Aug 10, 2011

The PEN American Center named Play Their Hearts Out winner of the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. The judges were Madeleine Blais, Buzz Bissinger, and Phillip Lopate, three writers I really respect. Here's the press release:

Aug 8, 2011

Summer Update
I talked to Demetrius Walker for the first time in a long time the other day. We hadn’t spoke in almost a month, and it was weird to go so long between chats. I went on vacation and then got caught up in some SI work. At the same time, he went to see his mom in Arizona and we just kept missing each other. He is in New Mexico now and fully engaged in summer workouts. His knee, which he had surgery on, is healthy and he feels good. “Everything about my health and my game is where I want it right now,” he said. “I’m just hoping nothing happens to mess it up.”

To say Demetrius has matured during this redshirt season after his transfer from Arizona State would be an understatement. He needed to be out of the limelight, and although the release of Play Their Hearts Out brought him some attention, it wasn’t anything like the pressure he faced when he was in high school or during his freshman season at ASU. That has allowed him to work on his game, get healthy and gain a little perspective. We joked about LeBron and his failings in the NBA Finals, and we discussed how some of the kids he played with and against were now entering the NBA. Mostly, we talked about the coming season and his teammates and how he sees himself fitting in with the Lobos next season. It was nice to see his focus on the here and now.

As for next season, he thinks he will be one of the team’s top three guards (along with Kendall Williams, another PTHO kid, who had a great freshman season), which means if Demetrius doesn’t start he would be one of the first players off the bench. Personally, I’d like to see him come off the bench early in the season, just to ease him back into it. I know D wants to start, but I also don’t think that if he doesn’t start it will bother him like it would have in the past.  He’s grown up a ton.

Here are updates on a few other kids and parents from the book:

Roberto Nelson is still at Oregon State, where he should be a starter and key player next season. He recently went on a cool trip to Macedonia as part of Beaver Without Borders, along with another PTHO kid, Joe Burton. Here is a video of them talking about why they decided to do it: Here is another that covers their visit to Stobi, Macedonia: (You can also see the video of Roberto breaking a backboard that made the YouTube rounds a few weeks back. It is in an earlier post.)
I recently talked with Bruce Nelson, Roberto’s dad. He is in prison still (at Chino) but could get out as soon as December. He seems to have settled in at Chino, where he transferred last year. He has been asked by prison officials to organize a 3on3 basketball tournament for the inmates.

Justin Hawkins is adjusting to Dave Rice, his new coach at UNLV. Rice was an assistant at BYU, and Justin says he likes him and is especially excited to be working with former UNLV star Stacey Augmon, who was known as a stellar defensive player (like Justin). Augmon is one of Rice’s new assistant coaches. Justin is also doing a summer internship at the MGM Hotel in the corporate offices. Marcus Hawkins is doing an internship at Morgan Stanley in New York. Empty-nester Carmen Hawkins sold her house in Baldwin Hills and moved into an apartment in downtown Los Angeles.

Darius Morris and I have played phone tag the last few weeks. The Los Angeles Lakers, his hometown team, took him in the second round of June’s NBA Draft. Here is an interview Darius did with the Lakers website: Some people will say that Darius made a mistake leaving Michigan after his sophomore season since he didn’t land in the first round. I disagree. Next year’s draft is loaded, and Darius would have had to make a significant jump in production to have been drafted any higher in 2012. He already made a big leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons and it is unreasonable to think that would have happened again. He is what he is: a big, smart, yet not overly athletic guard. Another year in college wasn’t going to change the scouts’ projections, and so he was smart to strike now. He also landed on a team that needs guards, in his hometown. Tough to beat that.

Darius wasn’t the only PTHO alumnus selected in the draft. Texas’ Jordan Hamilton was picked late in the first round and eventually traded to the Denver Nuggets. He went later than expected and some reports suggested it was because of questions about his shot selection and attitude, which I find interesting since those were also the knocks on him when he was a kid.When I ask Demetrius, Roberto, Justin and others what is like to see their peers enter the NBA, the response I get is almost always something like what Justin said about seeing Hamilton, his old nemesis, get drafted: “It’s just weird. Really weird. I mean, because you knew what they were like before and what they couldn’t do and all that. They are different now and it shows how hard works pays off, but it is still weird.”

I have some good news to report on Rome Draper. He enrolled at Pierce College and will play there next season along with Terran Carter, another PTHO kid. Rome didn’t play basketball last season and I’m not sure he was even taking classes. Those close to him wondered if he would ever play again or, more importantly, continue his education. It looks like both are happening, and that is huge news. “He’s working out and he looks good,” said Terran, who said Rome is living with some teammates near the school, which is in the San Fernando Valley, a good distance from Inland Empire (and the bad influences there). If Rome were to dedicate himself 100% to school and hoops (and that is a big “if”) I don’t have any doubt that he’d get a Division I scholarship. Keep your fingers crossed.

I wish I had more to report on Aaron Moore. He de-friended me on Facebook and has ignored my messages. He played at Valley College in San Bernardino, Calif. last season and had a good year and was named first-team all-Conference. He averaged 12 points and six rebounds in 19 games. I heard from someone that he wasn’t enrolled there in the spring, which is a concern, but I can’t verify that. Hopefully, he will play another year at Valley and attend classes and then find his way to a four-year school in 2012.

Andrew Bock (at Pacific) and Jordan Finn (at Nevada) are doing fine. Andrew had to sit out last season after transferring and used that time to get stronger. Pacific is in my hometown of Stockton and I’ve coaxed my brother into getting season tickets so that I can have good seats for Andrew’s games. It is big year for both Andrew and Jordan. Andrew should start for Pacific and it is time for Jordan to make a leap and be a big contributor for Nevada.

One boy who had a small part in PTHO was Vondrae Tostenson. Joe Keller recruited him to Team Cal from Nebraska and he spent a few months on the team before returning to the Midwest. Vondrae was a big-time football prospect and was recruited by several major programs before ending up a community college. I reached out to him on Facebook and this is what he wrote in response to my question about what he was up to: "Just landscaping and marketing for Visalus. l am also doing a little bit of coaching for some little ones. Three major knee surgeries kinda put me out, but I’m living well and enjoying life."

Gary Franklin Jr. was recently in the Virgin Islands working out with that country’s national team. He intended to play for the V.I. in some international competitions, but then there was some difficulty proving that his mother hailed from there. So, he ended up returning to Waco, Texas and workouts with his Baylor teammates. He will be eligible to play for Baylor midway through next season after transferring from Cal.