Early in my one year of high school varsity basketball as a senior, we had a road game at MLK High.
I was excited about the MLK game, because King was my neighborhood high school. If I hadn’t been accepted into any of the magnet high schools (schools that were supposedly higher-level academically, and thus accepted students from anywhere in the city, regardless of where you lived) which I had applied to, I would have been an MLK student. Even though I didn’t know anyone who went to King, it would still make me feel good to play well and win a game in my backyard.
The King game was early in the season, and Coach Brown was still trying to see what combinations of players worked best — which meant, I was still getting in these games in the first halves.
King’s team wasn’t spectacular, but they were better than us. The main difference was that they were tougher and played harder.
When we had the ball, King players swarmed on defense, swiping at the ball and being as physical as possible.
King’s best player was a guard named Dawan Robinson, and Coach Brown decided that we’d use the same defensive strategy that Felipe would later use on my team in Miami — a box-and-one.
And, just like Felipe, it didn’t work.
Robinson ended up with nearly thirty points as King soundly beat us. I could sense the frustration building in our best player Darien when he chastised us for not playing as hard as our opponents.
You see how physical they are?! Look how y’all are playing defense against them. You can’t just let them go where they wanna go!
There was something I had (or had not) done on defense just before halftime that Darien wasn’t too happy about. On the way to the locker room, I asked Darien what exactly he wanted me to do.
Dre — are they playing defense like that against you?
His rhetorical question was probably the most profound thing Darien said all season.
Later that season, we played in a Christmas tournament that was hosted by Germantown Academy, a school in the Philly suburbs whose huge campus made our school building look like a city prison.
Germantown Academy had everything that E&S lacked: a swimming pool. Grass. Multiple buildings. A feeling of community amongst student and parents. A place where students actually wanted to spend time when classes were over for the day.
Remember Alvin Williams? He’s GA’s all-time leading scorer.
[Annual tuition at GA is $35,000 a year per high school student. E&S and King were/are free. Go figure]
Germantown Academy’s basketball teams were damn good too, much better than us or King. Their entire starting five had D1 basketball scholarships before their season began. Their point guard was the same size as our center.
In the game, I remember GA’s power forward getting the ball near the basket against me and me deciding to foul him rather than give up an easy layup.
The power forward decided that he wanted both the foul and the easy layup.
He was 6’8”; I don’t know if he even felt my “foul”.
Darien admonished me during the subsequent free throw. If you’re gonna foul him, FOUL him!
I’ll tell you more about Mental Toughness, on and especially off the court, in my book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life coming February 22. Get the preorder bonuses by securing your copy here.