My first-born son’s High School Basketball career was drawing near to the end, and we had just been given the news. During his senior year of High School basketball, Jadon had just won the Yadkin Valley Conference Player of the Year Award. We were ecstatic! Though we had never told anyone, at the end of his freshman year of High School Basketball, Jadon and I had a discussion. He made it one of his goals and dreams to win this award before he graduated. It seemed far-fetched and unrealistic at the time, but that’s the point of a dream and a goal, to go do something no one else thinks you’ll ever be able to do or accomplish.
That night, after all the hugs and high fives, when the high school parking lot had emptied after the game, Jadon, myself, and my youngest son Baylon were the only ones left on campus. I offered to give Jadon a ride across the campus lot to his car, but he stated that he needed to walk alone. I watched him walk off alone across the lot into the dark. On my way out, I drove up beside him only to find him crying and wiping tears from his eyes as he walked.
I rolled the window down. He stopped, looked at me, and these words came out of his tear-drenched mouth, “I did it Dad! We did it! I worked so hard for this. We worked so hard for this. All those times when nobody believed in me, all those workouts…we did it.” I immediately got out of the car, embraced him, and we cried together. Thankfully, my youngest son Baylon had the awareness to capture the moment on film. It lasted only five minutes, but it could have lasted 60 minutes as far as we were concerned. It was the end of one exhausting, joy-filled journey, and it marked the beginning of another one. His goals were not finished.
Let’s rewind for a moment. When Jadon was three years old, we built and moved into the house where we are currently still living. One of the first things I did during construction was to make sure to widen our concrete driveway for basketball games, and to put up a nice basketball goal. At three years old, I first put a basketball in Jadon’s hands. This is a picture of that moment.
Jadon was left-handed. At age six, we began playing one on one in the driveway. If he dribbled and shot with his offhand (the right hand), or drove right, he would get a free lane to the basket and a free shot. If he went left to his strong side, I would block every single shot, and I did. No mercy. I was always amused when other coaches and players would say about him, “He can’t go right, make him go right!” He learned to go right long before he could ever go left, but no one ever learned how to stop him when he was going left, so he kept going left. I assure you, when pressed, he can go right.
The journey was an up and down journey of always coaching him up and trying to make him believe he was good enough to belong. He was always “too skinny, too small, and too timid.” Even though I believed in him, for the longest time, he never believed in himself, nor did he think anyone else did.
The summer of his freshman year of high school basketball, while playing in a tournament, he found himself sitting at the end of the bench, feeling dejected and isolated. I knew that for him, it was one of his lowest moments. I took a picture of him sitting there on the bench that day. When he came off the court and we got to the car, I showed him the picture. I told him, “Jadon, remember today and the way you felt today for as long as you live. From this point forward, you control your destiny. If you’re willing to put in the work, we will make it happen. You will play at the next level.” There was no one to blame, no one to hold responsible but ourselves. We owned it together. He believed me that day, but I’m still not sure he believed it himself yet. We used that picture as billboard motivational material many times over the years.
Slowly, over time, things began to change. He also began to grow. I always trained him to be able to dribble and shoot. I said, “You’ll never be over 6’-0 tall. No one in our family is over ‘6-0. You better be able to dribble and shoot!” He grew to be 6’-5. I still have no idea how that happened.
Garage touches where he had to jump up and touch the garage 50 times in a minute were his least favorite. We rode up the hill we called “Walkers Hell” in the summer heat multiple times on our bicycles. It was the steep hill on Walker Road that led up to Hwy 49. We made his middle brother Ryder almost pass out while running the bleachers with us at the football stadium. Planks and ball drills were done under the first maple tree I planted in our backyard because that was the only place where we could find shade during the hot days of summer. Jadon never stopped working. He never complained about or ducked a workout.
I could see him starting to believe, but I knew we were running out of time. Due to his unbelief in himself early on, I knew we were late arriving to the party. I wasn’t sure I was ever getting through to him or that he was listening, but then I would make a shocking discovery. The things I had said to him to encourage him, he had written on post-it notes and stuck to the walls of his bedroom and even on the walls of his shower stall. They were everywhere. Many of them still hang on the walls of our home today. We never took them down. They are still reminders to us that hard work pays off and that anything is possible.
Time was running out on us. It was the summer before his senior season and Jadon was playing with the Charlotte Royals AAU Team. We had traveled everywhere from North Carolina to Florida with that team. There were only roughly 3,240 spots available for NCAA college basketball rosters. The new transfer portal and the extra year of eligibility for upperclassmen due to Covid, made those slots even harder to get for high school players. Hundreds of thousands of high school players from all over the world are vying for just one of these 3,240 spots. Jadon didn’t even have a sniff or a look yet.
Then there was the moment that summer in Rock Hill, SC. A fast break at a Phenom Event Tournament. Jadon went up, dunked on another kid, and got fouled while doing it. The entire gym went nuts. Virtually every big-time coach in the arena that day saw the play. Hall of famer Tubby Smith saw it. UNC Coach Hubert Davis saw it. They brushed aside the skinny kid from the nowhere, small high school. But that got him on the map, and there were other coaches who began to come calling. The next several months were filled with recruiting trips. What a process. These teams wanted Jadon to play for them at the next level. The fruit of our labor was beginning to sprout.
That brings us all the way back to this moment. The little kid who was always “too small, too skinny, too timid,” and who didn’t believe in himself at first, just committed to play college basketball this week. He is one of the less than 3% who will play basketball at the next level. I think about every conversation we had on the way home after a game, that ended with him in disbelieving tears in the passenger seat of the car. But all that led to a tearful embrace in the parking lot, after he had just been named Conference Player of the Year. Jadon said, “We did it!” Nothing is impossible. Never, ever give up or stop believing.
This is the final thing I want to say about Jadon. Honestly, there were times when I thought it might be best to pull Jadon from Mt. Pleasant in order to get more exposure, particularly if he was going to chase his dream of playing basketball at the next level. It seemed to be the thing that other kids and families always did. But it was not the way we were going to do it. Jadon always said, “Dad, I started with these guys, and I want to finish with them. They are my teammates and my friends.” He was right. The banners in Mt. Pleasant say, “Our Town, Our Team.” To the end, finish the job, and no one understood that better than Jadon. In his mind, he was never bigger than the culture, the families, his friends, or his teammates. At #1 of a list of things he wrote out that I found in his room was “Be a leader.” There were times when he was the one leading even me.
There were times when I told him that he needed to do this thing or that thing after a game, particularly when I felt he didn’t do enough. He always responded by saying, “Dad, I did what I needed to do to help our team win the game. It doesn’t matter who has the biggest stat line, as long as we win as a team.” The day he committed to play basketball at Brevard College, he wanted to make sure we had the right list of all the people we needed to thank. We’re still not done thanking them.
That leads me to the best part about chasing dreams and working hard for those dreams. Jadon was fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity. But whether he made it or not, we would have learned the same thing, which is that succeed or fail, we are not alone. His mother helped drive him thousands of miles back and forth to games and practices. His brothers and I fed him thousands of balls when he was getting up shots. His brothers and I ran with him and pushed him as well. His coaches believed in him, poured into him, and supported him. Jadon never played one on five. Every single teammate mattered to him. A community cheered him on. A church family and other friends prayed for him, supported him, and showed up to watch him play. Grandparents financed things for him long after his parents’ money ran out. Most of all, as Jadon would say, "Without God and my faith, none of this would be possible."
Jadon’s name may be on the plaque or the college jersey. His picture may be out front. But no one understands better than him that behind all of that is the God who gifted Him with his talents, and the hundreds of names of those who helped make it all possible. But those names reserve a more sacred spot, for they are inscribed in and on his heart and soul. In the perfect place, where the dust never gathers, and they are never forgotten. Perhaps dreams begin with the individual, but they are always achieved with the collective. Thank you to every single person who has been part of this journey and will continue to be part of this journey. Big or small, it all mattered, and it still matters. Life is meant to be shared, and so are dreams and goals. Jadon was right that night in the parking lot…WE did it. Together.