I was counted out my whole life, an underdog from the time I came out of the womb.
I moved my eighth grade year from the Black Hills neighborhood in Grand Rapids to the Twin Lake area of North Muskegon. City life to small town country life just like that. I grew up going to The Potter’s House Christian school until high school and then made a sudden switch to public school at Reeths Puffer High School in Muskegon. I was a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect as a new kid from a different city. Right away, I felt like the outsider.
Thank God basketball was my outlet. I heard that it would be tough to make the team at Reeths Puffer High, so I trained for hours every day outside on my driveway. When it was raining or snowing and I had no gym available to me, I would dribble in my basement until my mom would yell, “Nathan, you’re making too much noise, I’m trying to watch ‘The Bachelor.’” I would always say, “Mom, I have to get my handles right.”
After that was done, I would run a mile and half to keep my stamina up.
Any of my childhood friends will tell you that I was never really gifted in basketball. Football was my first love. I grew up playing street ball, from shooting over the backboard, to getting ripped left and right in five on five. I was the kid who got picked last. And I took offense to that. People have always told me I’m too short, I’m not strong enough, I’m too slow.
I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, my mom was 4-foot-6, legally a dwarf. My dad was six-foot-two. I ended up five-foot-seven. I played every game, every practice, every possession as it was my last. I was taught that by the legend Jim Goorman a Hall of Fame Coach to play every game like it is your last because you will never know when you have to hang the shoes up.
I didn’t start playing organized basketball until the seventh grade. I was always a little bit heavy. In football I played fullback and middle linebacker. So my skillset on the court wasn’t the best. I tore my ACL in the eighth grade in the first game of the season, and that ended my football career.
Freshman year of high school, I struggled with classes and was ineligible halfway through the season. I then saw Western Michigan Christian (WMC) High School in Norton Shores win its third state basketball championship in a row. I told my mom we needed to check this school out, and she agreed. I went on a shadow visit and met a man that would change my life entirely. Jim Goorman, aka “Gip,” was the varsity basketball coach at the time, and a well known coach in Muskegon. I talked to him about playing varsity.
“I’ll have to see you play,” he said. “We have a lot of talent on this team right now. We’ll see if you can make it.”
After, that summer of training, and playing on the American Youth Basketball Tour team (AYBT) at WMC, I ended up transferring to WMC. It is one of the best choices I ever made in my life.
Sure enough, I wasn’t good enough and did not make the varsity team.Three Division I players were on the varsity team. I didn’t play much when I was on the JV team because of grades. I also had attitude problems at home and at school. Life was tough. My dad wasn’t in my life at the time and really never played a major role. He was there as much as he could be when I was younger. I remember the times when we would grill out and always push the patties into the grill to hear the sizzle. My dad always loved to cook and I would look forward to coming over in the summer on my weekend visits. But, one thing that has always stuck with me, was what he said to me when I started to tell him what I wanted to be when I got older.
I remember him telling me when I was 13 years old that I would never make it to the pros.
“You’re not good enough,” he said.” You never will be.”
That stung. It made me feel worthless. It put a burning desire in me to prove him wrong.
After my sophomore season I was fed up with not playing a lot. I played on an AAU team that spring and worked my butt off that summer to make the varsity team. I made the team, but other assistant coaches didn’t want me on the team. Only Gip, the head coach, believed I deserved a spot. We struggled that season with a 5-16 record, Gip’s last year coaching. He had become a strong father figure to me by that time.
I had another summer to improve, where I worked twice as hard, four hours a day in the gym. Ball handling with a WMC legend London Burris, shooting drills with Evan Bruinsma, arguably the best player to come out of WMC. I had a decent senior year of high school. I made the front cover of the Grand Rapids Press newspaper sports section and the Grand Haven Tribune front cover for my hard work on the court. I’ll be honest I did not know about it until a few friends showed me. I hit a few buzzer beaters, one for the win and one for a tie. But, I was inconsistent. My mom watched my best game I ever played all around. It was at our crosstown rival Muskegon Catholic Central. It was the Catholics against the Christians. My first shot was in and out. The next one, came off a screen and I let it fly from deep and let’s just say the bank was open at 8pm. It continued throughout the night. I hit another 3-pointer and it hit the front of the rim and bounced in. At that point, anything I shot was going in, at least I thought. My next shot was a 75 footer for the tie at the end of the third quarter. Our student section went nuts. I was smiling, but I knew we had another quarter to play. We would go on to win by a final score of 55-48. All I remember is looking at my mom tearing up telling everyone, “that’s my son.”
That night, I walked outside to the car with my mom, carrying her oxygen tanks. My mom went through a lot. She had asthma and suffered from heart failure when she had my twin brothers. She started crying in the car and told me that that was the best game she ever saw me play. I thanked her and told her it was for her.
Receiving my diploma was the biggest accomplishment for me at the time. I didn’t know that my high school graduation would be the last time I would ever take a picture with my mom.
I was in Florida when my mother had passed away in July 2013. It was a surreal feeling. It tore me into pieces. She was my everything. We would always go to church together. I would even sleep with her on the cold, hardwood floor at night, keeping an eye on her and making sure she was okay. She had many health problems. She would get out of breath walking up three stairs. She was very ill at the time but, not to the point where we thought she would die. She was only 55 years old. It tears me up just writing this. My hero taken away from me when I was only 18 years old. A mother of eight kids.. She always told me if anything ever happened to take care of the family and stay together. I always told her I would play college basketball. I was told by college coaches in high school I wouldn’t be able to get my shot off. “You’re too short, you’re too slow.” I used that as motivation.
Going into my freshman year I had no offers, Just prior to that an all-star game substitute. I went to Muskegon Community College where I prepared to walk on the team, but God had other plans. I injured my knee.
When I came back to my high school an alumni game, I tried pinning one of the kids shot off the backboard. I came down awkwardly on my left knee. This wasn’t the first time. This time I tore cartilage and needed physical therapy. My dreams felt as if they were washed down the drain. I would not give up, though. I worked as a student assistant coach on the team. I took care of the filming, laundry, and was the best water boy a player could ask for. I showed up to just about every practice.
I found out my Dad passed away in October of 2013. I was at home doing some math homework when I received the call from my older brother. I was shocked. One parent wasn’t enough. It didn’t hit me right away because I was still trying to cope with my mom being gone. Basketball was the only thing that could keep my mind off of things. My Chicago teammates Tyiwan Jones, Turean Conner, Nick Norals, and Reginald Washington really reached out to me. They stuck by my side.
During that time, I bounced around from house to house. That November, after four months of moving around to four different houses, my friend Eric Chilcote – who I met only a handful of times before this – reached out to me and said I could stay with his family. I’m grateful for the families that took me in before this, because they really did a lot for me, but now I finally had a stable home. The Chilcotes have stuck by me ever since then. They could tell I had been through a lot. They gave me the courage and the support to bounce back on my feet.
I would travel from Grand Rapids – where they lived – to Muskegon every other day, an hour drive there and back. Sometimes I stayed in the house where my mom and I lived, which was unsettling. After the winter semester was over I transferred to Grand Rapids Community College, still holding on to my dreams of playing college ball.
I was depressed that summer just working at Jimmy Johns and relaxing at home. I had no motivation to do anything. My host parents Mr. and Mrs. Chilcote let me know it was time to move out on my own. I was 19 years old at the time. Which was big for me. But, I thank them for that because I grew up, and learned more about myself and who I really am as a young man of God. I moved out to a small apartment, my first time actually on my own. It was tough, but I made my own rules and schedule. I was out of shape but it only took a few weeks to get into shape.
didn’t really put in as much time as I should have before getting cut from the basketball team. This wasn’t the first time I had been cut. I was used to the feeling, which meant I just wasn’t what the coach was looking for.
I continued to train every morning at 6 a.m. at GRCC. I would not give up that easy on my dreams. The coach left after a few games for a different job. So an interim coach filled in, David Selmon, who came out of retirement to coach the team. He put up flyers needing players because half of the team was ineligible. I finally was given an opportunity to prove myself. I joined the team. It was a weird feeling knowing I got cut by the previous coach. But, the team was very welcoming and treated me as a brother. Every practice I would be guarding an All-American every practice, Demarcus Stuckey, who I grew up with in the Black Hills. We would battle, but he always said I would foul him which was the case half of the time. I was not as quick as him, but he made me better each and every day. He carried our team to the championship. It was the best time of my life. I didn’t play much but, when I did get in the game, I made things happen. The season came to a close. We lost in the championship, but it was a great run.
A new coach was hired because Selmon went back into retirement. I went to all of the open gyms and played well, until late July when I injured my knee once again playing football. I gained some weight during that time and just worked. I came back to the open gyms and my quickness disappeared. I wasn’t the same. So I decided to take a year off.
Depression hit me so fast. I would just eat and sleep most of the time. I wasn’t productive at all. I didn’t want to live anymore. Life was a waste of time to me. There was no hero in my life and it felt like everything had been taken away from me. Basketball was my only outlet and I gave it up. It hit me one night when my mom spoke to me and said, “Nathan what are you doing with your life? I raised you better than this.”
Sure enough, I got back into the gym and started to get my energy back. I went from one job to five jobs in a matter of two months. I volunteered coaching kids at the YMCA for Greater Generation Basketball. I really am thankful to LJ Kilgore for letting me work with and be a mentor towards these kids. It has impacted me so much, that I started my own personal training, Nate The Great Basketball training. I started to post videos of me on Instagram and record my workouts. I kept my faith through this whole time. God has blessed me so much, these past few months, so many doors have been opened.
Out of nowhere I just got invited to the Beyond Talent showcase in Gary, Indiana later this month. Over a 100 coaches will be there, so this another way God has showed me he has my back. I gave up on him this past fall after I gave up on basketball. I was depressed, feeling like I was alone. But, I had a dream and my Mom appeared in the dream. She asked me, why are you doing this? Skipping class, sitting around all day not being productive. She told me, “I want to see you play again.” That’s all I needed to hear from her. Since then I have been in the gym at least six days a week.Focusing on my diet, and expanding my flexibility.
I decided to have a relationship with God again because for a while there I had turned on him for the first time in my life. I missed two months of church. I got back into his word. I feel blessed. Journalism has paved a way for me to tell my story to others going through tough times. If I can impact just one person, that would make me happy. I’m so thankful for everyone who has had my back in life and has been there for me. I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, from the car rides to the Christmas presents, to all the professors.
My mom wrote this to me before she passed, on the back of a bookmark: “I am so proud of you and all that you are, I will always be with you in your heart. Always look to the heavenly father first with everything. Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will direct your paths. Love you, Momma.”