Growing up who would’ve thought I would put on an NBA jersey? Only my dad; and I am positive it was only him. My mom supported me the entire way always believing I can achieve anything I wanted to achieve. As an athlete, when reaching a certain pinnacle, you start to second guess yourself or even get caught in the crossroads of reality, delusion and dreams. These can be negative and positive too. For me, I never thought I would play in the NBA, but I always wanted to. When I was sure I was not going to play high major Division 1 basketball, I told my friend Taaj Ridley and James Stukes on my AAU basketball team I wanted to play for Louisville. I was so sure I would finish something Sebastion Telfair didn’t do being we were both from Brooklyn. There I was though, being delusional, dreaming, and not accepting reality. How was I ever going to get there? Well, I did lead NYC in scoring for 2 years straight at Molloy HS (RIP Jack Curran). Imagine that, a 5’10 Combo Guard that weighed about 140lbs leads the best high school league in scoring for 2 straight years? St Johns University, around the corner from my high school and never offered. I played with many high ranked kids on my former AAU teams and I never sniffed a scholarship. Now after my senior year of H.S., I attended South Kent Prep after having a great AAU spring/summer with Juice All Stars (Thank You Coach Tiny Morton). Then I built up a decent school list. I had the opportunity of playing in front of Pitt, Florida, Louisville, UConn, Rutgers, Baylor, Marquette, WVU, and a bunch of other high major schools only to get told that they liked me enough not to offer me or they had enough in my position. After a few visits of the schools coming back to watch my other teammates, Louisville gave me a opportunity and asked if I would like to visit and I actually committed to them before they even offered me. Baylor, Houston and LaSalle was my final list before I met Coach P who ended up changing my life.
Before I go on to my college tenure, I never experienced recruiting stars in high school but I was respected by everyone who had them. I never got anything for free but I never wanted it. I went to a gym to workout only to be turned down because a top high school all star game was going on; unfortunately the big names didn’t come and they needed me (Who was in the stands in street clothes) to fill in and I achieved Co-MVP. I watched my AAU teammates get treated differently. I played 1st and 3rd quarters at camps and even missed some games because I could not embrace the embarrassment of coaches putting me in only because I paid my camp fee. I got up in the mornings at 7am to run the beach at Coney Island, then shot hoops at the projects there, then drove uptown to open my dads shop and worked out at a gym in the Bronx, then ran the 155st stairs in the Polo Grounds, then lifted with my weight trainer who is also a dear friend of mine; followed by velocity and finally having some late night basketball runs almost everyday in the summer. Some people just don’t know how hard it actually was.
Almost half the world knows my college story. I came to school hurt, didn’t play, almost transferred along with packing my stuff mid-season until being talked into staying by one of my good friends Rakeem Buckles. Then played that day and helped the team win. No better feeling! Playing for a Hall of Fame coach, I learned invaluable perks about being an athlete. I learned about opportunity, winning, life after basketball, humility, EGO (Edging Greatness Out) and work ethic. My sophomore year, our starting point guard Peyton Siva sprained both ankles early in the season, the backup broke his ribs, Mike Marra tore is ACL, Luke Hancock redshirted, Kevin Ware was ineligible, Wayne Blackshear tore is labrum n both shoulders and Chris Smith was fighting nagging injuries the entire year. Thats how I played along with staying ready and constantly trying. Accepting coaching, accepting discipline and accepting correction. I went from being unknown on campus, walking around being incognito to this “Russdiculous” guy everyone wanted to get to know especially after a Final Four4 and I owe it to Coach P for believing in me. Though this may seem euphoric in compared to my high school experience, I wanted more. I asked Coach P “What do I have to do to start for him?” and he basically told me to earn it. All my life I had to earn, even to this day I’ve never been given anything. So I earned my spot and the rest is history. I was on covers of magazines, I loved Waffle House, my Instagram was the BasedKing, I was Russdiculous, I was a 2x All American, I National Champion, Wooden Award finalist and everything else you already know. What you didn’t know is my best friends were Rakeem Buckles, Dark Slime, Sizzle and Dean. We made music together, they cried with me during my injuries, they helped me rehab, they went to the gym with me late nights and they were my brothers. Also made a good friend Big Nick along the way. Being at the University of Louisville with Coach P has helped me, including my close friend and mentor Andre McGee. I never met a person other than my dad, mom, trainer and Coach P that cared about me so much and helped me improve. A lot of coaches now-a-day don’t care about how they win or player development; as long as they win thats all that matters. Andre McGee watched countless hours of film with me and we diagnosed problems I had and fixed them by the week of each season. When my senior campaign was up after the loss to Kentucky, I really didn’t know what was in store for me. What seemed to make me happy in college didn’t make me happy anymore. What seemed to satisfy certain urges I had didn’t suffice. Being on my own in Vegas hurt me more than anyone could imagine. Being alone and on my own in New Orleans now is tough. The key is to find a happy place in your own company which I have had to do plenty of times. Understanding certain people and their motives. Thats why I’ve been so consistent with my friendship and who I’ve always listened too.
47th pick in the NBA draft!!!!!! WOW !!!!!!! Once I took into account how many people played basketball in America, then the number of high school players, then figured out how many play Division 1 basketball, then after that realizing only 60 people get drafted, I kind of patted myself on the back. Its amazing, Im potentially one of 500 of the best athletes in the land and maybe 1000 in the world. I play for one of the best rising organizations in the land and I am apart of a family (The NBA). Being here, although it sounds peachy, makes you realize how much you haven’t done. There is more accolades to reach, new goals, and a new game to learn. Im trying to get better everyday I can. This process has been tough but its been enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Those who read this and feel what I feel should keep their heads up along with athletes in the middle of their athletic process. Kanye West said “People always tell you to be humble and not talk about yourself. When was the last time someone told you to be great?”. While this statement may seem overconfident and cocky in the most ways, there is some truth. I encourage those who read this to be better than what everyone thinks they can be, while be over confident but always being humble. Theres a balance we must all find in order to be successful and I just wish one day I find it. In the time being, my euphoric moments will only be the saudade I catch myself floating away in. I am just glad I have great parents, Coach P, my few friends, and a wonderful Pelicans organization to make me feel as if the greater moments I yearn for are a step or two away.
Whatever will make you happy you must achieve it but only under the realm of positivity and humility. Theres no shortcuts to happiness. Be great, keep your head up and appreciate your hard work. Only way you will be happy.