Ex-U of M star Danton Barto gives worthy advice to pro football hopeful Braylon Burks

DALLAS — Braylon Burks doesn’t shy away from the notion that he is auditioning for a roster spot on professional football team.

PRO DREAMS --- Just recently, Dallas native Braylon Burks was introduced to Danton Barto, a former University of Memphis All-American linebacker and ex-Canadian Football League standout who currently works as a college scout for the St. Louis Rams.  According to 24-year-old Burks, he came away thoroughly appreciative and knowledgeable about what it takes to assume --- and retain --- a roster spot as a pro. (Photos courtesy of SAGU Athletics)

PRO DREAMS — Just recently, Dallas native Braylon Burks was introduced to Danton Barto, a former University of Memphis All-American linebacker and ex-Canadian Football League standout who currently works as a college scout for the St. Louis Rams.
According to 24-year-old Burks, he came away thoroughly appreciative and knowledgeable about what it takes to assume — and retain — a roster spot as a pro. (Photos courtesy of SAGU Athletics)

So much, in fact, that the former South Oak Cliff High standout has gone to great lengths in recent weeks to absorb as much pivotal advice he can as he prepares to fulfill a long awaited dream he’s had since his childhood days of playing recreational football in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Just recently, Burks was introduced to Danton Barto, a former University of Memphis All-American linebacker and ex-Canadian Football League standout who currently works as a college scout for the St. Louis Rams.

According to the 24-year-old Burks, the Dallas native came away thoroughly appreciative and knowledgeable about what it takes to assume — and retain — a roster spot as a pro.
After all, who better to learn from than someone who has spent years not just as a player in the professional ranks, but has functioned as the chief executive officer of a professional football franchise?

Barto is a former Arena Football League coach, a stint that included a brief tenure as an assistant and subsequent head coach of the now-defunct Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league. To his credit, Barto enjoyed a wealth of success in Memphis, having guided the Xplorers to a championship.

BIG CHANCE --- Fortunately for Burks, it’s safe to assume his golden opportunity to put his skills on display will take place as early as before year’s end.  Burks said he has been in discussion with team officials of the Arena Football League’s Green Bay Blizzard for a possible tryout. Also, he has generated interest from a few other AFL teams, most notably the Arizona Rattlers.

BIG BREAK — Fortunately for Burks, it’s safe to assume his golden opportunity to put his skills on display will take place as early as before year’s end.
Burks said he has been in discussion with team officials of the Arena Football League’s Green Bay Blizzard for a possible tryout. Also, he has generated interest from a few other AFL teams, most notably the Arizona Rattlers.

For someone who has familiarized himself with the pros and cons with regards to making a favorable impression on pro scouts and general managers, Barto lessoned Burks the best way he knew how during a phone conversation Burks said lasted approximately 15 minutes.

“(Barto) said there is nothing wrong with Arena Football,” Burks told Sports Journalist Andre Johnson. “He said I must learn as much as I can, stay focused, and don’t get caught up in other things.”

Other things such as what’s in the past are exactly where they belongs — in the past.

For instance, following a remarkable stint at South Oak Cliff in which he emerged as the catalyst for the Bears on both sides of the ball, the 6-foot-7 Burks consequently took his talents to Southwestern Assemblies of God University in nearby Waxahachie, Texas, where he played sparingly, in large part because of a number of coaching changes.

By and large, among those who admittedly were discouraged in Burks’ lack of playing time was his mother, Kimberly Session, who sensed her son — whom SAGU current head coach Frank Tristan in a telephone interview on Tuesday emphasized boasts “a wealth of size and is a true talent” — has possessed the mechanics all along to play major college football.

Professional football too.

DREAM CHASER --- Aside from working his daytime job and partaking in his customary community service as a way to enhance his resume, Burks trains intensely, sometimes as many as five times per weeks, sometimes as late as 10 o’clock nightly.

DREAM CHASER — Aside from working his daytime job and partaking in his customary community service as a way to enhance his resume, Burks trains intensely, sometimes as many as five times per weeks, sometimes as late as 10 o’clock nightly.

“He has been overlooked like so many other great players,” said Session, who has played an integral role in aiding her son to generate the essential exposure in hopes of playing at the professional level.

FOLLOW BRAYLON ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook: Braylon Burks
Instagram: BBURKS_BALLIN
Email: [email protected]

Aside from working his daytime job and partaking in his customary community service as a way to enhance his resume, Burks trains intensely, sometimes as many as five times per weeks, sometimes as late as 10 o’clock nightly.

As he tells it, there is simply no room for error, no time to let up, especially considering his support system has become solid than it has ever been in some time.

“I am very confident in myself as well as my abilities and I feel that God has divinely favored me with a gift of being a professional athlete as well as being a strong leader in the community,” Burks said. “I perform at my best when my back is against the wall. I also feel I can play at the professional level if granted an opportunity. It takes a lot of work, patience, hard work and faith.”

Fortunately for Burks, it’s safe to assume his golden opportunity to put his skills on display for a pro team will take place as early as before year’s end.

The former high school teammate of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith, Burks said he has been in discussion with team officials of the Arena Football League’s Green Bay Blizzard for a possible tryout. Also, he has generated interest from a few other AFL teams, most notably the Arizona Rattlers.

So far, things appear to be holding up nicely for this resilient, opportunistic youngster, who doesn’t shy away from the notion that he is auditioning for roster spot on professional football team.

“I feel like I can play at the next level,” Burks reiterated.

More than anything, he acknowledges, he plans to heed the advice given to him by Barto.

“He just said to me, ‘Keep your eyes on the prize and know what is important,’” Burks said. “He said some guys are comfortable where they are, so I must make sure I keep my eyes on the prize.”

Spoken like a big, soft-spoken athlete who’s yet clinging to Texas-size dreams.

 

AndreEDITOR’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 [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Is Cal-area footballer Dalvin Jamal-Milton being overlooked by Mid-South, Pac 12 schools?

Lorenzo Jackson remembers that 10-foot pole, remembers it like yesterday.

At the tender age of three, Jackson’s grandson, Dalvin Jamal-Milton — a rather active, energetic kid — was seen somehow climbing atop that rather long, medal pole during what ultimately turned into a holiday worth remembering for his beloved paw paw.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' --- A flourishing, crafty football player Jamal-Milton has become, one, who, with another masterful display in this, his final season at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California --- in the outskirts of Sacramento --- could very well find himself playing on Saturdays around this time next year.  A stocky, speedy, 5-foot-8 running back who has evolved as an integral force for the Marauders’ potent rushing attack in recent years, Jamal-Milton has been nothing short of impressive, although he admittedly brings into the 2015 season higher expectations. (Photos submitted by A. Jamal)

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ — A flourishing, crafty football player Jamal-Milton has become, one, who, with another masterful display in this, his final season at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California — in the outskirts of Sacramento — could very well find himself playing on Saturdays around this time next year.
A stocky, speedy, 5-foot-8 running back who has evolved as an integral force for the Marauders’ potent rushing attack in recent years, Jamal-Milton has been nothing short of impressive, although he admittedly brings into the 2015 season higher expectations. (Photos submitted by A. Jamal)

“When he was three years old, Dalvin climbed up a 10-foot pole, using pure arm and stomach strength just to reach an Easter egg,” Jackson told sports journalist Andre Johnson. I knew from that point on he would be an elite football player.”

A flourishing, crafty football player Jamal-Milton has become, one, who, with another masterful display in this, his final season at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California — in the outskirts of Sacramento — could very well find himself playing on Saturdays around this time next year.

A stocky, speedy, 5-foot-8 running back who has evolved as an integral force for the Marauders’ potent rushing attack in recent years, Jamal-Milton has been nothing short of impressive, although he admittedly brings into the 2015 season higher expectations.

Never mind the assortment of accolades he’s garnered in recent years, honors such as: the Shrine Bowl Most Valuable Player in  2011 while playing for the Rosemont Jr. Wolverines; Offensive MVP in 2012 while a member of Jesuit High’s freshman team; MVP 2012 of Jesuit’s freshman rugby squad in 2012; and Offensive MVP of Jesuit’s junior varsity team in 2013.

A TRUE TALENT --- Jamal-Milton was named the Shrine Bowl Most Valuable Player in  2011 while playing for the Rosemont Jr. Wolverines; Offensive MVP in 2012 while a member of Jesuit High’s freshman team; MVP 2012 of Jesuit’s freshman rugby squad in 2012; and Offensive MVP of Jesuit’s junior varsity team in 2013.

A TRUE TALENT — Jamal-Milton was named the Shrine Bowl Most Valuable Player in 2011 while playing for the Rosemont Jr. Wolverines; Offensive MVP in 2012 while a member of Jesuit High’s freshman team; MVP 2012 of Jesuit’s freshman rugby squad in 2012; and Offensive MVP of Jesuit’s junior varsity team in 2013.

To his credit, this thriving multisport athlete had shown flashes of resiliency during what was an efficient junior campaign.

In being installed in his first full season on the varsity squad, Jamal-Milton essentially showed no signs of rust, having ended the season with 424 rushing yards and five rushing scorers. To his credit, he managed to help propel the Marauders on effective drives, considering he averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

He was just as remarkable as a member of the school’s rugby team, given he managed to start in 10 outings.

MR. ALL-AROUND --- He was just as remarkable as a member of the school’s rugby team, given he managed to start in 10 outings.

MR. ALL-AROUND — Jamal-Milton was just as remarkable as a member of the school’s rugby team, given he managed to start in 10 outings last year.

Still, looking ahead, many who have followed Jamal-Milton’s rise and development as a football standout — he runs an average of 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash and bench presses approximately 225 pounds — believe he possesses the tools and skills to play football at the collegiate level, although he has yet to field any official scholarships offers.

But what does Jamal-Milton thinks about all this?

“I’ve always imagined college football as being a utopia for players who truly love the game of football,” Jamal-Milton said. “I have yet to be on a team where I could walk on the field, knowing that all of my teammates share the same passion for football as I do. This dream of mine could not get any better.”

CHECK OUT JAMAL-MILTON IN ACTION: http://www.maxpreps.com/athlete/dalvin-jamal-milton/Hlph8hysEeS00gAmVebEWg/videos.htm?videoid=46d0b324-edd6-40fe-80ae-b627453afd69

What so astounding about his athletic progress over the years, Jamal-Milton said, is that he had grown accustomed to silencing naysayers and critics — or those who sensed that as an undersized athlete, he didn’t have what it takes to compete at a high level.

Uh oh.

Somebody told them wrong.

HE SAID IT --- “I’ve always imagined college football as being a utopia for players who truly love the game of football,” Jamal-Milton said. “I have yet to be on a team where I could walk on the field, knowing that all of my teammates share the same passion for football as I do. This dream of mine could not get any better.”

HE SAID IT — “I’ve always imagined college football as being a utopia for players who truly love the game of football,” Jamal-Milton said. “I have yet to be on a team where I could walk on the field, knowing that all of my teammates share the same passion for football as I do. This dream of mine could not get any better.”

“Since the day I first set foot on the field with my helmet and shoulder pads in hand, I’ve always been looked at as a lesser child,” Jamal-Milton explained. “As a result of being looked at this way, I was moved to play on the (offensive) line. I played line until my sixth grade year. I remember my uncle, Rashad Jamal, walking into my room and asking me if I’m ready to work. I replied saying, ‘Yes, but for what?’ He replied to me, saying, ‘For your opportunity.’

“From that day on, I worked every day to cut weight in order to be eligible as a running back,” Jamal-Milton continued. “When the day came for weigh-ins, I made weight and ran the ball for the first time like I never thought I could. Every day I wake up, I remember the work and pain I had to go through that led to the life I live today. I often realize that with hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, great things can be accomplished without a doubt.”

A trend that, to his credit, has taken place time and again since he his grandfather, his self-proclaimed “No. 1 fan,” caught his climbing that 10-foot pole at the tender age of three.

For Jamal-Milton, the biggest question now is at what point college scouts will acknowledge his assertiveness and immense skills.

 

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

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

 

Q & A: Is Dallas’ Makecia Johnson the modeling world’s best kept secret?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Makecia Johnson is her name.
So you might want to remember that.
Among the obvious reasons is that this tall, stunning, gorgeous woman of color undoubtedly is armed with a wealth of energy and spunk and flair and charisma, most notably whenever she is thrust on any runway across America. Not only that, Makecia doesn’t shy away from the notion that she is dream chaser, much like her idol and mentor, renowned model and actress Tyra Banks, once did long before she emerged as the super model giant she has become. During a recent interview with longtime journalist Andre Johnson, Makecia spoke everything from her days growing up in Dallas to why she aspires to someday become a thriving model. Check this out!

Kecia6DALLAS, Texas —

ANDRE: What is your full name?
KECIA: Makecia Johnson
ANDRE: Do you care to tell our readers your age?
KECIA: I’m a young, energetic 24
ANDRE: So where are you originally from?
KECIA: Dallas, Texas
ANDRE: What Dallas-area high school did you attend?
KECIA: I attended David W. Carter (in Oak Cliff)
ANDRE: So…are you currently in college?
KECIA: YesKecia3
ANDRE: And what exactly are you studying?
KECIA: Business Management
ANDRE: Ahhhhh…So just when did you first realized you wanted to take up modeling?
KECIA: When I seen the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model in 2003. I used to watch every episode wishing and imaging being on the show.
ANDRE: That’s fantastic, Kecia. So this dream is more than a decade old, I see. Is there anything you used to do as a child that inspired you to want to do modeling?
KECIA: I used to flip through magazines and mimic different models’ poses in front of the mirror.
ANDRE: That said, who are amongst the professional models that you look up to?
KECIA: Tyra Banks is so inspirational, because she has helped aspiring models’ dreams come true.
ANDRE: What professional models have you met?
Kecia2KECIA: I haven’t met any professional models in real life yet, but I had a dream that I met Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell.
ANDRE: Do you currently work for a modeling agency or have worked for one?
KECIA: I work with Diamond Consulting Services (DCS) CEO Becky Gaston
ANDRE: And tell our readers exactly where has your modeling skills taken you around the country?
KECIA: I have modeled in the East Coast.
ANDRE: How many photo shoots have you done?
KECIA: Wow, I missed counted.
ANDRE: You’re quite hilarious, too, I see. Any other upcoming photo shoots?
KECIA: Yes! So be on the lookout for new photos!
ANDRE: Alright, Kecia. Do you have any upcoming modeling events on your itinerary?
KECIA: Yes! I have a fashion show on March 28 for Fashion Riot Dallas.
ANDRE: Who are among your biggest supporters?
KECIA: God and my mother, Katherine Hicks
ANDRE: Who do you credit mostly for your success?
KECIA: First person is God for blessing me; Second person is my mother for praying for me. And then thirdly, that person is myself for never giving up.
ANDRE: Where do you see yourself in the next year or two? Kecia4
KECIA: I love modeling in other people fashion show, but in the next year or two I will be ready to create my own fashion shows.
ANDRE: That said, explain to our readers why is the sky’s the limit for you? Kecia7
KECIA: The sky’s the limit because I am the boss of my life, so I should be able to live comfortably how I want to live. I don’t just want to make it only for myself but to be a blessing to other people as well.
ANDRE: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
KECIA: Well…My dream is to be a Covergirl Model, and I wish I was tall enough to be a Victoria Secret Model. In some ways, making a living in modeling is like making a living in sports. If you aren’t tall, it’s going to be very difficult to be a professional basketball player. Yes, there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. Do you remember (5-foot-7 former NBA Slam Dunk champion) Spud Webb?
For more information on Makecia Johnson or to contact her, send email to: [email protected]

Also, follow her on Facebook at:

Her personal page: www.facebook.com/topmodelkecia
Her model fan page: www.facebook.com/modelkatarah
Model Mayhem: www.modelmayhem.com/1908384
DrePic

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Univ. of Southwest basketball standout Anitria Flowers aiming to attract pro scouts

BLOSSOMING FLOWER --- Anitria Flowers, a junior college transfer and the University of Southwest's second-tallest player, was the catalyst of a team that made continuous stride this season. (Photos courtesy of USW Athletics)

BLOSSOMING FLOWER — Anitria Flowers, a junior college transfer and the University of Southwest’s second-tallest player, was the catalyst of a team that made continuous stride this season. (Photos courtesy of USW Athletics)

DALLAS — When logging on to the University of Southwest’s women’s basketball website, the first photo you’ll see is that of Anitria Flowers.

Flowers, a junior college transfer and the Lady Mustangs’ second-tallest player, is the catalyst of a team that made continuous strides this season.

Southwest’s season ended in Red River Athletic Conference loss to nationally-ranked Our Lady Of The Lake University April 28. While the Lady Mustangs’ 6-26 campaign suggests, among other things that they struggled considerably this year, in essence, it was a season in which Southwest first-year coach Jamene Caldwell’s team is building for the future.

That future, by all accounts, will surely involve Flowers, a 5-foot-11 combo guard who figures to help steer the team in the right direction for what she pledges will be a memorable senior campaign next.

A player whose favorite quote — at least according to Southwest’s website — is, “Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful,” Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate hoops career.

Having transferred to Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College, Flowers wasted little time making her presence for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

Having transferred to Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College, Flowers wasted little time making her presence for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

Having transferred to USW in Hobbs, New Mexico after a stellar two-year stint at Howard Junior College in nearby Big Spring, Texas, Flowers wasted little time making her presence felt for a Lady Mustang team that finished the season on a favorable note when it won two of its final three outings.

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for USW, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

“I love basketball because it’s a sport that you can control the outcome and it is structured but you have freedom to show what you can do,” Flowers said during a recent interview. “I have always loved basketball and always will. When I’m on the court whether in practice or a game or just shooting around nothing else matters and it’s just peaceful.”

Because she often presented match-up problems for the opposition, Flowers evolved as one of USW’s most efficient defenders, often hustling her way for block shots and steals — key attributes Caldwell’s believes undoubtedly will be signs of things to come next year.

“Anitria has progressed tremendously during the course of just this season alone,” Caldwell said. “I cannot attest to her work previously to my arriving at USW since this is my first year. However, in the short amount of time that I have been privilege to coach Anitria, she has developed into an aggressive offensive player that can really score at will. She is also one of the best shot blockers I have had the opportunity to coach. She is what I call a quiet assassin on the court. At the end of it, you don’t even realize how her stat line completely changed the game. I know she will (work hard) throughout the summer and into next season and she will be ready for an unforgettable senior year.”

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for Southwest, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

A speedy two-way guard, Flowers was aggressive on both ends of the floor for Southwest, especially on the offensive end, where even as the team’s floor general and facilitator, she appeared assertive against elite talent, penetrating hard to the basket much like she did during her days of running the show as a prep standout for Sundown High in Texas.

Among Flowers’ grandest supporters has been her mother, Michelle Flowers. A current resident of Sundown, Texas who often travels hundreds of miles to witness her daughter in action.

“The first time she picked up the basketball, it’s like she had a built in naturalness for the sport and I knew then she would do great things in basketball,” Michelle Flowers said. “When it’s game day I wake up pumped and ready to go, I’m anxious all day because I’m ready to see her play. I love every minute watching her play as a child. Her senior year (of high school) I went to every game. When I found out she was going to play college ball, I smiled from ear to ear and told her she deserved it because she worked so hard to get there. She lives in the gym even when she comes home for weekend and holiday visits. I’m beyond happy for her. I want to see her excel in life.”

As she prepares for what figures to be a memorable senior season, Anitria Flowers’ primary objective, she said, will remain the same.

That is, she pledges to leave it all out on the floor, thus make her mother proud, just as she’s done since she first reached for a basketball at five years of age.

PRO HOOPS MATERIAL? A player whose favorite quote --- at least according to Southwest’s website --- is, "Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade.  Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful," Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate career.

PRO HOOPS MATERIAL? A player whose favorite quote — at least according to Southwest’s website — is, “Talent is God given. Be humble, fame is manmade. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful,” Flowers doesn’t shy away from the notion that she’s destined to not only help propel the Lady Mustangs from years of futility, but she’s also vows to attract the attention of WNBA scouts and general managers by the time she finishes her collegiate career.

“I will graduate college with my criminal Justice Degree and continue to work hard in the gym to better myself so I have a chance to play at the professional level,” Anitria Flowers said. “My mother has very proud of my grades all throughout school and I’ll continue to keep them up and make her happy. I always keep in touch with my family and that is something that is a must. Family is so important to me. Without them it’s difficult to accomplish all that I already have.”

Stay tuned. Chances are the college basketball world hasn’t seen the last of this kid.

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 [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

 

Fitness star Johnny Loper garners national recognition as motivational speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-South Attorney Christine Cane chasing history, vying for Criminal Court Judge

Christine Cane boasts a solid sports resume that includes having emerged into a standout in basketball and volleyball.

Just recently, the Mid-South-area Cane Law Firm Attorney was going on and on about her past experiences as a dual-sport athlete.

CaneMain“I played volleyball and basketball in middle school,” Cane told MemphiSport during a recent interview.  “I got MVP for basketball and volleyball. I played point guard in basketball and setter in volleyball. Sports definitely gave me a competitive edge.”

Cane even recalls arguably her grandest moment as an athlete, an occurrence that, in her estimation, is indicative of what has been a stellar law career for the 32-year-old lawyer.

“I will never forget our volleyball team had gone undefeated all season,” Cane explained. “We got to the tournament and lost a game in the second round. You could only lose twice in order to be put out. After that first loss we were down, but determined to come back and work our way up to the championship match. Even though we had gotten to the losers bracket, we did just that. We worked our way in to the championship match and won it! It was super rewarding.”

According to Cane, is it because of the never-say-die temperament she exhibited on the volleyball and basketball circuits that has fueled her desire to capture what could potentially evolve as a monumental chapter to a flourishing law career.

Cane is among two candidates vying to assume the Criminal Court Judge, Division 9 in this year’s election.

The seat is currently being occupied by incumbent Mark Ward, who was appointed in 2004.

For Cane, upending Ward — her former law school professor and a veteran judge who boasts more than three decades of experience in criminal justice — would not only serve as a major upset, but it would be a historical moment for the city of Memphis. If elected, Cane would become the youngest African-American judge ever elected to preside over a criminal court in Shelby County.

Early voting takes place from July 18 through August 2. The general election is August 7.

Among the reasons Cane contends she is a viable candidate to unseat the incumbent is that she has proven to become an asset on what she describes as “both sides of the courtroom.”

“With family, I have experienced sitting and praying that my relative is not thrown in jail,” Cane said. “I have also experienced being the victim of criminal activity. I have experienced representing individuals that are innocent and those that were guilty and my level of concern and diligence did not waiver. I care, I listen, I seek to understand and, most importantly, I want to see people better and rehabilitated. That will, in turn, cause a change in our families and communities.”

After 10 years, Cane don’t shy away from the notion that change is essential, in large part because she believes judges nowadays should develop a commitment to getting to what she refers to the “heart of the problem.”

“Many criminals commit offenses for different reasons, and if the reason can be remedied, then so can the individual,” Cane said. “There are some courtrooms that need change and other courtrooms are fair. Change is necessary here. Criminal Court, Division 9 needs change.”

And Cane, despite her young age, insists she is the likely candidate to create change.

She said the thought of running for her first political seat initially surfaced in early March.

After weeks of serious consideration, she ultimately launched her campaign, one she hopes will persuade Memphians to buy into her policies and concepts as Election Day looms.

The second of five children, who was raised in a single-parent establishment in the suburbs of Nashville, Cane was what she deems her mother’s “go-to” child, considering she was routinely relied upon mostly to look after her younger siblings, seeing that they had done homework, chores, and eaten, among other things.

“I can remember my mom working three jobs in order to support us. She always told me that I was going to be an attorney to help her get her back child support from my dad,” Cane jokingly said.  “I am an attorney, but I’m not sure if she ever got (back child support) though.”

NEWLY WEDS --- Sean Williams, who married Christine Cane less than two years ago, has been her grandest supporter on her campaign trail.

NEWLY WEDS — Sean Williams, who married Christine Cane less than two years ago, has been her grandest supporter on her campaign trail.

Her quest for pursuing a law career was fueled when she witnessed two of her closest relatives sentenced to prison when she was a child.

“To me, the justice system wasn’t very just to them,” Cane explained.  “I was hurt and bothered that my loved ones were away from me, but I was motivated, inspired, and determined to be the attorney my mom wanted me to be, but for a different reason.  I wanted to make just the injustices in the system.  Now, everyday I see young men and women charged with crimes and I have the opportunity to help them and make a difference to ensure that the justice system is more just to them than it was to my loved ones.  For that, I am grateful and very fulfilled in my career.”

The managing and founding partner of Cane Law Firm, PLLC, Cane runs offices in Memphis and in Nashville, where she practices criminal defense, family law and personal injury law. A graduate of Nashville’s Hunters Lane High and Fisk University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science, Cane later enrolled in the University of Memphis Law School, where she received her Juris Doctorate as a recipient of the U of M Law School Distinguished Service Award. 

Consequently Cane’s career took off to immense heights when she was an assistant public defender in Memphis and Shelby County during which she represented impecunious criminal defendants who didn’t have legal representation.

In addition, Cane has served on the Board of Directors for the Memphis Second Chance Organization and as a mentor for youths at Frayser and Carver High Schools. Married for the past year-and-a-half to Sean Williams, she is a member of Greater Community Temple Church of God In Christ.

“I’m proud of my wife,” Sean Williams said. “I’m happy to be married to a woman that will fight for what she believes is right, regardless of what or whom she’s fighting. Her tenacity and determination certainly makes our family stronger and better.”

A campaign that has been underway for a little more than three months, Cane said she is confident her experience and qualifications will convince voters to help thrust her into a new chapter into her already-stellar career.

“When elected to the office of judge, I promise to be true to who I am, which is a God-fearing, compassionate woman that only wants to see our justice system be just to everyone, regardless of income, race, sex, or creed,” Cane said.

As for voters who might question her age and lack of experience as a criminal court judge, Cane compared her campaign to that of President Barak Obama, particularly when he lobbied for his first term as President of the United States.

“Age does not necessarily mean experience, rather the quality of the time given,” she said. “In my time as an attorney, I have done a great deal. I have served as assistant public defender, and now have two thriving offices, one in Memphis and one in Nashville. I don’t think you have to be close to retirement to be able to do the job. I have ample jury trial experience. My youthfulness brings change, innovation, and energy. That is exactly what 201 Poplar needs.”

Change her mother sensed would ultimately come to fruition.

Change her mother saw coming more than two decades ago.

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

Fairley’s Shannon Lucas witnesses mother beat breast cancer, graduates with honors

Shannon D. Lucas played football during his middle school days.

He was quite good at it.

However, his competitive football tenure was short-lived, in large part because of an assortment of injuries.

MOTHERLY LOVE --- Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, LaTonya McKinney overcame the dreaded disease and was in attendance recently to witness her son, Shannon Lucas, graduate with honors from Fairley High. School officials announced recently the closing of Fairley as a member of the Shelby County Public Schools system. (Photos submitted by LaTonya McKinney)

MOTHERLY LOVE — Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, LaTonya McKinney overcame the dreaded disease and was in attendance recently to witness her son, Shannon D. Lucas, graduate with honors from Fairley High. School officials announced recently the closing of Fairley as a member of the Shelby County Public Schools system. (Photos submitted by LaTonya McKinney)

So much, in fact, that Lucas sensed that playing football in the high school ranks would not be in his best interest.

“The reason I stopped was because I had three injuries during the season,” Lucas told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “Afterward, I went on to realize that doing so in high school would be much harder for me. I wanted to focus on actually finishing high school, not missing days in the hospital, and missing assignments. That was an Achilles Heel that I couldn’t afford to carry.”

With football all but a distant memory, Lucas was determined to make good of what appeared to be discouraging ordeal.

To his credit, he did just that.

COLLEGE BOUND --- After graduating with honors on May 17, Lucas will enroll this fall at the University of Memphis on an academic scholarship.

COLLEGE BOUND — After graduating with honors on May 17, Lucas will enroll this fall at the University of Memphis on an academic scholarship.

The 17-year-old Memphian recently was among 153 individuals who were awarded diplomas during Fairley High’s final commencement exercises as a part of the Shelby County Public Schools system. For Lucas, while learning that Fairley will no longer be a public institution for inner city children in the Whitehaven community was a bittersweet moment as he sat among his classmates, among his fondest memories, he said, will be how he went about erasing the memories of the trials he endured as middle school athlete.

In a nutshell, Lucas wasn’t just a recipient of a diploma. He graduated with honors.

“My memories travel back all the way to when I first stepped foot into Fairley as a freshman with everyone else,” Lucas explained. “We didn’t know who anyone was, we didn’t know where we were, or were to go. It was like we were lost in a deep jungle. Then as we entered our senior year, everything seemed so old. We even felt old when we saw the newbie freshmen coming in. All we could think was, ‘We were never that bad as freshman!’”

During Fairley’s graduation ceremony before an overflow crowd in Memphis’ historic Orpheum Theatre in the heart of downtown, among those who were enthralled and sat nearly on the edge of her seat near the stage was Lucas’ mother, LaTonya McKinney.

To get a thorough understanding of why McKinney, a Coldwater, Miss. native, was brought to tears before her son’s name was called throughout the loudspeakers to receive his diploma, look no further the events that swarmed her life roughly eight years ago.

In 2006, McKinney was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Such news was a devastating blow for McKinney, whose twin sister, LaSonya Thomas, was diagnosed with the same dreaded disease approximately three years later.

“I didn’t have a response at all,” said McKinney, explaining her initial reaction during an October 2012 interview with MemphiSport. “I didn’t know how to respond, didn’t feel any anger. It was just some information that was given to me. My mom came over and then asked me if I wanted to cry. But I didn’t feel like crying.”

Today, however, McKinney and her twin — who were born approximately five minutes apart — are years removed from having gone into remission from breast cancer, a life-altering occurrence that made Lucas’s graduation day more of a celebratory occasion for his mother.

“It did cross my mind,” said McKinney, when asked if she thought she might not live to witness her son’s graduation. “But I quickly took that out of my head because I am a believer in God. My mother was my rock in my battle with cancer and she took really good care of me.”

Lucas, meanwhile, admits that because his mother fought vigorously to beat her battle with breast cancer, the poise she exhibited enabled him to establish a solid work ethic, particularly at an institution where the student body’s overall performance in the classroom had become an issue with state officials.

In other words, Lucas steadfastly defied the odds, erasing the memory — at least for a short while — of the upcoming closing of historic Fairley High.

Next up: He’s off to the University of Memphis this fall on an academic scholarship.

“I am highly disappointed that my school is closing,” Lucas said.  “Imagine, in the class of 2014 lies that last true blood Bulldogs of Fairley High School. The final O.B.’s (original bulldogs) are out of the building, and now the school that we all grow up together in will now seize to exist as we know it.”

Regardless, that doesn’t merely compare to the graduation memories his mother will forever cherish — memories she witnessed unfold close and upfront in the historic Orpheum Theatre.

So much for football.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

He has former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl to thank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much like Pearl reached out to him.

 Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected]. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.