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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, no arrests have been reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year Mavs fans will never forget.

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

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.

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.