Total Life Changes executive director Tamika Quinn stages dramatic comeback, survives two strokes

AAAIn case you don’t know her, Tamika Quinn would like to introduce herself.

A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Quinn, 41, currently resides in nearby Chesapeake, Virginia, where she is widely known as serving as a co-host of The popular radio talk show called, “Talk Is Cheap Radio Show.”

An alumna of Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School, in which she graduated with former NBA star Rasheed Wallace, Quinn also attended the Philadelphia High School For Girls with renowned R & B music icon Jill Scott.

A former multi-sport prep athlete, Quinn also is an ex-U.S. Navy soldier who, like many of her peers, has endured her share of the toughest of life’s gruesome, yet challenging obstacles.

NNNNFor starters, Quinn had to bury her loving husband, her companion of 14 years (16 total). As if that’s not enough to place her faith on the grandest of trials, this military veteran today — unlike never before — still deems it essential to count her blessings, in large part because…well…perhaps she can tell it better.

GOD'S CHOSEN ONE --- Total Life Changes executive director Tamika Quinn had to bury her loving husband, her companion of 14 years (16 total). As if that’s not enough to place her faith on the grandest of trials, this military veteran today --- unlike never before --- still deems it essential to count her blessings, in large part because…well…perhaps she can tell it better. “I am a two-time stroke survivor,” Quinn told longtime journalist Andre Johnson on Wednesday. “My strokes were a result of being overweight and having uncontrolled high blood pressure. I speak for various organizations on prevention of strokes and lifestyle changes to ensure good health.”

GOD’S CHOSEN ONETotal Life Changes executive director Tamika Quinn had to bury her loving husband, her companion of 14 years (16 total). As if that’s not enough to place her faith on the grandest of trials, this military veteran today — unlike never before — still deems it essential to count her blessings, in large part because…well…perhaps she can tell it better.
“I am a two-time stroke survivor,” Quinn told longtime journalist Andre Johnson on Wednesday. “My strokes were a result of being overweight and having uncontrolled high blood pressure. I speak for various organizations on prevention of strokes and lifestyle changes to ensure good health.”

“I am a two-time stroke survivor,” Quinn told longtime journalist Andre Johnson on Wednesday. “My strokes were a result of being overweight and having uncontrolled high blood pressure. I speak for various organizations on prevention of strokes and lifestyle changes to ensure good health.”

Among the organizations to which Quinn routinely shares of her life-changing, gut-checking testimonies is Total Life Changes — a thriving, booming, universally-acclaimed dietary supplement company that utilizes internet marketing strategies to offer a wide range of oils, skin care items, teas, and liquid solutions.

Currently, Quinn hold an Executive Director status for Total Life Changes, this after being christened Director for the company within the first month of joining.

MAKING HEADLINES --- Amongst the reasons Quinn had steadfastly gone to great lengths to have an immediate impact with TLC is that she recalls specifically the days her child had become victimized by her weight. “My daughter was bullied in elementary school because of her weight,” Quinn explained. “These products have helped her tremendously drop the weight and increase her self-esteem.”

MAKING HEADLINESAmongst the reasons Quinn had steadfastly gone to great lengths to have an immediate impact with TLC is that she recalls specifically the days her child had become victimized by her weight.
“My daughter was bullied in elementary school because of her weight,” Quinn explained. “These products have helped her tremendously drop the weight and increase her self-esteem.”

For her efforts, her rapid success with TLC went virtually unnoticed last weekend.

HEY YOU…FOLLOW TAMIKA QUINN:  www.TamikaQuinn.com.

That’s because TLC officials announced that Quinn had qualified for the senior leadership position of Executive Director during the company’s Regional Convention in Atlanta.

In addition to her well-publicized honors, Quinn has emerged as a franchise owner for Total Life Changes, whereby she offers various health and wellness products to assist in weight loss and skin care.

WE ARE FAMILY --- Today, while savoring a carefree, healthy lifestyle, Quinn’s daughters have joined forces with their mother to operate multiple businesses, a trend that ironically --- and appropriately --- inspired Quinn to adopt the term, “MomPrenuer.”

WE ARE FAMILYToday, while savoring a carefree, healthy lifestyle, Quinn’s daughters have joined forces with their mother to operate multiple businesses, a trend that ironically — and appropriately — inspired Quinn to adopt the term, “MomPrenuer.”

What a different a few months have made for this assertive, resilient single mother of three who, to her credit, is destined not to allow life to short-change her.

Surely, God had other plans, as evidenced by her wealth of beauty, coupled with her new lease on life.

“I like creating a lifestyle for my children that a regular 9-5 job could never give,” Quinn said. “I truly have time and freedom. I can remember times begging a boss to let me chaperone my daughter’s school trip or to leave work early to make it to a school performance. Those days of begging and pleading with employers are all but over, Quinn acknowledged.

“Never again,” Quinn said. “My kids get 100 percent of me and that’s what I absolutely love the most about this business. It is complete ownership. I dictate how much time I’m going to put in and I dictate my worth in terms of how much I earn. I am in control. I’m so thankful to TLC for this business model.”

Amongst the reasons Quinn had steadfastly gone to great lengths to have an immediate impact with TLC is that she recalls specifically the days her child had become victimized by her weight.

“My daughter was bullied in elementary school because of her weight,” Quinn explained. “These products have helped her tremendously drop the weight and increase her self-esteem.”

GOD DID IT --- In essence, because she’s convinced that God, the Giver of life, has a divine purpose for her life, Quinn’s primary objective as a credible health professional and ambassador for TLC will undoubtedly remain the same. “My personal mission is to save lives and prevent young people from having to go through what I went through at 27 years old,” Quinn said. “Being paralyzed on my entire left side was physically and emotionally devastating, but having to relearn how to use my limbs, drive, tie a shoestring, etc., was life-altering. I want to save the world.”

GOD DID IT, Y’ALL!In essence, because she’s convinced that God, the Giver of life, has a divine purpose for her life, Quinn’s primary objective as a credible health professional and ambassador for TLC will undoubtedly remain the same.
“My personal mission is to save lives and prevent young people from having to go through what I went through at 27 years old,” Quinn said. “Being paralyzed on my entire left side was physically and emotionally devastating, but having to relearn how to use my limbs, drive, tie a shoestring, etc., was life-altering. I want to save the world.”

Today, while savoring a carefree, healthy lifestyle, Quinn’s daughters have joined forces with their mother to operate multiple businesses, a trend that ironically — and appropriately — inspired Quinn to adopt the term, “MomPrenuer.”

“My husband passed away from thyroid cancer,” Quinn said. “It’s just us. My son is grown and on his own. If I can live my dreams, any mom can.”

In essence, because she’s convinced that God, the Giver of life, has a divine purpose for her life, Quinn’s primary objective as a credible health professional and ambassador for TLC will undoubtedly remain the same — this after staging arguably the most dramatic comeback of her young life.

“My personal mission is to save lives and prevent young people from having to go through what I went through at 27 years old,” Quinn said. “Being paralyzed on my entire left side was physically and emotionally devastating, but having to relearn how to use my limbs, drive, tie a shoestring, etc., was life-altering. I want to save the world.”

All while introducing herself — and her tear-jerking testimonies — over and over again.



12308302_1264615573553243_4556209296677596210_nEDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an entrepreneur, business owner, producer, author, musician, barber, life coach, motivational speaker, cosmetologist, tax preparer, model, athlete, or pastor/minister who is seeking exposure and would like to share your story with an in-depth news feature, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him under “Andre T. Johnson” for details.

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

Mid-South-area prep basketball standout Quintiyus Causey making noise in Mississippi and Texas

For a 16-year-old rising junior basketball player who boasts lofty aspirations of putting his immense skills on display at the collegiate level, Cleveland (Mississippi) High’s Quintiyus Causey seems to already know how to handle the sometimes tough and challenging media.

Take, for instance, how Causey eloquently responded Monday afternoon when asked what it is he’d like for college scouts and recruiters to know about him.

aaaaTo his credit, he didn’t hold back, nor did he waver or dodge around with his answers.

Rather, he was forthright and to the point.

“(I’m a player) who is laid back, willing to learn, very coachable, able to take constructive criticism, ready to work, and give my all on and off the basketball court,” Causey told Sports Journalist Andre Johnson.

STOCK RISING --- In helping the upstart Cleveland High to a 14-14 finish despite a 2-7 showing in Mississippi Region 3-4A play, Quintiyus Causey, a 5-foot-9 swingman, held his own, thus made a solid case that his favorable performance this past season essentially is a sign of things to come in what figures to be a crucial senior campaign.

STOCK RISING — In helping the upstart Cleveland High to a 14-14 finish despite a 2-7 showing in Mississippi Region 3-4A play, Quintiyus Causey, a 5-foot-9 swingman, held his own, thus made a solid case that his favorable performance this past season essentially is a sign of things to come in what figures to be a crucial senior campaign.

To get a thorough concept of why Causey appears to harbor a wealth of poise and resolve at such a pivotal stage in his young basketball career, look no further than his stellar effort this past season for Cleveland.

Much to the delight of Cleveland coach James Strong’s Wildcats, Causey was nothing short of remarkable for a team that managed to manufacture the .500 mark by season’s end.

In helping the upstart Wildcats to a 14-14 finish despite a 2-7 showing in Mississippi Region 3-4A play, Causey, a 5-foot-9 swingman, held his own, thus made a solid case that his favorable performance this past season essentially is a sign of things to come in what figures to be a crucial junior campaign.

In emerging as one of the team’s marquee players, Causey appeared in each of Cleveland’s 28 games and averaged 14.1 points, second only to Ellis Townsend II’s 15.1 points per contest.

According to Maxpreps.com, Causey was one of four Cleveland players to see action in all 28 games, a trend that, according to his mother, Colleen Watson, provided her son with an array of confidence in the process.

“When I’m in the stands watching my son play, it brings joy to my heart,” Watson said. “I’m yelling and screaming throughout the games for the team as well as my son. I just continue to thank God daily for continuing his interest for basketball.”

By and large, his apparent continuous rise as an efficient basketball player has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Causey has been afforded the luxury of playing at the always competitive AAU ranks in another state.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT --- By and large, his apparent continuous rise as an efficient basketball player has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Causey has been afforded the luxury of playing at the always competitive AAU ranks in another state. Causey currently is a member of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Beastmode AAU team and, fortunately for him, it seems he’s only increasing his stock with regards to drawing the attention of college scouts and recruiters.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACTBy and large, his apparent continuous rise as an efficient basketball player has gone virtually unnoticed, considering Causey has been afforded the luxury of playing at the always competitive AAU ranks in another state.
Causey currently is a member of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Beastmode AAU team and, fortunately for him, it seems he’s only increasing his stock with regards to drawing the attention of college scouts and recruiters.

Causey currently is a member of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Beastmode AAU team coached by Adarrial Coleman and, fortunately for him, it seems he’s only increasing his stock with regards to drawing the attention of college scouts and recruiters, considering all this does is win.

So much so that his AAU squad has collected an assortment of championship hardware.

Oh…and let’s not forget Causey’s keen ability to handle the media.

Need more proof?

Just listen to him.

aaassssss“Preparing for my senior year, I know I have to go out with a bang, so I would say (in order to progress) spending countless hours in the gym and in the weight room,” Causey said. “College basketball is very intense. Everything you do is done with a purpose. The things you work on in practice are not just to go through the motion, but you do those things to get something out of it. I’ve always been the type of player that if the game is not taken seriously, I don’t want to play and in college basketball, nothing is for fun and I want to be in an environment where I can play against guys who are said to be some of that nation’s best and let my game introduce me.”

Displaying her signature smile and customary support of Causey, Watson relishes the fact that her son has greatly handled the major high school/AAU basketball maturation processes with ease.

MOM KNOWS BEST ---"The sky is the limit for my son because he's dedicated, hardworking, very athletic, a team player and always willing to help and learn new things as it relates to everything, especially basketball,” Colleen Watson said.

MOM KNOWS BEST“The sky is the limit for my son because he’s dedicated, hardworking, very athletic, a team player and always willing to help and learn new things as it relates to everything, especially basketball,” Colleen Watson said.

She doesn’t expect him to let up anytime soon.

Look out Mississippi and Texas.

Chances are hoops-crazed fans haven’t heard the last of this athletically-talent kid whose best and brightest days are well ahead of him.

“The sky is the limit for my son because he’s dedicated, hardworking, very athletic, a team player and always willing to help and learn new things as it relates to everything, especially basketball,” Watson said.

Credit this basketball mom for always dishing out the biggest assist to an athletically-gifted kid who’s making a strong case that he’s destined to play at the collegiate level.



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

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

Author Joy Jallah impacting lives through her book, “The Foundation Of A Christian Marriage”

JoyJoy Jallah is undoubtedly armed with an assortment of aspirations.

Aspirations of maximizing her potential daily.

Aspirations of esteeming others highly than herself.

Aspirations of broadening her horizon and embracing new challenges.

Aspirations of someday becoming someone’s wife.

A good, supportive, loving wife, that is.

So much so that even for a 31-year-old single woman, she thought it necessary to assemble a project from which married couples can benefit.

Joy2A native of Monrovia Liberia in West Africa, Jallah, who current resides in Hagerstown, Maryland, is co-author (Augustine Acheampong) of the book, “The Foundation Of A Christian Marriage.”

“It brings healing and miracles in the lives of others,” Jallah told News Reporter Andre Johnson on Monday. “It restores lives. It can relate to the lives of others.”

Officially published and released for sale sometime in late 2014, “The Foundation Of A Christian Marriage” is a 66-page book that highlights, among other things, the benefits and essentials of basking in the glow of a Christian marriage, or a God-mandated union, if you will.

According to Jallah — also a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, visionary, artist, poet, video producer and minister — amongst the key points of emphasis about which she revealed pertaining to her debut book is that the foundation of a Christian marriage is one of a kind, or unique in its own right.

“I’ve read so many marriage books,” said Jessica, one buyer of the book explained in a review at Amazon.com. “But this one has helped me to understand how to build my relationship in a very godly way. I will truly recommend it for anyone who is looking to build or save his or her relationship.”

Moreover, Jallah has stressed that her book is, by all accounts, an attractive, appealing one, particularly for couples who are ready to “find true love and be found by true love.”

Joye“This book is a must have, (one that will inspire one) to be ready to be found by the love of your life,” Jallah said. “The book gives tools to not be fooled by the counterfeit, but to recognize true love, and to have it for the rest of your life.”

And never mind that this author and President of Joyfully Publishing Company isn’t married.

At least for now.

At the end of the real day, she still boasts lofty aspirations of someday becoming someone’s wife.

That, after all, practically explains the purpose for this compelling book.

ORDER JOY’S BOOK: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00P2UC29A/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_awdo_j19jxb02SBCF5

“While writing the book, I was single and I got engaged and love (of my life) found me and I captured love,” Jallah said. “And my story of being found is truly a story of recovery.”

This, as a result, had inspired her to offer a few words of encouragement to those who are clinging to aspirations of someday engaging in marital bliss.

“You too my friend will find love and love find will you,” she said. “Sooner than you think.”



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

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

 

 

Memphis entrepreneur James Herndon making much noise through his clothing line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially his mother.

Which, of course, means that mom knows best.

Then again, so does her son.Yact3

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

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

Executive chef Yaschica Higgenbotham making noise in Mid-South, heartland regions

Hig1DALLAS — In case you don’t know her, allow Yaschica Higgenbotham to introduce herself.

For starters, Higgenbotham — nicknamed “Coko” — is a 33-year-old native of Amite, Louisiana.

A 2001 graduate of Amite High, Higgenbotham is a few years removed from having enrolled at Delgado Community College in New Orleans and two years removed from having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary in Dallas.

RISING CHEF STAR --- A little more than a month removed from having been thrust in the executive chef plateau, Yaschica Higgenbotham’s astounding cooking repertoire has given way to her becoming a household name at the popular Orion Café and Grill in nearby Rockwall, Texas. As the restaurant’s executive chef, Higgenbotham --- widely known as “Chef Antwan” --- is afforded the opportunity to customarily put her immense culinary talents on display, a long-waited dream that, to her credit, further sums up why vacating the small town of Amite, Louisiana for a much larger city was a foregone conclusion all along. (Photo submitted by Y. Higgenbotham)

RISING CHEF STAR — A little more than a month removed from having been thrust in the executive chef plateau, Yaschica Higgenbotham’s astounding cooking repertoire has given way to her becoming a household name at the popular Orion Café and Grill in nearby Rockwall, Texas. As the restaurant’s executive chef, Higgenbotham — widely known as “Chef Antwan” — is afforded the opportunity to customarily put her immense culinary talents on display, a long-waited dream that, to her credit, further sums up why vacating the small town of Amite, Louisiana for a much larger city was a foregone conclusion all along. (Photo submitted by Y. Higgenbotham)

A first-generation college graduate, Higgenbotham didn’t just earn a college degree, she mastered school in flying colors, having registered a cumulative grade point average of 3.26.

Add to the fact that the vibrant, progressive Higgenbotham is an accomplished bass guitar player, an avid painter, and often finds pleasure in preparing delectable meals for friends, and it’s no wonder she has become a fixture in her brief time as a member of West Irving Church of God In Christ.

“I really began to truly believe that Dallas was a part of God’s plan when He started to put great people in my path,” Higgenbotham told longtime journalist Andre Johnson during a recent exclusive interview. “I like my church family. They get on my nerves just like my church family back home, but I wouldn’t trade them at all. They embraced me with loving arms and they believed in me.”

In assessing her brief time in the Lone Star State, Higgenbotham doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s in the right establishment, at the ideal time during what undoubtedly has become a rather dazzling transition in her young life.

In a nutshell, while many who watched her grow up in a rural Louisiana town sensed that relocating to a massive city wasn’t in her best interest, Higgenbotham admittedly knew full well she had arrived at a pivotal point in her life where she had to refrain from watching things happen, but rather she had to begin to make things happen.

Did she ever.

“I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey here in Dallas,” Higgenbotham said.

Given the commendable strides she has made in recent years, it’s safe to assume there’s no turning back now.

Higgenbotham undoubtedly loves Dallas and Dallas loves her back.

“Dallas is where I believed in me,” said Higgenbotham, displaying a smile that was virtually nonexistent upon her move here. “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey here in Dallas. Dallas is where I became a woman. Dallas is where my faith has grown in God. Dallas is where I began to believe in myself. Dallas is where my culinary career began. Dallas is where I began to love Yaschica Higgenbotham. I don’t know what my future holds here in Dallas. But whatever it is, I will always put God first.”

Hig4It is, by all accounts, because of her devout faith, coupled with her solid support system that Higgenbotham not only mastered culinary school, but she’s without question starting to flourish as a thriving professional chef in the process.

A little more than a month removed from having been thrust in the executive chef plateau, Higgenbotham’s astounding cooking repertoire has given way to her becoming a household name at the popular Orion Café and Grill in nearby Rockwall, Texas.

As the restaurant’s executive chef, Higgenbotham — widely known as “Chef Coko Antwan” — is afforded the opportunity to customarily put her immense culinary talents on display, a long-waited dream that, to her credit, further sums up why vacating the small town of Amite for a much larger city was a foregone conclusion all along.

So much for the constant fear she routinely harbored upon her move to Dallas.

“Wow…what a leap of faith,” said Higgenbotham, appearing rather in awe of her rapid success since coming to Texas. “When I moved to here, I knew no one. I prayed and ask God to show me where to go and He gave me Dallas.”

Surely, life for Higgenbotham had its share of hardships and obstacles. But for a woman who was taught as a child to cling to unwavering faith, Higgenbotham’s life today is such that she has gone to great lengths to clear every hurdle that has come her way.

Look out, Texas. There’s no stopping her now.

“It has been a journey of ups and downs,” Higgenbotham said. “Some days I thought I wasn’t going to make it here. But I was so determined to fight the good fight of faith. I knew that going back to Amite was not an option for me. I was determined to break every generational curse that had attached itself to my life and to my destiny. I was just crazy enough to believe that God didn’t send me here to leave me.”Hig2

Her rise to success, she said, has come full circle, in large part because of the continuous guidance of her mother, Vanessa Higgenbotham, her grandmother, Mary White, and her godmother, Annie Sudduth.

“But there is one person who have taught me a lot since I’ve been here in Dallas,” Higgenbotham, whose long-term goal is to erect her own restaurant and food truck before she turns 40, acknowledges. “Her name is Retta Mitchell. No…I don’t want to start naming names. But I have to say she’s been my (biggest) supporter here in Dallas. Retta has taught me how to find the bright side of everything I go through in life. I truly thank God for Retta J.”

Now that she’s steadily becoming acclimated to the Dallas and its surrounding areas, the possibility exist that Higgenbotham’s skills as a professional chef will ultimately give way to catering opportunities, a trend that, given her continuous success, she’d welcome wholeheartedly.

Hands down.

CHASING GREATNESS --- A 2001 graduate of Amite High, Higgenbotham is a few years removed from having enrolled at Delgado Community College in New Orleans and two years removed from having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary in Dallas.  A first-generation college graduate, Higgenbotham didn’t just earned a college degree, she mastered in school in flying colors, having registered a cumulative grade point average of I graduated with a 3.26.

CHASING GREATNESS — A 2001 graduate of Amite High, Higgenbotham is a few years removed from having enrolled at Delgado Community College in New Orleans and two years removed from having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary in Dallas.
A first-generation college graduate, Higgenbotham didn’t just earned a college degree, she mastered in school in flying colors, having registered a cumulative grade point average of I graduated with a 3.26.

“I love to experiment with different flavors and texture,” said Higgenbotham, “but most all, I love to plate my creation. I love to entertain and watch the face of the people when they take that first taste. It puts a smile on my face to see people enjoy great food. As a woman in this field, you have to know your stuff. If not, the male chefs will kill you. I had to fight so hard to get where I am now. God is good. I just know that this is the next step to my very own (venture). I love it.”

Not only that, Higgenbotham has come to love Dallas and Dallas has shown it loves her back.

There you have it, a thorough introduction.

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

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

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

COMMENTARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite birth of baby, Okla. prep RB Orrin Walker drawing interests from colleges

CAMBREE'S FINEST --- According to Ardmore (Okla.) High's star running back Orrin Walker, days after the recent birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions --- questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back. Today, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him. (Photos courtesy of Ardmore Athletics)

CAMBREE’S FINEST — According to Ardmore (Okla.) High’s star running back Orrin Walker, days after the recent birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions — questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back. Today, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him. (Photos courtesy of Ardmore Athletics)

Orrin Walker Jr. has a forthright message to those who deemed it necessary to doubt him.

“I have come too far now to turn around,” Walker, a junior running back for Ardmore (Okla.) High said during a recent interview.

Armed with what various recruiting analysts say is a wealth of blazing speed and resilience, Walker is alluding to the backlash he took after the birth of his daughter, Cambree, who was born September 16, 2014.

According to Walker, days after the birth of his daughter, he was peppered with an assortment of questions — questions from whether he plans to finish high school to whether he will continue playing football beyond what has been a remarkable prep career for the talented 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back.

“Alot of people thought that I would start slacking and some even thought I would quit (football),” Walker said. “But I have been able to maintain going to school, working two jobs, playing football, and taking care of my daughter.”

HUGE INSPIRATION --- Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

HUGE INSPIRATION — Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

And in the wake of what undoubtedly has been a brutally hectic year for this football standout, his solid play on Friday nights has given way to a slew of major colleges inquiring about his services once his high school stint concludes.

According to Walker, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Kansas State, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Southern Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Tulsa, North Texas, and the University of Texas all have expressed interest in him.

To get a thorough understanding of why the recruiting process for Walker — known to many as “OJ” — has been nothing short of impressive, look no further than the remarkable numbers he registered this past season.

In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a Oklahoma District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns. In addition, he had eight receptions for 147 yards and two scores and was just as efficient on special teams, where he generated 377 yards (47.1 average yards per kickoff) on just eight returns and three scores.

So much for the negative backlash he witnessed upon the birth of his child.

“I know OJ has already spoken on this subject, but when I first learned that my son was going to be a father, I was crushed,” said Orrin’s mother, Anquanett Walker. “Different things began to run through my mind, but I never thought at any time that it would stop him from reaching the goals he had set as a child. Today our precious Cambree is (six) months old and I believe that she has added inspiration and motivation to his life.”

PURE TALENT --- In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns.

PURE TALENT — In leading Ardmore to a 12-2 finish that included a District 1-5A championship and lengthy postseason run, Walker amassed 1,462 yards rushing on just 102 carries and scored a team-best rushing 17 touchdowns.

Like Orrin’s mother, Ardmore head coach Doug Wendel also contends that his star running back hasn’t missed a beat since the birth of Cambree. If nothing Cambree has become his grandest cheerleader.

And vice versa.

“OJ has a tremendous upside,” Wendel said. “He continues to improve in his overall body strength. His speed is exceptional. His drive is second to none.”

Conversely, Wendel said there are a few mechanics Orrin must fine tune as he look prepares for what figures to be a record-setting senior season. Scouts and recruiters will get another glimpse of his Orrin when he attends a number of camps and combines this summer.

“One area that he has improved the most is in his leadership ability,” Wendel said. “He has the skills to make the people around him better. OJ will excel his senior season and at the next level.”

Something about which Cambree, his biggest — but smallest — fan will savor.

“Cambree have been big part of my motivation to continue to go forward,” Orrin said.

A forthright message those who deemed it necessary to doubt this true talent ought to take into account as well.

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

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

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

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

Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage, Packers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literally.

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

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.