Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dart Adams presents The Basketball Diaries

Back in January 1996, after saving up money from working several jobs, hustling at playing basketball over the summer and getting additional funding from my father and grandmother I was finally able to raise enough to go away to Morgan State University. Due to the fact that I spent my senior year at English High School trying to raise my GPA from being negative (I had 7 F’s, a D and a C. I failed Gym!) after being expelled from Boston Latin School  just three years prior (Ben Franklin went there).

I was a state certified student mediator and I also worked for the state doing mediations all over Massachusetts and helped teach conflict resolution classes at various colleges and universities. I was a key member of English High’s State Champion Mock Trial Debate Team (we came in 28th in the entire country at the National Championships). I worked with a cable television station called MCET in Cambridge, MA acting in live educational programs and helping to produce them. I wrote and directed my first student film with my brother and friends, a Kung Fu movie called “The Briefcase”.

I served as news editor of my high school newspaper as well as a contributing editor of the yearbook. I was a member of the Student Council and Peer Leadership. I was on TV and in the paper so much I stopped caring. I was the only person in my entire senior class at English High that scored more than 1000 on my SAT’s (back then the highest you could get was 1600). I had recommendation letters from distinguished Harvard alums, well respected lawyers, Mayor Tom Menino, several local television personalities and even the Boston Teacher Of The Year himself.

In the end, all that mattered was the fact that I failed miserably back in 9th grade and I was a disciplinary problem that was kicked out of one of the most prestigious schools in the country. Who I was now didn’t mean shit. The bottom line was that my overall GPA was 2.3, not that is was negative before I started getting damn near all A’s for three straight years.

No one in Massachusetts was gonna give me any significant scholarship offers and I was not going to get a good financial aid package from any of the schools that were originally courting me. I ended up applying to much cheaper HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

I applied to and was accepted by Shaw University (who wanted me to enter under Academic Probation...fuck ‘em), Clark Atlanta University (who sent my acceptance package to me on the very day I left for Morgan State. No shit!), Morris Brown College (nah) and Morgan State University. I was rejected by Morehouse College (Thank God!) so I had to make a decision.

In one week I saw Bill Cosby wearing a Morgan State sweater on a repeat of The Cosby Show. Tisha Campbell was rocking a Morgan State shirt on an episode of Martin. Joe Clair kept shouting out Morgan State on Rap City. The final straw was when I was playing Live 96 with my friends while Wu Tang Clan’s “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit” was playing and at the end RZA shouted out Morgan State. I said “Fuck it, I’m going to Morgan State University!”.

When I arrived in Baltimore, there was a damn blizzard. No cabs would show up at the Amtrak terminal so I had to call Morgan State up and some Morgan State University police came to pick me up and drive me to my new home at O’ Connell Hall. O’ Connell (or O.C. for short) was notorious for being the roughest dorm on campus. It was located at the edge of the campus and it was next to a cold spring. Every night you’d fall asleep to the soothing sound of water rushing through a spring just to be awoken by the loud ass caws of some huge ass mutant ravens that weren’t the least bit afraid of humans.

I decided that I was going to try to see if I could set it up to be a walk on for the Morgan State University Golden Bears the next season. At the time I arrived on campus, Morgan State was ranked 305th out of 323 Division 1 basketball programs (there are 361 now). They hadn’t played in the postseason since the school won the Division 2 National Championship back in 1974 so they’d never once appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Little did I realize that half my dorm was thinking exactly what I was thinking already.

The Morgan State basketball team was so bad that they set a record that stands to this very day: They got hit with 3 technicals for having too many players on the court (Twice it was 6 players, once it was 7). Earlier that season, Morgan played a game versus Georgetown (Coach John Thompson was the man for that) when they had Victor "Sky" Page and Allen Iverson as their guards.

Page was killing them by himself but then Iverson ran off I think 18 straight points and pushed the Hoya lead to over 30 before Coach Thompson sat him for the rest of the game. The Morgan players got their ass busted but it was the first time they were on local TV all year. They wore Converse for God's sake!

The coach was stuck with a terrible program because the three top scorers from the previous season all left the program and the old coach was let go. It was bedlam out there on the court, the lone bright spot being a kid from New York named Rasheed Sparks, a 6’3 kid that could handle the rock, shoot and jump out the gym. He lived in O.C., too. The last time I saw him was in a K1X sneaker ad in a Slam Magazine back in 2003. He was a star over in Central America.

O.C. was a freshman/athlete dorm and it was a damn zoo. The delivery people routinely got robbed when they delivered food. It got so bad that we had to go to other dorm to order food after a while before we got them to come back and promised them all safe passage from then on. Campus police did not want to come there. Rooms got robbed routinely and speculation was that one if not more of the R.A.’s were in on it.

Drugs and weapons were sold routinely and even though the visitation rules were incredibly strict, dudes always had girls over and they would regularly go from floor to floor knocking on doors asking if anyone wanted to get down with pulling a train (I’m not making this shit up). I moved in with another kid from D.C. named Brian that was a basketball head like me. I tolerated him playing Junkyard Band tapes while we played Live 96 and he tolerated me trying to convince him that the Boston Celtics would turn it around one day soon (they didn't).

He and his cousin Steve wanted to get on the school basketball team and if they couldn’t they’d either just play streetball or transfer to another school like UMES, UMBC (University Of Maryland-Baltimore County) or wherever they could start immediately (this excluded Towson State). 

Since you could only play basketball on campus in these shitty timed games after dinner in the Rectory in this old bullshit ass gym we decided it was time to take the law into our own hands. We were gonna break into the arena where they played the games we saw the Bears get their sorry asses kicked weekly on. The one I swas gonna play on next year if things went well.

We saw Morgan State lose to UMES (University Of Maryland Eastern Shore), Delaware State, South Carolina State,  Howard University and they got killed by Coppin State. Coppin State had this huge ass dude named Terquin Mott who played for ‘em. He shot 70% from the floor because they were all layups or dunks. He was about 6’9 250 but he was cut and no one in the MEAC could guard him. Little did I know that I’d be seeing him for years playing on the Celtics Summer League team for three straight years in Boston. He didn’t look anywhere near as big then and he was pretty much the same size as he was back at Coppin State.

We planned it for about three days and when it turned midnight and the basketball team was at an away game we took our twenty guys, went out to the gym and broke in. We had some heads from New Jersey pick the lock and get the door open. It took a while to find the lights but when we did, it was time to run ball. After playing a couple fulls we were mad tired, then my roommate pointed to the rafters at the lone championship banner from 1974. He asked us all “How come Black college basketball sucks?” “Was it ever good?”.

I then ran down the whole history of Black college basketball back in the glory days before predominantly White schools actively recruited Black players (pretty much all of the Black magic shit with a bit of Boston basketball history tossed in for good measure. I even told them the story of #43, Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster, the 7’0 240 pound center that singlehandedly brought Morgan State to prominence. I remembered my cousins telling me about him back when he was in the NBA and he almost died of Hepatitis while playing with the Sonics and the Knicks.

We were halfway through another game when we heard a car pull up outside and one of our boys screamed “Five Oh!”. They saw the lights, realized that the team wasn’t in town and came down to check it out. We ran and snatched up all of our shit, cut the lights and ran our asses off. We were all tired from running all night but none of us were trying to get arrested.

While we were running out one of us got caught from behind by a Morgan State cop and he was going for his gun. That didn’t sit well with one of my boys who turned around and yelled at him. Then the cop's partner got out of the car and yelled at him for yelling at the cop for going for his piece. Those of us in earshot came back while a good six or seven of us kept running back to O.C.

I went back and it was getting pretty heated. There were 12 sweaty dudes rocking jerseys and shorts out in the cold at 1 AM having a shouting match with two armed cops. We were unarmed and we locked up the gym when we left (ran out). The cops let us go but told us that if we ever broke into school property again, we’d all get charged. On the walk home I’d realized that was a pretty dumbass thing to do just to play basketball on the same court that the team does. I stuck to going on rides with my boys to play on some local courts in Baltimore.

Baltimore was like another planet to me. I’d seen that TV show “Homicide” but Baltimore was so much iller than I would’ve expected even in my wildest dreams. When I entered student orientation they asked the question “How many of you are from out of state and new to Baltimore?”, a bunch of us raised our hands and they asked us all of the males who raised their hands to get up and follow some dude into another room.

There were about 100 of us in there wondering what the fuck was going on. Then this dude goes off on a sermon/tirade telling us that Baltimore has the highest AIDS rate in the nation so don’t trust any girl or woman between the ages of 15-34. They also told us to avoid going too far off campus because we could get robbed by baseheads or heroin fiends or killed by dopeboys just because they felt like it. Dudes would get jumped regularly just off campus and a couple dudes were killed that year for whatever reason. I didn’t even know what classes I was gonna take yet and I got hit with that information off top!

Our excursions into B’More to play ball were dangerous, I got my ass handed to me weekly because there were so many good players in Baltimore once we got past Lock Raven. I learned all about the local legends while I was there and I learned that when I saw a bunch of dudes on the block in New Balances just hanging out...get the fuck outta there as soon as possible. Y’all watch “The Wire” on TV..I saw that shit up close daily. It wasn’t very entertaining to me.

I was going to play in the biggest basketball tournament of the year, the Intramurals. Since there were so many ballers at Morgan that didn’t have a chance to play, this was your time to shine. I was picked to be captain of a team made up of some of my boys from O.C., we had a 6’6 kid from Guyana would could board like crazy and dunk on anybody.

We had one of the best point guards on campus that was cut from the Morgan State team right before the season started. We also had one of my boys from the second floor who was always smoked out but he had an ill jumper (we called him Smokey). He wanted to name the team Buddah Lovers after a Bone Thugs song (We thought it sounded gay...then we saw another team in the tournament with that exact same name when we got there).

We named ourselves the Gramercy Riffs (after the gang from “The Warriors”) and our team chant was the same one that we used back at the dorm. We’d adopted the Onyx song “Evil Streetz” off of the “All We Got Iz Us” album and changed the lyrics to this chant:

They say O.C. is rough/
Ain’t no one we can trust/
Either roll with us or get rushed/
Cuz all we got is us!/
They say O.C. Is rough/
Ain’t no one we can trust/
Either roll with us or get rushed/
Cuz all we got is us!/

We be O.C.!

Since we were seen as a dorm full of thugs it was kind of intimidating. The big problem happened during one of our practices right before the Intramural tournament started as I was cutting to the hoop and rolled my ankle really bad. I couldn’t play starting power forward so I got another dude to replace me in the starting lineup and I scratched myself to insert myself as the coach and not the player coach of the Gramercy Riffs.

The day of the tournament we get our draw, it turns out to be a team of dudes that left the team or played streetball in squads all around B’more. The crowd was making mad noise. Heads were screaming from the stands “Slaughter!” “Slaughter!”. 

My team was comprised of mostly freshmen and some of the cats on the other team were gonna play ball overseas somewhere next year. I called everyone in and said “It doesn’t matter who they are. If we play fast, together and move the ball then we can hang with ‘em. Hands in!  On three. One, two, three..Riffs!”.

We went straight to the jump ball, I had my 6’6 Guyanese center standing next to some 6’7 or 6’8 dude with cornrows and high socks. The jump ball looked like some shit out of Space Jam because their center tipped that shit right to their point guard who dribbled right through everybody and dropped that shit in about three seconds. The crowd went “Ooooh!”. We were in for it.

I had installed some plays so that we would run on made baskets. Problem was that these motherfuckers played like it was Double Dribble out there. I called a timeout after just two minutes of play. I was already hoarse from screaming “Get back on D!”, “Put your hands up!”, “You gotta take that charge!”, “Don’t leave your feet if the ball doesn’t leave his hands!” and “Talk out there!” after our point guard ran into yet another pick. The score? Call O’ Da Wild 14 Gramercy Riffs 0. They didn’t attempt one three, they thought it would be unfair to us.

I called them in and said “ Look, they have the crowd but we don’t need the crowd. All you need are the five of you in this huddle. They don’t respect y’all right now. We’re from O.C.! We ball goddamn it! Y’all wanna play some ball! Let’s get out there and execute! Riffs!” They went back on the court and started running the offense.

My point guard penetrated and my center got the dish and dunked it. 14-2. Then they came down and my team trapped them in the corner and forced a turnover. One inbound pass lead to a crosscourt bounce pass to my shooter Smokey for an open three. Bottom. 14-5. Call O’ Da Wild’s PF decided to go hard to the hole. My replacement took the charge. We got the ball back I told my point guard to walk it up and if they give him space to let it fly. They did and he did. Swish! 14-8. Time Out, Call O’ Da Wild.

My team got back to the huddle hyped up. I told them to keep it up and communicate on defense. If they didn’t step up then shoot it but look for cutters. If you get beat all you gotta say is “Help!”. The crowd was back into the game I felt like we might have a chance against these cats after all.

Then they inbounded the ball, broke the press and threw a 30 foot alley oop that their center caught lefty and threw it down all in one motion. All of the air was sucked out of the gym at that exact moment in time. The crowd went bananas like it was an And 1 game. That’s your ass, Mr. Postman.

Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now © Caron Wheeler

They went on a 24-0 run. We were down by 40 at the half (and they weren't even half playing). My roomate Brian was playing with another team later that day and he was like “Just call the game, now!”. One of the dudes from O.C. named Yaniz was telling me “You’re telling them all the right shit to do but they ain’t listening. They’re like the Bad News Bears!”. Call O’ Da Wild’s captain came up to me at halftime and asked me if I wanted to call it. I looked at my team and said “It’s up to y’all”. It was unanimous, they all said yes. I was in shock.

I’d just coached my first game ever and everyone told me I was a good coach but my team still lost 68-28. I didn’t want to stick around for the next game. I just wanted to go back to my room and change since I sweat out my collar. My throat hurt and I could feel eyes on me from all over the gym. I left and went back to O.C. 

As soon as I get in the door one of the R.A.’s says “Celtic! Your game can’t be over yet!” I said “My team quit at halftime.” He said “Damn. Who’d you play?”. I took a breath and said “Call O’ Da Wild”. He broke out laughing. I went upstairs and went to sleep.

Later that night, my team members quit one by one to join other teams playing the next day. “Damn, Celtic. Your whole team just quit on you, Joe?”. I told him “Nobody wants to get laughed at in the rectory”. Brian asked me “If you played, you think y’all would’ve been any better?”. I responded with “I would’ve done all of the shit I was screaming for them to do but we still would’ve lost. Them niggas was aliens!”

Brian’s team won and I told the organizers that my team withdrew and that they should take our name of the list. Then one dude hanging around asked if his newly formed team could use the Gramercy Riffs as a team name. I sold to him for $25 dollars (that meant I’d eat that week!). The Riffs ended up losing their next game to Buddah Lovers by 12 points.

Once my ankle got better, I got up at 6:00 AM and took a trek up that famous hill to the lone outdoor hoop around campus to shoot around by myself. After about 30 minutes, I started getting a rhythm and I was hitting three after three until a car rolls up and a dude gets out telling me that I’m causing too much noise and people are trying to sleep. Mind you, between the noise from those goddamn ravens and the cold spring it’s a basketball bouncing that wakes people up? I walked my black ass back to my dorm, gave that basketball back to Brian and I didn’t touch, dribble or shoot another basketball while I was in Baltimore.

I packed all my shit with just my Chemistry final left to go about a week later (The credits wouldn't transfer because I was leaving the Earl Graves School Of Business anyways so I said "Fuck it"). I cashed in my old ticket for an earlier one, pocketed the extra money and I took the ol’ Amtrak Northeast Direct back to Boston never to return.

It’s been almost 12 years since all of this shit happened and it all came back to me because this past week Morgan State University had it’s first ever opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament. They got to the MEAC Championship game versus a 15-20 Coppin State team and they lost a close one so Coppin became the first 20 loss team in history to make the NCAA Tournament instead.

Coppin State lost in the Opening Round Game versus Mt. Saint Mary’s and Morgan State was invited to the NIT. They played versus Virgina Tech on national television for the first time in years. They lost 94-62 on Virginia Tech’s home floor. It’s like some things never change.

At 6:00 AM, I’m gonna grab my basketball, go out to the court less than five minutes from my apartment and shoot for a while. No one will come out of their apartments and tell me that I’m making too much noise. More than likely they’ll ask me if I wanna run one real quick.

This is dedicated to all of the residents of O’Connell Hall @ Morgan State University during Spring semester 1996. I still don’t believe half of the shit that happened there and I saw it all firsthand.



Anonymous said...

Good story. I like how you guys snuck in the gym like that.

Aaron said...

Nice story. Helped pass some time at the gig.

Anonymous said...

LMAO @ the name "Call O’ Da Wild".

Djlethal01 said...

You should be coaching in the league now!