5:50 hits and I am awakened abruptly by the chirping of the birds and the brightness of the sunrise. As beautiful as the sight of the sunrise is, the dream I just woke up from was the complete opposite. Flashes of my childhood played vividly like a motion picture where I felt every emotion, every sequence of thought replayed as though I was back at that actual moment. I sit at the corner of my bed while my wife sleeps and begin to recollect this dream…

This dream was all about my life playing basketball but from the perspective of my thought process. I guess it was a way for God to give me new insight on who I’ve become. 

Basketball has played a substantial role in my life. I’ve gained most of my traits playing this sport. Being poised, disciplined, consistent, and hard working were all things that has resonated with me because of basketball. For most of my young life It was all I did. In high school, I would beat the janitors to school and sneak into the gym by 6am. Once they caught on to what I had been doing, they locked the doors of the gym. I had no choice but to “borrow” my teachers keys to get in. It was that deep for me, I was willing to get in trouble for this game. Long story short, I did whatever it took to get onto a basketball court to work on my game. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of getting better at my craft. It was an obsession. The sound of a ball bouncing, in an empty gym, at 2am was so soothing. Also, knowing that these moments would lead to growth gave me so much faith in myself. As much as I loved this game, my parents didn’t really mirror these same feelings. It wasn’t interesting to them because it wasn’t the medical field or law so it was looked at as irrelevant. I correlated their lack of enthusiasm for lack of love at that stage in my life which never sat well with me.

To be honest, the culture of basketball had a damaging effect on my mental health at this stage. I had to work harder because I was a late bloomer, so my skills lacked when I began to take it seriously. Name calling, threats, being picked on was all part of the culture of the game if you weren’t as good. Early on it really affected me, I just couldn’t understand what I did to deserve it. These were the moments I wish my family believed in this game as much as I did. Even if it wasn’t as much as I did, show a bit of interest. Specifically my father. I wanted someone to speak to, I needed someone to talk to in those moments. Anger manifested from all of this. During the middle of my freshman year in high school I had so much bottled up. All of this anger stemmed from multiple situations, one moment specifically was basketball camp. To give you a bit of context, I didn’t make my basketball team freshman year. Not seeing my name on the list of guys that made the team hurt but motivated me to be ready for the following year. That is when I truly began sneaking into the gym early in the morning. During one of my earlier morning gym escapades, my high school coached walked in and was surprised that I was working out so early. He spoke to me about why I didn’t make the team and suggested that I look into a basketball camp at Holy Cross university. He believed that it would give me a lot of leverage going into the following year. This really meant alot to me because it was one of the first times someone suggested something positive in regards to basketball. The cost was about $400 but at that age it felt like it was 2k. So I began to think of ways to make money – cleaning yards and baby sitting came to mind, I even contemplated stealing the money because I knew what response was waiting for me at home. I knew my parents would laugh at the thought of paying this camp cost but I tried anyways. I tried every way to position this camp as a great investment for me to my parents, telling them it could help me get into college. My approach failed miserably, they weren’t going to pay for it.  At this point in my life, I started to really grasp the concept of what grit meant. Every turn was met with a roadblock. As much as this new hurdle hurt, I would not take no for an answer. A few weeks before this mess of a situation, my guidance counselor spoke to us about summer jobs being available to anyone that needed it. It true Thorton fashion, I waited last minute to realize this was my way into camp. I went in to my guidance counselor office and pleaded with her for about an hour on why I needed a summer job and how it would look good on my application to college. I honestly could care less about my college application in the 9th grade, I just needed the money to pay for camp. I learned very quickly that I never lacked being resourceful when I needed to get things done. Long story short, I found a job before camp started and would make enough to pay for it.

The minute I found a job, my days consisted of work, school and training for camp. I finally found someone older than me that let me train with him, his name was Trent. He was a college basketball player, exactly what I needed at that point in my life. This was the moment where things changed dramatically for me for the better. Before the camp, I was finally given guidance on how to approach the game. Trent showed me wisdom on how to let my game speak instead of arguing, It was the best two months of my life. Trent gave me the fundamentals physically and mentality to approach basketball as a whole and it was everything I needed.

Fast forward to the week of camp. I arrive on to the campus early because I took a train. In hindsight, I learned a few lessons that first day that really shaped my life. I realized seeing other kids parents dropping them off at basketball camp while I worked to pay for camp really affected me mentally as I grew up. My parents were strict and never understood how important being there for me was. It bothered me to see parents bring their kids to camp with snacks, packs of gatorade, blankets, etc while I only had my duffle bag with all my necessities. It wasn’t those actually things that bothered me, it was the idea that their parents always made sure they were prepared. In that moment I took that frustration I felt towards those kids and promise to use it in camp. I had a chip on my shoulder. I made a vow to myself to be better than everyone else. I would not be beat in any sprints, I would not be outworked, I would workout late with the coaches and be up before every single camper. I intentionally had plans, for lack of better words, to bust their ass. In hindsight I needed this moment in my life to realize that it didn’t matter what was given to others, I could only control what I could do. I ended up winning MVP of that camp. It felt sensational but those feelings were fleeting. As amazing as that accomplishment was, my parents weren’t there to celebrate my awards like the other kids families. Future moments like tournament championships, state playoff games, first college games, all had something in common – no parents which I came to expect. I became numb to it but would always remember the feelings of camp whenever I saw parents cheering for their own. I wish my parents came to my games, to see them rejoice whenever I scored, maybe a post game speech about the game. All of those moments took a toll but I would never let it affect me. This is a struggle that many athletes and former athletes face. Maybe I wouldn’t be who I am today if they did come to my games, we’ll never know. But as I complete my recollection, if I can offer any words of advice to parents or future parents, I would suggest you try your best to make every event your child participates in. Even if you don’t love what they do, you love them. Seeing a familiar face in the crowds before any sort of performance means more to them than you know. 

T.Paul