It’s hard… I know… believe me, I know. You are just trying to find your way. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I flunked one year in school at 13. I was arrested at 16. I was a teenage father at 17. I lived in subsidized housing. I was raised by a single mother. In my early 20s, I smoked blunt after blunt after blunt… I played high school ball. I played college ball. My homies moved weight. I have been profiled by police several times. I have been strip searched for no reason. My car has been searched on the side of the road. My close friends have done bids in the penitentiary. By 23, the University of Michigan, the University of Delaware, The Ohio State University and the University of California were offering to pay me to attend their graduate programs. As I approach 50, I have gained some perspective that may be of use to you as you begin your journey. But, you gotta pay attention and listen closely…
More than anything else… More than exposure… More than playing time… More than trips to Vegas… More than fly gear… you need to surround your self with people that are knowledgeable about the ever changing NCAA eligibility process. Make sure you participate in AAU and high school programs that genuinely care about college preparation. Good programs have early-alert systems that flag student-athletes with spotty attendance, low test PSAT, SAT and ACT scores, too few core courses and low GPA’s. Great programs will reward you for meeting academic goals and implement consequences when you come up short. Young fella, that’s the ONLY way to avoid being one of the thousands of young Black men who will inevitably fail to meet NCAA eligibility requirements in 2016. Time is short, you have to grow up quickly.
As you embark on your journey, you will find yourself struggling with the conflicting ways the larger society views Black males. The relationship between America and Black males is really complex and can really be confusing for young men such as yourself. On one hand, for the better part of 400 years, Black males have been viewed as a menacing threat to all that is good about American society. Deeply ingrained white supremacist and racist traditions led to the exclusion of Black males from many major collegiate athletic programs up to the late 1960s and early 1970s. To this day, young Black men can be literally shot in the face or choked to death in the middle of American streets while armed with only Black skin, loose cigarettes, iced tea and a bag of skittles. On the other hand, Black male athletes and hip hop performance artists are revered and rewarded with multimillion dollar contracts and enormous endorsement deals. Under Armour and Nike just emerged from an unprecedented battle over who gets to pay Kevin Durant $300 million over the next decade. Of course, you want access to the latter, but everyday you have to navigate the reality of former. It ain’t gonna be an easy journey young fella…
In the immortal words of Run-DMC, “It’s Tricky”…. But, for now, you just wanna play ball… You just wanna go to college, preferably D1. You know the odds are more than stacked against you. You have heard it all before. You fully understand that only 0.03% of high school players make it to the NBA. You realize that there are about 546,000 high school players and every year only about 48 college players are drafted into the league. But, shit… you could be one of the 48. I get that… I really do… As you see it, all you need is one coach in the right program, in the right conference to give you a chance. If they let you on that stage, you know you’re gonna shine. In your mind, you are better than many of the guys playing college ball right now! Given a fair chance, you will have the NBA contract and the massive endorsement deal. Maybe… Maybe you will young fella, but then, again, maybe you won’t. Be ready either way!
It’s possible… I’ve seen a lot of Philly high school and college players make to the NBA. Maurice Martin (St. Joseph’s), Lionel Simmons (LaSalle), Doug Overton (LaSalle), Randy Woods (LaSalle), Bo Kimble (Dobbins), Tim Perry (Temple), Mark Macon (Temple), Aaron McKie (Temple), Eddie Jones (Temple), Jameer Nelson (St. Joseph’s), Delonte West (St. Joseph’s), Kerry Kittles (Villanova), Rasheed Wallace (Gratz), Marcus & Markeiff Morris (Prep Charter) and Dion Waiters (Syracuse) were all 1st round picks.
I must also tell you, I’ve also seen guys who were good enough suffer injuries and illnesses that curtailed their NBA dreams. Rap Curry (St. Joseph’s), Bernard Blunt (St. Joseph’s), Bernard Jones (St. Joseph’s), Donnie Carr (LaSalle), Jason Frazier (Villanova) and Granger Hall (Temple) were fantastic collegiate players denied an opportunity in the NBA because of health issues. You have to simultaneously prepare to play at the highest level and get ready for the day the ball stops bouncing. It could stop bouncing at any time. First and foremost, we have to get you through high school and off to college.
Young fella… The first thing you have to do is become aware of and avoid the traps that have been set for you. Your future, your freedom and in some cases your life are at-risk every time venture outside your home. Every year, somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 African Americans are murdered annually in the United States. The overwhelming majority of these victims are young males. You should know that 93% of these murders are in fact perpetrated by other blacks. Black people account for about half of all homicide victims in the US almost exclusively at the hands of other African-Americans. Every year Black men kill more Black men than the total number of U.S. service men and women that been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the course of decade-long wars fought in those nations.
I know… I know… You know your way around the “hood.” You know the gun-toters. You know the killers. They respect your game. You don’t have nothing to do with the neighborhood “beefs.” You ain’t really worried about dying in the streets at the hands of other Black men. But, you should be. Be careful. Be respectful. I can’t expect you to avoid all interaction with real “thugs.” Some of them are your uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends. In many cases, they love you and you love them. Nonetheless, you have to exercise extreme caution when interacting with them. Don’t take no rides. Don’t hold no packs. Don’t stash no burners in your crib. Be smart. You have other more important things to worry about.
Young fella… there is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in the U.S. In 2009 alone, there were more than 1.6 million drug arrests and 82 percent of those were for possession alone. Despite the unquestioned fact that white boys use drugs just as much, if not more, than your homies, they are focusing their policing efforts on our community. As Blacks, we are only 13 percent of the U.S. population and we proportionately account for 13 percent of the nation’s drug users. Yet, Blacks represent 34 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 45 percent of those held in state prisons for drug offenses. We are the enemy in the “War on Drugs.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, in 2008, there were over 846,000 black men in prison, making up 40.2 percent of all inmates in the system. The brilliant Michelle Alexander notes that “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.” We are drastically overrepresented in the courtrooms, jails and prisons. We are about six times more likely to spend time in prison or jail than whites. According to recent research, we receive up to 60% longer federal prison sentences than whites who commit similar offenses, and 20% longer prison sentences than whites who commit the same offenses. It’s so easy to get tripped up.
Keep these statistics in mind while you listen to multimillionaire hip hop artists promoting violence, misogyny, drug abuse and crass materialism. Jay Z, Young Jeezy, 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne and all the rest have bloody hands. They are purposely filling your head destructive messages, while accepting payments for lyrics that extol alcohol and drug use. A recent study by Dartmouth Medical School, analyzed 793 songs from Billboard charts starting in 2005 and found that 160 songs (about 21%) referred explicitly to alcohol. The study found that the majority of songs that referenced alcohol were rap, followed by R&B/hip-hop and country. Approximately 42 percent of the lyrics referred to alcohol in a positive way and mentioned specific alcohol brands. The brands in most cases are associated with advertising that depicts a luxury lifestyle of drug use, partying, sex, and wealth.
Another study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that music listened to by teenagers aged 15 to 18 affects long-term attitudes and behaviors. That study looked at 279 top Billboard songs and found that 33 percent included explicit substance abuse references. Be strong young fella, they are after you. The majority of these songs linked substance abuse with positive sexual, financial and emotional rewards. There are very consistent messages within corporate-sponsored hip-hop that promote the murder of young black men, sexual irresponsibility, excessive consumerism, drug/alcohol abuse and other forms of illegal behavior. The plan is to convert you into a blunt smoking, drug addled, liquor drinking corporate consumer for life.
In 2002, Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy released “Pass the Courvoisier.” That song led to a 19 percent increase in sales for Allied Domecq, maker of Courvoisier. Young Jeezy has an endorsement deal with Belvedere Vodka. A number of hip hop artists are creating their own alcohol labels. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, is part owner of the Voli Vodka brand. Other rap artists who are part owners of liquor brands include Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Ludacris.
The myth is bullshit, Young fella… They tell you, “Jay Z sold drugs, he came up… 50 Cent sold drugs, he came up.” That’s the narrative being repeatedly fed to you and your homies through the media and the hip hop lyrics. Meanwhile, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime compared to one out of every seventeen white males. Most will go to prison for the same “hustlin” behaviors celebrated in hip hop. I need you be discerning. I need you to see what they are doing. For every Kanye, there are 100,000 Nates, Bruces and Jamals on probation, parole or in prison.
The aim, the goal must ALWAYS be to hone and leverage your athletic ability and gain access to higher education. Then use education to improve your life and the lives of your family members. Once this goal is achieved, you have won. A professional basketball contract is the gravy. The college degree and the knowledge gained along the way constitute the nourishing meal.
Toward that end, you have to exercise solid judgement in selecting AAU and High School programs. Don’t sell yourself for a mere pittance. When the AAU guys come around offering a couple dollars, a new cell phone bill and 5 new pairs of KD’s, ask then the tough questions: How many of the guys in your program did NOT meet NCAA eligibility requirements? How many of your guys in the past 5 years had to go JUCO? Exactly, what does your program do to make sure guys are eligible? Does your program have homework assistance and/or SAT/Prep? Do you provide practice SAT exams to see where I stand?
Really good AAU programs won’t have a problem answering these questions. Really good program administrators understand what you are up against. They do everything they can to get you in college. Some of the best programs I have encountered are NJ Playaz, Philly Pride/Triple Threat, WE R 1, Baltimore’s Finest and Mississippi Basketball Association. These programs focus on academics as well basketball preparation.
Many of these same questions must be directed to high school coaches. This is especially true for kids attending urban public schools. In urban districts across the country, budget cuts have eliminated guidance counselor and assistant principal positions. You must ask the coach: What is the “eligibility plan” for me? Exactly what courses will I take that will lead to you being eligible? Can I see the list of NCAA approved courses for your school? What is the average SAT score at your school? What scores did your players get over the past few years? Does your school offer summer school courses? What is the grading scale at your school? How many of your players have gone onto play Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA?
As young Black “baller” you may find yourself struggling to attain self-conscious manhood while avoiding traps permeating the landscapes you traverse everyday. As you inch closer to becoming an elite basketball player, the “love-hate” relationship America has with Black males will become more and more apparent. Your challenge is to both keep it “real” and represent your family and your “hood” while simultaneously accessing institutions of high education and playing at the highest collegiate level. Shit ain’t easy. But, it can done, but, you must start right now by asking the right questions.
Delgreco K. Wilson