the possible 125 first-place votes in ending Miami Heat superstar LeBron James’ two-year league MVP run. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE Getty Images)

“I would say he’s playing the most consistent basketball as far as MVP this year,” James told MemphiSport during an April 9 interview. “I mean, he’s put up some great numbers.”

Durant’s remarkable display ultimately led him generating 119 of the possible 125 first-place votes. James, a four-time league MVP, amassed the remaining six first-place votes.

During his acceptance speech, a tearful Durant expressed thanks to his mother for looking out for him and his siblings, labeling her “the real MVP.” His tribute was replayed Sunday throughout West Irving’s sanctuary, one Jackson acknowledged was paralleled to the sermon he gave to his congregation: “What Kind Of Woman Am I?”

Jackson, the son of longtime Memphis-area pastor Andrew Jackson, Sr., told the 300-plus worshippers five things a virtuous woman should do, one of which is to influence the community.

“She’s going to the PTA meetings, she’s talking to the principal, she’s there making herself known,” Jackson told his congregation. “She influences the community in a way that it is positive.”

In addition, Jackson said he believes Durant’s speech is just what the NBA needed amid the controversy surrounding embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling’s recorded racial remarks, recently released by TMZ, sent shock waves throughout the sports world and black community, thus leading to his lifetime ban from the NBA.

“I think (Durant’s) speech saved the NBA,” Jackson said. “I think his speech really put a huge impact on the NBA because first of all, the NBA is made up of 80 percents minorities. And for him to have that wherewithal of what his mother did for him, that was really about African-American boys. It’s a great sport that many people enjoy and I just think that Kevin Durant sealed the deal.”

Also, Jackson said that while Durant’s detailed tribute to his mother is prevalent to the issues within the black community, he hopes other preachers will share his speech with their congregation.

“It’s out of the box,” Jackson said. “It’s certainly speaks to our society when most homes in the African-American community are being led by single mothers.”

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

Former East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather defies odds, celebrates his wife

Desmond Merriweather has every reason in the world to celebrate Mother’s Day.

After all, doctors didn’t think he would live to witness his 37th birthday.

LOVE AND BASKETBALL --- Inya Merriweather, the wife of former Memphis East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather, stood by her husband's side after he was diagnosed colon cancer in 2009. Although doctors had given him 24-to-48 hours to live, Desmond said he's alive today, largely because of his wife's strong support. (Photos submitted by Desmond Merriweather)

LOVE AND BASKETBALL — Inga Merriweather, the wife of former Memphis East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather, stood by her husband’s side after he was diagnosed colon cancer in 2009. Although doctors had given him 24-to-48 hours to live, Desmond said he’s alive today, largely because of his wife’s strong support. (Photos submitted by Desmond Merriweather)

Diagnosed with colon cancer toward the end of 2009, Merriweather was confined to a hospital bed in October 2010, fighting for his young life just as hard as he fought to survive the dangerous streets of Binghampton growing up.

He underwent rounds of chemotherapy. He partook in regular radiation sessions. Doctors performed multiple surgeries. Still, it seemed all hope was gone.

For the very first time, Merriweather’s life suddenly was hanging in the balance. Doctors, in fact, announced that he had between 24-to-48 hours to live as his family stood by his side. Just like that, his hospital bed seemed more like his death bed.

But just as he’s done so many times as a rising basketball star at Memphis East High in the early 1990’s, Merriweather manufactured a dramatic comeback for the ages.

“I mean, everything has gotten great since,” Merriweather told MemphiSport Friday morning. “Really, God has gotten control of me. I’ve really never been the one to listen to doctors because they really don’t know. They’re only going by what man says.”

TEAM PENNY --- Fellow Memphian and former NBA star Penny Hardaway served as assistant for the past three seasons to Merriweather, who coaches basketball at Lester Middle School. Hardaway was recently named the head coach at East.

TEAM PENNY — Fellow Memphian and former NBA star Penny Hardaway served as assistant for the past three seasons to Merriweather, who coaches basketball at Lester Middle School. Hardaway was recently named the head coach at East.

Nowadays, it seems whenever he makes routine visits for treatment, Merriweather said doctors are astounded over how his health has progressed in recent years.

“They’re in a state of shock because they pretty much don’t know what to say,” he explained. “I tell them, ‘I know what y’all tell me, but God tells me differently.’ Pretty much, I don’t feel I have cancer in my body. I feel like I felt 10 years ago.”

Among the reasons Merriweather has steadfastly remained in high spirits during his battle with the dreaded disease is that his wife, Inya, has shown strong support since his diagnosis.

Merriweather recently completed his fifth full season as head basketball coach of Lester Middle School, the same institution he attended in the mid-1980s. With his close friend, former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway serving his as his assistant, Merriweather guided the Lions to their third consecutive state championships this year.

Looking back, Merriweather, a former Lane College basketball player, deemed it essential to pay homage to Inga, whom he said has been his grandest cheerleader on and away from the sideline.

After learning her husband was stricken by cancer nearly five years ago, Inya Merriweather quit her job as a longtime employee of Church Health Center in midtown Memphis to stand by his side.

HUGE TIP-IN — After learning her husband was stricken by cancer nearly five years ago, Inga Merriweather quit her job as a longtime employee of Church Health Center in midtown Memphis to stand by his side.

“To be honest, she’s the most important part of this ordeal,” said Merriweather, who has three children with his wife of nearly five years. “What people don’t know is that she quit her job to be with me in the hospital. She never left my side. I was in the hospital for three years.”

As Merriweather prepares to celebrate Mother’s Day for the 40th time in his life, he said the single most underlying lesson his wife taught him is the significance of “real love.” After all, as Merriweather admits, he’s never been one who fully trust women, particularly during his college days at Lane.

Today, nontheless, he doesn’t shy away from the notion that Inga has given him a newfound outlook on life.

“The biggest lesson is that love is more than the eye can visualize,” Merriweather said. “Love is eternal. She loves me more than I can imagine. She has done so much, just being there pretty much and never complaining not once.”

Which, according to Merriweather, is why he believes he has every reason in the world to celebrate Inga this Mother’s Day, his grandest cheerleader who helped propelled him to a dramatic off-the-court comeback for the ages.

Asked if not for his wife’s tireless support, would he still be alive today, Merriweather said, “I wouldn’t be alive to honest. But she never gave up. That’s why I never gave up. She is the one who did all the ground work. She’s the captain of everything. People are glorifying my story with Penny, but she’s the backbone. She can get the other half of my rib now.”

Especially since he managed to persevere and defy all odds during a time his life hung in the balance.

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

Former Vols basketball star Tony Harris earns degree, gives back to community

 

GOD'S FACILITATOR --- For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

GOD’S FACILITATOR — For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

Tony Harris decided to call it a career after playing professional basketball overseas for approximately seven years.

It didn’t take long for the former University of Tennessee standout to return to Knoxville to complete the final 36 hours of his undergraduate studies.

Harris, a native Memphian, earned his degree in Psychology with a minor in Childcare within six months after his professional career ended.

He has former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl to thank.

Pearl, who recently replaced Tony Barbee as Auburn’s head coach, coached the Vols from 2005-2011 before he was fired in March 2011 for lying to school officials regarding NCAA allegations.

As Harris tells it, Pearl’s contributions to the university far outweighs the NCAA sanctions that ultimately led to his firing. Among the reasons is that during Pearl’s tenure at Tennessee, he established a program in which ex-Vol players could return to campus and finish their degree requirements.

Harris, who starred for the Vols from 1997-2001, deemed it a forgone conclusion to finish school. “Man, it was very relishing,” Harris, in a recent interview, said of finishing his undergraduate requirements.

“I look back at it as a pivotal point in my life. I knew that I couldn’t play basketball the rest of my life. I knew eventually the crowd would stop cheering. I knew getting my degree would open doors for me.”

Harris is grateful to Pearl for helping him exhibit to renewed sense of assertiveness in the classroom.

“Believe it or not, Bruce Pearl played a big part in that,” Harris said. “He created a program where he actually wanted to bring former players back. He reached out to me and I said, ‘I have to do that.’ I definitely sensed a reconnection with him. I really wished I had played for that guy right there because he cared. My hat goes off to him.”

A little more than five years removed having a earned his degree, Harris, a former McDonald’s All-American and Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball who starred at point guard for East High from 1994-97 is now dishing out assists to youngsters who aspire to journey through the basketball ranks much like he did more than a decade ago in this hoops-crazed town.

Harris, 35, is the founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy (or THBA), which is currently housed at STAR Academy Charter School in Northeast Memphis where he teaches physical education. According to Harris, THBA was organized to teach youths various fundamentals and mechanics as they prepare for competitive play.

ROCKY TOP TONY --- Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

ROCKY TOP TONY — Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

Also, THBA has its own strength and conditioning coach to teach athletes about speed and agility as well as the importance of staying in shape on the court. In addition, the academy offers after-school tutoring and frequent sessions in which athletes are taught how to become media savvy.

“A lot of kids get in front of the news media and don’t know how to talk,” Harris said.

An organization that is comprised of about 120 individuals, Harris also conducts a midweek Bible study in which he shares with athletes stories that are parrarelled to his life. In return, athletes are encouraged to offer feedback from the messages given.

Earlier this year, Harris was installed as an ordained ministered by his pastor, Stephen Brown, and preached his first sermon just weeks later at Brown’s LOGIC Church in the heart of downtown Memphis.

“About a month before my sermon, I didn’t know what I was going to talk about,” Harris said. “And God told me to talk about where He brought me from. And so when I preached that sermon, I tied those experiences to my own life.”

Besides Pearl, Harris attributes his success on and off the court to fellow Memphian Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former Memphis Treadwell and MemphisState star.

Drafted with the third overall pick by GoldenState in 1993, Hardaway played 14 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star appearances before retiring in 2007 following a brief stint with the Miami Heat.

“Man, I just looked at his life and his career and how he came back and impacted the whole (city),” Harris said of Hardaway. “He really inspired me. He’s really had the biggest impact on me. And it helps to have a personal relationship with him. I’ve watch him. And what better guy to have as an example than Penny Hardaway?”

Looking ahead, Harris said his primary focus is to upgrade his staff at THBA, considering he has taken on additional athletes in recent months. Also, plans to build a new facility are in the works while he continues to train athletes at STAR Academy, a project he anticipates will be complete within the next year.

“It was four years ago,” said Harris, explaining his motivation for starting a basketball academy. “I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go and God gave me a vision. He said, ‘I want you to start a basketball academy.’ And then I talked to my pastor about it and then he told me to make the vision plain and clear. One thing I wanted to do was reach out to kids and not be restricted to a school.”

Much like Pearl reached out to him.

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

 

Grizzlies reserve Quincy Pondexter hopeful to return if Memphis advances in playoffs

Quincy Pondexter is clinging to hope.

While talking midrange jumper following a shootaround session last week, the Memphis Grizzlies reserve shooting guard appeared unaffected by the stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a Dec. 9 loss against GoldenState.

Days later, the team announced that Pondexter would miss the remainder of the season.

SET TO RETURN? Grizzlies reserve shooting guard Quincy Pondexter said last week that he could be cleared to play if Memphis makes a deep playoff run. Pondexter has been out since suffering a stress fracture in his right foot in early December. (Photo by Danny Johnston/Getty Images)

SET TO RETURN? Grizzlies reserve shooting guard Quincy Pondexter said last week that he could be cleared to play if Memphis makes a deep playoff run. Pondexter has been out since suffering a stress fracture in his right foot in early December. (Photo by Danny Johnston/Getty Images)

“I’m fine. I just took a couple of joke-around shots,” Pondexter told MemphiSport as the Grizzlies prepared for their regular season finale against the Dallas Mavericks.

Although Pondexter has yet to be cleared by doctors to resume practicing, the former University of Washington star hinted the possibility exists that he could return during Memphis’ playoff stretch.

The No. 7 seed Grizzlies took a two games to one lead in their best-of-7 opening round playoff series Thursday night with a 98-95  overtime win against the No. 2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in FedExForum. Game 4 is Saturday night at 8:30 CST.

“It depends on how far of a run they make,” Pondexter said, when asked if he could return during the playoffs. “ I could possibly be available. I don’t know yet. I haven’t discussed the time table with doctors.”

If Pondexter is cleared to return, he would add more depth to a bench that has produced quality minutes through two playoff games.

The 26-year-old, Fresno, Calif. native played a pivotal role in Memphis’ dramatic postseason run last year that ended in the Western Conference Finals.

Pondexter appeared in 15 playoff games last year, registering career highs in points (8.9) and minutes played (23.8). In all, he’s appeared in 22 postseason games since he was traded to the Grizzlies from New Orleans in December 2011 for Greivis Vasquez.

Although he has not been cleared to return to action, Pondexter said he’s recouping comfortably and would welcome the opportunity to give it a go if the Grizzlies manage to upset the Thunder.

“It’s feels great,” said Pondexter, when asked about the status of his foot. “I’ve been conditioning a few weeks now. You know, I see a lot of progress. But I’m fine. That’ll be awesome (if cleared to play) because I really want to get out there and play. I’m excited. I’m glad (the Grizzlies) are doing well.”

The past two seasons have been challenging for Pondexter, considering he has battled an assortment of injuries. Prior to his season-ending foot injury, Pondexter was limited to 59 games during the 2012-13 season because of a right MCL sprain.

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