Vincent “Two-Two” Golson – Cal State Dominguez Hills

Truthfully, when I started “playing” in middle school, I didn’t know the difference between a crossover and a free throw. So I tell everyone, I really started in the summer of ninth grade.  

Freshman year, I played football and I was terrible. That was the first time I ever played contact football so I gave up after that one year. An AAU team coach offered to work me out so I could join the team that freshmen year summer in a tournament out in Las Vegas. That was one of the best times in my life. That was my first time outside of the Bay Area. Crazy right?

Fast forward, I transferred high schools after that year, from Oakland High to Skyline High school. I thought it would be simple enough to get on the team. World got shook up when I found out that wasn’t the case. I sat outside all of the conditioning (pre-season) which was about a month and half. It wasn’t until two of my homies, on the team, vouched for me along with my GPA, that I got an opportunity to play. I was a kid with dreads but I had a 3.6 GPA overall. However, the dreads were the part they didn’t like. With the high crime rate in Oakland, every person looked the same, whether you were committing crimes or just walking the streets. I cut my dreads once I got a chance to try out. After sitting outside of every preseason practice and conditioning workout,  I made the team. Senior year of high school, in one of the best high school conferences at the time, I ended up averaging 17 and 6. Yet, I had no recognition from colleges, just a questionnaire from an online website. 

I took a year off and attended an HBCU in Mississippi for a semester. After a semester, I transferred to Fresno city college for a semester. I ended up spending my freshman year summer playing in adult leagues in Oakland. During one of these adult league games, City College of San Francisco came to watch me play because my big bro, Ike Count, vouched for my game and I. I ended up going to City and playing on average five minutes a game. My sophomore season, I was on track to be forgotten. However in the middle of our season, our star transferred to Utah, giving me the opportunity to step up. This year, I ended up being MVP of our conference and had received multiple scholarship offers from D1 and D2. I was 5’6. 5’6. I decided to transfer to Cal State Dominguez Hills to play my last two years of college basketball.  At Cal State Dominguez Hills, they believed in my game so much as a player enough to tell me I was a pro. After two years there, I didn’t get a professional job offer, so I quit and started working at UPS. I was very depressed. I had never felt that feeling before and I just couldn’t get out. After two years of working and no ball, my four year coach got a call about a job opportunity to play overseas. The first person he thought about was me. Just like that, two years later, and I am on my second professional year, with the same team I started with.

Advice I’d give to myself is keep being you. Everything I got was led by another human-being vouching for me on their own. I didn’t have to ask them to do that. They did it on their own and I just proved them right.

Advice for future athletes is skills are a small part of success in sports and being humane is a bigger part. Being humane is an earthly living style that is hard to turn down. People will always know you mean well and think of you first, out of thousands of people they know when it comes to opportunity. It’s a universal way of being coachable.

-Vincent “Two-Two” Golson

Stephen Buckner Jr. – Missouri Baptist University

In high school I was a three sport athlete and had offers to play football but knew my love and my heart were with basketball! I had interest from plenty of programs but never received scholarship offers. After the season I had offers from D-3, jucos, and then an offer from a Collin County Community College. My coach was pushing for me to go there because he felt like it would help me be the most successful in my basketball career. 

I played at Collin and started as a freshman. By the end of that season, I was being recruited by the Division 1 school, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. They were very interested and set up a visit with me. What I didn’t know was the same week they set my visit up they had another point guard coming in that week. They offered him and he signed on the spot. I was left in a similar position that I was in high school. Where now? What do I do? 

I returned to Collin for my sophomore season and started again. I earned first team all region five honors. Then after my sophomore year I signed with Missouri Baptist, a NAIA Division 1 school in St. Louis, Missouri. At Missouri Baptist, I played two years and went from a team where we finished 7-24 to my senior year finishing with a 20-10 record.

Advice I would give to my younger self would just be to trust the process! Everything happens for a reason. Keep grinding and good things will come to those who wait. 

Advice for the future athletes would be to just stand out and be confident in who you are as a player. Be confident and embrace your role. Not everybody will be the leading scorer. Coaches love players who know their role and play it at a high level. So, just embrace you for you and play to your strengths!

-Stephen Buckner Jr.

Kenny Hatch – Texas A&M International

As freshmen, I attended Saint Ignatius and I made the freshman B team. I struggled with playing time because I was 4’11 and 97 pounds. Because of my size, I struggled off the court as well making friends and being comfortable in my environment. After my freshman season, I tried out for the Saint Ignatius JV summer league and I was cut from the team because I was “too small to make the passes.” After that tryout, I talked to my dad and decided to transfer high schools to play basketball at Jefferson High School. After a fun sophomore season, I improved and grew to 5’6 and decided to transfer back to SI to tryout for the Varsity team. Unfortunately, I was cut from Varsity that summer, and given the opportunity to try out for Junior Varsity (JV) as a junior. A week later, I was cut from Junior Varsity, and decided to become the manager for the Varsity men’s team. After spending the year as the manager, I tried out for the varsity summer league team, and was cut again. This would be the fourth time I was cut in high school. I kept working out every day hoping that I could make the team in the fall. Luckily, I got a phone call in the summer to join the summer league team to play in a tournament. From then on, I was officially a part of the Varsity men’s team at SI. 

After playing limited minutes, and averaging 2.2 points a game my senior season, I still had a lot to prove. I had an amazing summer AAU season, but still didn’t have a single offer to play anywhere in college. I ended up attending the University of Kansas and sitting out that year for basketball. Luckily, I had a friend playing in Junior College and he told me that I could sign up for this summer basketball class and possibly make the team. Knowing nothing about Junior College basketball, I was excited to start playing again. I had little playing experience, and as a result, I led our team to a 5-22 record. Determined to earn a scholarship at a four year university, I worked extremely hard to improve my game. That year, we went 24-7 and earned a trip to the state final four. At our final four game, I earned my scholarship by diving on a loose ball in the fourth quarter. From there, I spent two years playing in south Texas at a NCAA Division 2 school.   

After two successful seasons in south Texas, I earned my first contract to play overseas in Gijon, Spain. I am now in my fourth year as a professional basketball player.

Listen, that is the advice that I would give to my younger self. The more coachable that you can be at a younger age, the better you can become. The advice I have for future athletes is sign up for Four Percent University, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Four Percent University is the place where you can learn the things we had to learn the hard way.

-Kenny Hatch

Maddie Torresin – West Chester University

I grew up and lived in Canada most of my life. It wasn’t until high school when my family decided we were going to move to the states. This was a big change for me at first. New school, new team, new country! As my junior year approached, I committed to the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I had a few other D1 offers, but this school was close to home. My senior year of high school, we won the PIAA State Championship. That was the moment I knew this is what I wanted to be doing for a while. My first year at UMBC, I began to get homesick and hate basketball. My coach was unsupportive and not a good mentor. I slowly began to dread lifts, practices, and game day. That’s when I knew I needed to make a choice. Quit or transfer. I loved the game so much I decided to transfer to a DII school in Philadelphia. West Chester University became my new home for the next 4 years.

Fast forward to my junior year, I was finally getting into the groove when my world came to a halt. It was our breast cancer awareness game, and 4 minutes into the start of the second quarter, I went up to block a girl shot when I came down screaming. I tore my ACL. Not only was this devastating news, but during an exam with my coach a week later we noticed a new mole on the back of my thigh. It was Melanoma. I now had to fight my way back to the top through rehab, depression and trying to remember my love for the game. I was completely defeated, I didn’t want to rehab anymore, and I used food to cope with my anger. By the end of my redshirt season I was up 40lbs. I sat down with myself and set a goal because I had a lot of work to do. I didn’t just want to be back to the norm, but I want to succeed more than ever.

Fast forward to my senior year. This was it. I met my goal and had one last season to prove it. I won player of the year at West Chester, was first team all-conference, and signed my first professional contact in Germany. My first year playing professional basketball has been a lifelong dream. Not only have a had the chance to play the game that I love but I’ve been able to travel, make new friends and experience the world. I can’t wait to see what my second year has in store.

Looking back if I could give my younger self one piece of advice it would be remain positive no matter the circumstance and be your biggest fan. Because at the end of the day, you are all you’ve got. My advice to athletes that are currently on the grind is that everything happens for a reason. Stay hungry, stay focused and only good things can come!

-Maddie Torresin

Brittney Smith-Cedeno Dominican University

I’m from South San Francisco. I’ve grown up here practically my whole life. The city where everyone knows everyone. My freshman year of high school I attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. It was a big change for me since I was so used to going to schools in South San Francisco where I’d be walking distance from my house. I knew a few people going into SHC through basketball so I wasn’t completely on my own. This was an athletic move, if anything. I was attending this school because this is what I thought would put me in the best position possible for my basketball career. I started playing basketball at the age of 5 and I knew this was something I was passionate about. I knew as I started to get older that if I was serious about this then I needed to take the right steps to make sure I have a future with this sport. At SHC, I made Varsity as a freshman. For any freshman, that’s big time. Especially at this well known high school. But even this didn’t bring the most happiness to me. My freshman year of high school was rough and I had no idea why. I ended up transferring to a different high school because I felt like I wasn’t happy and I wanted to be at the school in my area. I wanted to play for the girl’s basketball coach at SSFHS. But even after making that transfer, things still weren’t getting so much better for me. 

Around twelve years old is when I really started to have these moments where I really didn’t feel like myself, along with crying with no explanation. I thought it had to do with ya know just growing up and life. But this carried on to high school and I wasn’t sure of what was going on. 

It didn’t really make sense to me. I have a great family, solid set of friends, and a great basketball career ahead of me and still I just did not feel happy. As I got older and was in high school, I still had these moments of sadness with no explanation. I remember a specific moment where my mom once asked, “why are you crying” and I responded, by just telling her I had no idea why….I couldn’t explain why I felt so tired or sad all the time. Some days went by and all I wanted to do was be in bed. I was getting a good amount of attention based on my basketball skills and I knew I wanted to play college basketball. Luckily, I had colleges talking with me and opportunities to continue my love of basketball at the college level. I had gotten offered a full ride scholarship and I ended up signing with this college as a junior in high school. Now you’re thinking, “she has a great family, full ride scholarship to play college basketball, and killing in her high school season. How could she be sad?” See but that was the thing.. I looked like I had it all. It probably should’ve felt like I had it all but to me I had nothing. I didn’t have me. Majority of my basketball career was spent by people telling me they didn’t think I was mentally tough enough for the next level. For someone who’s been fighting depressing thoughts, you kinda start to question yourself in the area of basketball as well.  

By my senior year of high school, it was obvious I needed to talk to someone about all these random emotions.   I was told later on by my psychiatrist that I suffer from depression.  I started therapy and a medicine they prescribed. All these years of wondering why I acted a certain way, why I was so emotional, why life felt harder than it should be, was somewhat answered.

To this day I still go to therapy and am on medication. There’s this whole stigma in the sports world where athletes shouldn’t/couldn’t have depression. Well this is something I’ve been fighting with for awhile now and not everyday is pretty. Some days start with me being in bed until 5pm to grab a water, to just go straight back to bed. While others are just filled days. Everyday is a battle against yourself. You are your toughest competition right? I knew that from a young age.

Looking back I wish I could tell my younger self that it’s okay to feel the way you feel. No matter what, you’re going to be okay and don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t mentally tough enough. You’re tougher than you think. I’ve had people share this quote, “You really gotta fight depressive thoughts like they stole something.” This is it. It’s a fight everyday. It’s you against you. For anyone who’s fighting a mental illness, Don’t let anyone direct your life. You’re the director, author, driver, etc. You get to make the calls. Just because you’re an athlete, I know you’re “not supposed” to feel the way you feel but you’re human and allowed to feel whatever you want. Make the best of each day. Even when it seems impossible, try. You’ll appreciate yourself more that way. Keep battling. You’re life matters.

-Brittney Smith-Cedeno

Chris Edward – Concordia University

I was a scrawny kid with good footwork when I graduated HS in 2014. Nobody wanted a 6’7” kid, a buck 75 (175 lbs) soaking wet. Too much to work on. But, Chaffey gave me a chance. They saw something in me that I didn’t even see. For the next two years I entered the dog pound. Not knowing what I was getting myself into. Chaffey had some dawgs there. We all had a chip on our shoulder. We all felt like we needed to prove ourselves to anybody who would watch us. Nobody gave you an inch on that court. You earned every single second you played. Practices were brutal too, but I grew. I got the confidence that first had me saying I am the best big in this arena ain’t nobody gonna tell me different. 

That went all the way until I transferred to Concordia. Where my mentality was I am the best player in this arena ain’t nobody gonna tell me different. Each year, each summer, I learned from my mistakes and worked on my weaknesses. I got faster, I got stronger, I got quicker, I got more skilled, I did whatever it took to become a better me. This effort saw me earning all conference honors all four years of college, Juco and 4-year. 

I was hungry. I stayed hungry and got my first pro contract in Germany. Where I averaged more points than I ever did for two years straight. This lead me to earning Eurobasket player of the year. There were times where I felt like I wasn’t gonna make it. Where I was hurt and I thought this was my last season. Where my team just couldn’t seem to grab one win. Where disagreements with coaches had me wanting to walk away forever. It’s hard to do what I did. It’s hard to be at the top, but damn I worked for every single thing I have earned. Nothing was given to me. Nothing was easy for me. I grinded for everything with a chip on my shoulder. I have the accolades to prove I made a name for myself.

Advice that I would give my younger self. Keep grinding. There will be days and months even where you do not fit in and you lose friends or feel like you miss chances because you were working out so much. It is worth it. That hustle, that drive, it fuels a fire that burns into every aspect of your life. That time of pure agony and pain because of how hard you are pushing yourself is worth every second. Embrace the hustle, stay on the grind. Stay hungry, stay humble. 

Future athletes, you don’t have to be the tallest, the most skilled, the most athletic, or the best shooter. If you aren’t any of those things you better make sure you are the hardest worker in that gym. You better make sure you have the biggest heart in that gym. No one should ever have to question if you gave it your all because I promise you, if you put your all into everything you have, you’ll never regret a day you played your sport.

-Chris Edward

Kameron Curl – Humboldt State

Co-Founder of Four Percent Hoops

“I grew up in Long Beach, CA, but I attended Hebron High School in Carrollton, Tx. It was a 5A school, which was the highest level of public high school athletics in the state of Texas at the time. I didn’t make varsity until my junior year. Mainly because I was only about 5’9, 130lbs, at most, going into my junior year. Despite my diminutive stature, I started at point guard for my high school for both my junior and senior seasons. By the end of my senior season I was one of the leading scorers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and was subsequently voted to the 1st team all-district alongside players that all eventually played at the D1 level after high school, including one (Marcus Smart) who currently plays in the NBA. Despite all the accolades and what I felt was ample proof that I could hold my own against the best, I only received interest from one Division 3 community college. That crushed me. So much so, that I decided to trade in my jersey for a button up, and just began working full time as a customer service representative for DirecTv. 

For 3 years I went to work everyday, despite dealing with depression and feelings of being unfulfilled. Then, one day, at 20 years old, I looked in the mirror and decided that I missed the game too much to continue to pretend like I didn’t. So I signed up to play in an adult league at a local gym near me. To be honest, the thought of playing competitively at the college level wasn’t a thought of mine at the time. Then one 40 point game turned into four 40 point games, and I started to feel like maybe I could make an attempt at the college level again.

This led me to emailing every Division 1 community college in the state of Texas… literally, every one. I was now 20 years old, so I couldn’t send my high school highlights from when I was 17. The next best option was to have my mom film my adult league games and I used that footage to send to coaches in an attempt to get any tryout opportunity that I could. I drove anywhere between 30 minutes to 8 hours away, going from one juco tryout after another with no success. Eventually, I decided to cast a wider net and started sending those same adult league highlights to jucos all over my home state of California as well. Then, one day I got a reply from an assistant coach at Chaffey College. He told me that he couldn’t guarantee me a spot on the team, but told me that I’d definitely have a chance. That was all I needed to hear. I quickly packed up my stuff, moved back to SoCal, and enrolled at the school. However, It wasn’t long before once again I was on the outside looking in after a tryout.

Fast forward another year, I tried out again and I finally made the team and played in my first ever college basketball game at the age of 22 years old. I spent most of that freshman season sitting on the bench, playing about 4 minutes per game, but I learned a lot of invaluable information during that time. So much so that 5 years after my senior high school season, I was once again voted to the First Team in my conference after my sophomore year. This eventually landed me several scholarship offers. I chose to attend Humboldt State University in Northern California, where I got to achieve my lifelong dream of playing on ESPN. 

The advice that I would give my younger self would be to do more research. I say this because had I known that juco was such a viable option to get to the NCAA level, then I would’ve reached out to coaches while I was in high school instead of waiting for big name NCAA schools to find me. The advice that I have for high school athletes that are currently in the position of being under-recruited or slept on like I was would just be to continue to believe in themselves and their abilities and to also take our course (coming soon) on which will break down step-by-step how to get increase their chances of getting recruited and keeping their hoop dreams alive.”

-Kameron Curl

Maddy Hatch – Humboldt State

Co-Founder of Four Percent Hoops

I grew up in the Bay Area and went to St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco.  My high school experience was definitely difficult, to say the least. It was a journey that taught me a lot about myself and my ability to persevere despite the many things I had working against me. Going into the summer of my sophomore year of high school, I tore my ACL. After surgery, I had about  9-10 months of rehabilitation, just so I could get back onto the court. Injuries are inevitable for athletes and they serve as an opportunity to come back even better and with a new perspective. Thus, my junior year I was beyond excited to get back onto the court. With a senior heavy team, my minutes were pretty limited my junior year. However, I knew my time to shine would be during my senior year. Unfortunately, the summer going into my senior year, I tore my ACL again, in the same knee. Disheartened was an understatement.

I had just successfully completed 10 months of physical therapy, only to now have to repeat the whole process. It seemed like my time to get recruited was running out. Many people around me hinted at just hanging up my shoes, but I couldn’t give up on my dream. With limited game film to send to college coaches, I felt extremely discouraged. I knew in order to get recruited I had to somehow and someway get back onto the court for my senior season. The issue was time. Surgeons typically don’t want you returning to basketball games for at least 9 months after surgery. This being my second surgery in less than two years, complicated matters even more. Most surgeons would not even listen to my questions of speeding up the rehabilitation process. However, I eventually found one that was open to allowing me to at least try to accelerate rehabilitation.  The day before my eighteen birthday, I went into surgery for the second time. A couple hours into surgery, my doctor encountered an issue with my knee. Basically, the tunnel they dug during my first surgery, merged with the second tunnel dug during this procedure. In that moment, 9 out of 10 surgeons would have stitched up my knee and told me to return for a third surgery, three months later. However, by the grace of God and this amazing surgeon, they found a way to anchor my new ACL into my knee. The only downside to this unorthodox procedure was the increase in pain I would soon feel when I woke up. But what’s a little extra pain?

With a sense of gratitude for another successful surgery, I entered my second round of rehabilitation with an appreciation for the body’s ability to heal.  I knew it was going to be tough to make it back in five months, however nothing was going to stop me from at least trying. The level of support from my family and my friends around me was incredible. Truly did not think people cared that much, but they did. That support and love was felt and aided me in waking up every morning with a positive outlook. After five months of rehab, I returned to the court. I got to play at the end of my senior year, which was a blessing itself. However, my goal was always to make it to the college level. But how do you recruit a player who just had two major knee surgeries? “No one wants an injury prone player,” was often what I heard. But, I was determined to not be defined by a couple of  injuries. After tirelessly searching, I got an opportunity to go down for a spring workout, at a Division 2 school. I had the chance to show what I could do, which is all I ever wanted. The coach liked what I brought to the table and offered me a scholarship to play. I signed to play at Humboldt State University and would go on to finish in the top five of three pointers made in the school’s history.  

My biggest takeaway throughout this whole process is we can’t always choose what happens to us over the course of our lives, however we can 100% control how we choose to respond from the events that happen. These injuries were a blessing in disguise because they illustrated to a young girl the importance of perspective. Countless individuals have circumstances much worse than mine. Understanding perspective and being grateful to have the ability to heal is something I will never forget. The biggest thing I learned throughout this journey was the love I had for this game called basketball. I’m grateful every single time I get to step out on that court, and nobody can ever take that away from me.  

Advice I would give to my younger self, is to relax. When I think back on my high school years, I think about the level of pressure I put on myself, when it came to basketball. I would work on my game almost too much. To the point, when it might have been detrimental to my body. “No days off” was a phrase I always heard. However, that phrase isn’t something young athletes should follow. We only get one body to live in and it is extremely important to value our bodies and take care of them by resting at least once a week.”

-Maddy Hatch

Annelise Ito – UC Riverside

“I’ll start in high school. My first year at Campolindo high school, I was on JV and I honestly didn’t play a lot. I was taller but I wasn’t skilled. My second year I made Varsity. I did the whole AAU route, traveled to all these random cities; like Tennessee, wherever.  All these random places for tournaments. I liked it a lot and I was like this is the route I am going to go. I am going to go D1.  Everyone tells you when you are in high school it’s D1 or bust. By my junior year, I had scholarship offers from USF and Boise State, but I told them I wanted to play AAU until the end of my junior year, before committing. I didn’t want to worry about deciding on a school or anything like that.  I just wanted to focus on hooping and finishing my season out. The last tournament of AAU, junior year, I blew my knee out with all the coaches there. Right after that happened both of them called me and said we’re going to offer scholarships to other people, if they don’t take them then you still have your scholarship but at this point we are going to give it up.  I was devastated, like devastated.  At that point I didn’t understand that the recruiting process was a business.  I was looking for deep connections with coaches. I was looking for coaches who saw me as a person outside of basketball and outside of this whole process.  I wasn’t aware of how much of a business this was. I definitely thought that these coaches liked me for me but it’s really what you can provide them.  At the time when you’re 17 years old you don’t understand that.  

I was devastated. I didn’t play my whole senior season, I was recovering from my surgery.  I actually didn’t want to play basketball anymore, I told my mom, ‘I just wanna be a normal college student. I can’t…I don’t want to ever go through this again.’ 

I was at the Campolindo gym and one of the junior college coaches, from DVC, came up to me and asked me if I had time to talk. At the time I was over basketball. I had already applied to other colleges and taken visits as a normal student. The coach basically said that he saw something in me, that he didn’t see in a lot of kids. He told me that he thought if I went there for a year, I would get a D1 scholarship and be out. That I could take this game way further than I ever imagined.   

For me at the time, I was very torn because I didn’t want to go through the heartbreak again or this whole recruiting process again. I already had just a sour taste in my mouth that it didn’t even know if I wanted to do this. I ended up going to a workout and I actually really ended up liking the facility and the team. It was an easy transition for me in the sense that I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life anyways. For me this just seemed like a softer transition to college instead of just getting bulldozed through it.  And the coach in general was really adamant about using basketball as a tool to get where I wanted to go and do what I want to do.  

At the time basketball and me were very rocky because I was upset with basketball. I didn’t want to put my all to it again, just to go through what I went through again. My junior college coach really helped me realize that just because something shitty happens to you doesn’t mean that it has to define the whole rest of your life. For me, I felt very sorry for myself at the time….you know you can’t really process things that happen to you, especially so quickly.  No one prepares for injuries and you don’t really prepare for the aftermath of having surgery and then you know like coming back. I was so mentally not there throughout my whole process of coming back.  I took a full year off and started playing in October, right when the season started.  Physically I wasn’t ready for the season at all.  However, despite this junior college for me was probably one of the best years of basketball.  

I speak so highly about junior college to everybody. Just because, like coming from Campolindo high school, which is such a academically sound school where everybody’s parents make over 150k a year, and then going to a Junior College is not an option. There are so many good junior colleges in the Bay Area, however nobody gives you those resources.  It’s all about you know like I’m going to USC or I’m going UCLA.  So for me, I felt a lot of not necessary like I was embarrassed to go there but it was just like when everyone else was talking about where they’re going for four years I was like…I’m going to DVC and I will figure it out in a year or two.  My mom actually really helped me with that she was like ‘don’t feel ashamed about where you’re going.  This is just a part of your process and a part of your journey. People go to four year colleges and hate it.  Aren’t you just happy to go somewhere that values you as a person?.’   I had never thought of that before but I loved junior college. In junior college, I was in the gym every single day.  That’s where my love for basketball really came out.  In junior college,  you have to grind for it.  I feel like in high school you have AAU so coaches are already coming to the tournaments and the gyms.  But for junior college, you already used a year of eligibility so you are pretty much in college and taking college courses, but you don’t get the recognition that you got in high school. You really have to grind for it.  I was in the gym every single day.  My junior college coach would open the gym for me even on weekends.  And for me, that just made me realize, if i want this route, I have to work my ass off. I have to work twice as hard as all the kids that are more talented, faster, and all those things. That’s when I realized that work ethic means more than anything to me at least in basketball and in life…but mostly basketball…you have to work your ass off. That year at JUCO, I had a really great year.  I was pretty fortunate.  My coach pretty much allowed me to take every shot that I wanted and I have never been in a situation like that before.  I had never been the first option before.  For me that was just incredible, having an opportunity to play and like do whatever I wanted.  I was like this is incredible…I had never shot the ball so many times before…this is what it is like for people? No wonder people like basketball so much.  It also came with a lot of tribulation you know. The thought of possibly not getting a scholarship…doing all this and then not getting one or not getting the recognition. I had a really great year and got MVP of the league and I was on the First State Team. I did really really well but at the end of the season, I didn’t have any looks or any offers. I was like what’s going on cause I am averaging 20 and 7. Luckily I had a coach in junior college that really worked for me. He called coaches.  He had coaches come to our practice. He did above and beyond. From coming from a high school coach that didn’t do anything for me, that was huge. My mom literally emailed every single coach in the WCC…every single coach in the Big West…She was the reason that I had scholarships coming out of high school. No one would have known who I was if that wasn’t the case. She worked her ass off for me.    

That really allowed me to understand that most coaches don’t do the extras.  They are so busy just coaching, that they don’t message other coaches and they don’t send film out, whatever it may be. So to have someone that advocated for me, my mom, and my junior college coach, that was huge for my career and huge for me mentally coming back from an injury.  I ended up taking my first visit to UCR. I had interest from other schools but I went and visited UCR and they told me I was going to play forty mins a game. As an athlete that’s all you need to hear. I visited UCR and I was kind of unsure about it but my mom made a good point about how this was an opportunity I had and you can never be sure if another opportunity will come my way.  My mom was really big on going somewhere where you are valued and somewhere you could play.  For me, coming from junior college and taking every shot…my mom knew I wasn’t going to be happy sitting on the bench. She knew I had the potential to get off the bench. However,  mentally she knew it would be too difficult to go into that. She was 100% right so I committed to UCR.  My first year at UCR, physically I wasn’t ready. In junior college we didn’t do a lot of weight lifting, in general, so I physically wasn’t prepared for that.  The physicality of play was definitely not something I was used to. I was used to people giving me space and allowing you to make moves.  But I wasn’t used to someone being on your hip, three inches taller than me guarding me. That was a really big shock. So my first year I was very mentally not prepared. I felt very weak physically and very weak mentally. It was a big eye opening experience.  That sophomore year we ended up only winning five games. My junior year I did a lot better.  I was a captain.  I played a lot of games.  Junior year I tore my meniscus but it was in an area with good blood flow so I didn’t have to get surgery. I rehabbed and came back.  Senior year we did incredible. We were 16-0 in conference. I was a captain. I enjoyed that year so much.  Mid conference play, I ended up spraining my ankle pretty badly against Cal.  That was the first game of a three game road trip.  We had Oregon and Oregon State right after that. I didn’t play against Oregon and then we taped my ankle up Moleskin tape because my ankle was so messed up.  I played on it and I continued to play the season.  We were half way through league play, my senior year, and when I went up for a layup I already knew what happened. Everyone else around me was telling me to stay positive but when you have already gone through this once, you already know what happened. You almost don’t even need to hit the ground before you know what happened. So, honestly after that, I didn’t think I would ever play basketball again. At that point my love for basketball was so big and my aspirations in general.  I mean I was convinced we were going to win the Big West. We were going to go to the NCAA Tournament. Then, I was going to go overseas right after I graduate. In my mind, I had it all happening a certain way.  Then when I blew my knee out again, I just couldn’t even believe it. It was another senior year where I couldn’t play.  It was just honestly, a lot. That was rough but at the time I was thankful we were still in season because I had to put a brave face on for my team and still be there for them and support them.  I was still a captain, still a part of the team. As much as I want to be playing, I had to figure out a different role to help my team be successful.  I’m so thankful they were so supportive and that I was allowed that role on my team.  

Even after this injury, I said ‘just put a brace on it and I will finish the season.’  But all my trainers told me if I wanted to go overseas and if I wanted any type of knee later on in life then I can’t go back to playing and finishing my senior year. I really wanted to take my time coming back from this one.  So I didn’t play for about two years.  I didn’t even want to touch a basketball. I was just so mad I wasn’t allowed that opportunity to compete and to play. I didn’t realize it but for a long time after that I had such anger in me.  

So the season ended and in my head I thought, I am going to play overseas eventually.  I don’t know when it is going to happen but it will happen eventually.  So, I decided I was going to take a year or two off and work. I thought it would be good for me to make some money. I will always have basketball on the back burner when my knee heals. I got to the point when I got very comfortable making money…like I kept telling myself, ya I will go overseas but I wasn’t doing anything to work towards it and I found myself getting stuff into like this ‘normal life.’ No athlete wants to go be a normal person, when they have an opportunity to play. That’s when I was like okay I need to start working out again and get back on it. At that point though I was just very scared. Very very scared to do this and to be a part of it again and the possibility of my injury happening again is just terrifying. So I started working out again with trainers, Pat and Milo.  I worked out with Pat a lot in Burlingame.  I would literally drive from Berkeley to Burlingame twice a day and stay all day and workout. During this time, my love of basketball was slowly returning.  It was something I just needed and I didn’t realize I needed it. I realized I was getting to the point of feeling comfortable playing again.  Almost to the point where my skill level was better than in college.

The only thing I wasn’t ready for was the fact that I had no value to my name anymore.  I was so removed from college basketball that no one wanted to take a chance on me, once again.  That was a really hard part. That feeling was just so defeating.  I was so ready, more so than I have ever been and no one would give me an opportunity.  2 surgeries and 2 years later.  I get it from their perspective.  So I just tried my hardest to just get one agent to take a shot on me.  I went on the FIBA agent list and I looked up all the agents that would represent a girl and I emailed every single one of them.  So I probably sent out maybe 350 emails. Two people responded. So, I ended up going to France to play with my teammate.  If you are over there already, coaches are more likely to take a chance because you are already over there. So, I paid for my flight over there and I was like, I am just going to go make something happen and just try.  I have to try, I can’t just sit here and be “normal”. I went overseas and I didn’t end up playing but I practiced with them but nothing opened up, so I ended up coming back.  

I came back and no one wanted me.  I emailed an agent in Portugal and he offered me an opportunity. Overseas was hard. Being so far from home. Family and friends were eight hours ahead.  My roommate barely spoke English. But the gratification I felt, playing in my first professional game made it all worth it.  I honestly have never fallen so in love with basketball, till I had made it overseas…till I had people who couldn’t even speak English cheering for me in the stands. Granted I was very sad and lonely, Portugal was amazing.  I thought, I am here to hoop.  I am not here for the bullshit. I am here to hoop as I was thinking I am trying to work my butt off on this division two team so I can get to the first division team next year.  I am trying to get a contract.  People passed up on me, I am trying to prove like you shouldn’t have passed up on me.  I’m the real deal. 

I had gone from not playing in 2 years, to playing 40 minutes a game, taking every single shot.  My body wasn’t really ready for that and I think the fact that I was working out so much impacted my recovery.  I didn’t recover a lot, I just thought, I am going to grind this shit out.  

Then, in a game, I went up for a layup, the exact same way, and for the third time, I blew my knee out.  The only difference is this time, after my teammates helped me to the bench, I was just smiling because I couldn’t even be mad.  Like I can’t even be upset because I did it.  Because look where I am at.  I am in Portugal playing and getting paid for it.  In that moment, I was just so immensely grateful but obviously so heart broken. But so grateful I had that opportunity you know.

So many times, I see young girls get hurt and it’s just heartbreaking cause you know at that moment it really defines you as a person. Are you going to keep going or are you going to be like okay, I get it, and be done. But this is something I love and I can’t give up on.  Knee surgeries are so hard to come back from, however you don’t have to be defined by that.  That injury doesn’t define you or shape your whole future.  There are so many different avenues you can take to be a part of basketball and this whole amazing process and so I am so incredibly grateful for all the people that told me I could still do it when I didn’t think I could even do it myself.  

After I got back home…it was probably one of the hardest times for me in my life.  I didn’t think it could get any harder after college but it did.  It was to the point that I was on this high… I made my dream happen.  It was something I wanted to do since I was thirteen years old and I was so happy and I was having so much fun and then all of a sudden it all felt like it got taken away again…so fast…I didn’t even have time to enjoy all the stuff I was doing and all the work I had put in. It just felt like it had all been taken away again. When I came back from over there, I was heartbroken.  I spent like three months in bed. Even today it still really does affect me.  It wasn’t till the last couple months that I realized the mental toll this has really taken on me.  

I really wish I would have just been kinder to myself throughout all of this.  I just kept replaying everything and wondering why me and what could I have done to prevent this.  But in reality, I was doing all my rehab. 

Sometimes shit just happens.  But, I am just so grateful for the opportunity Portugal gave me and for being so kind to me.

Part of me wanted to rehab again and go back. I had the reality set in once I got home that I have had three ACL’s and a meniscus and maybe it was time for me to figure out what’s next.  Coping with that is the hardest. Coping with being done with basketball and college at the same time, I just don’t know how athletes get through that. Two huge parts of their identities; done with being a student and being an athlete. That is why there is so much depression after college.  You can’t even put into words how much you miss going to workouts and all those things you hated like lifting weights and waking up at like 6am. You always wish you could just have one more workout or one more game.   

Advice I would give to future athletes is the unconventional route is sometimes the best route. Some people think that people who play in junior college can’t go overseas and play professionally. So it just shows you that whatever hand you’re given and whatever situation you are given…you can really make the most out of…if you work for it…if you really want it. 

You have to promote yourself. You have to be your biggest fan, because if you are not then nobody will be. You need to make sure that you believe in where you are in your journey, where you want to be, and how you want to get there. Then tell yourself ‘if my work ethic isn’t matching my goals then I have to change something.’

Also, it is important to promote yourself and put yourself into the conversation.  Pretty much at every part of my journey, whether it was my mom or my junior college coach or me, we were putting my name into the conversation. Promoting myself. We understood my worth. And obviously some college coaches and professional coaches didn’t see that yet, but we did. I think a lot of athletes don’t realize that there are different ways towards working on your goals that aren’t necessarily basketball related.  There are different ways to get scholarships besides being in a gym and shooting…so email coaches, reach out to agents, reach out to whoever.  There is so much more to basketball then many kids understand.”

-Annelise Ito

Montrael Nabors – Fisk University

“The journey was tough from the beginning, I rode the pine from middle school to freshman year of high, with all the hopes of playing. This brought a lot pain and even crying after games because I wasn’t playing AT ALL.

After playing a lot of basketball and working the summer going into my Sophomore year of high school, I finally got my chance! I started every game on JV and lead the team to a 8-1 record and was the leading scorer, so I figured after the Junior varsity season I would finally be able to dress out for the varsity squad that had only one two games the season prior and was on track to repeat the same record! I wasn’t picked to dress out for the varsity team after the season.

After being torn from not dressing out with varsity, I went back to working on my game and playing 5-6 hours everyday! I became a instant starter my Junior year, finished with multiple MaxPreps players of the game and averaged 14 ppg, lead the team to the first winning record in years and first playoff win in 8 years at the time!

Senior year, i improved tremendously averaging 21 ppg, finished as division MVP and MaxPrep player of the year! with no offers! A few junior colleges were interested, but no offers. I attended an All Star game I was picked to play in, where I finished with
18p 8r 5a! As I was headed home, I got a call from one of the BEST junior colleges in the US, East Mississippi CC, and was offered a full ride! ( This made me the first player to sign a College basketball Scholarship from my high school in over a DECADE)

I redshirted my first year of Juco. Second year I played low minutes throughout the first half of the season, but was very productive. During the Christmas break I put in major work to make a statement the second half of the season. First game back I scored 25 points. My minutes increased and I had a big game in the state tournament, so I was offered a walk on spot to The Jackson State University.

Made it to JSU, the coach that recruited me left for another job offer and that lead to me not getting any real opportunity. So I decided to transfer to Fisk University, where I had the best two years of my college career.

Advice I would give to my younger self is the road will be tough and all is earned. NEVER STOP GOING AFTER YOUR DREAMS! Do it all because you love it and the game will forever love you back!”

-Montrael Nabors

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