By Kash Blackwell
Growing up as a chubby uncoordinated kid in Cleveland, Ohio, I had no idea what the game of basketball would one day mean to me. I was born in 1995 and had an older brother, David, who was a sports whiz.
David had trophies for baseball, basketball and football all over the house. He was the most popular kid in his school and the most athletic as well, and I was just his fat little brother. I always wanted to be just like him. He worked at a local recreation center in our dangerous neighborhood, but the rec center was a safe haven for kids in my neighborhood. I would go there with him every day, where I was known as David’s little brother.
As time went by, I started to play football because of my size, but basketball had never even crossed my mind. In sixth grade, I started playing basketball for my church's Catholic Youth Organization team. I actually enjoyed playing basketball, and even though I was still the fat kid, I was pretty good. I continued to play football, but my love for basketball grew bigger and bigger.
I went to school in the inner city, and we didn’t have sports teams in elementary or middle schools. But my parents saw my passion and potential for sports, so in eighth grade, I moved to Shaker Heights with my father. This city was different from the inner city; we had all types of sports teams and even had a swimming pool in the school. This was all new to me.
By this time, I wasn’t just the chubby kid anymore as I had grown tremendously between seventh and eighth grade and lost a lot of baby fat. As an eighth grader, I now stood at about 6 feet 2 inches, and I weighed about 155 pounds. I tried out for my new middle school team, nervous the whole way through.
Afterward, the coach told me he loved the way I played the game. I had never received that kind of respect from a coach before or from anybody on the court. This is where my deep love for basketball started.
I played the whole year and dominated all other eighth graders and opposing teams. After the season, the Shaker Heights varsity coach offered me a spot on the varsity team as a freshman. Throughout middle school, I still played football as well, so I had a major decision to make.
I decided to accept his offer and put all my focus into basketball and stopped playing football once I was a freshman in high school. I played travel basketball, competing on the AAU circuit. I was ranked in the state of Ohio by the end of the summer. I was on top!
My freshman year was as tough as I had planned it to be, but I maintained focus. My sophomore and junior years were a breeze, and I received interest and D1 scholarships and offers from numerous schools.
Then came summer of my senior year, where I made the worst mistake of my life.
I was caught smoking marijuana during an overnight team camp. This mistake haunted me and effected my whole senior year. I was suspended for the rest of the summer and for two games in the beginning of the upcoming season.
I lost scholarship offers, and I was now considered a player with lack of character and was called a “high risk guy.” I began to hate the game. Everywhere I went around the city, people asked me, “What happened?” and “I heard you were in the paper.” I couldn’t escape my mistake.
After serving my suspension, I was back on the court, and I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I had never missed a game in my life before all of this. I ended up having my best season as a senior, but two games before our senior game, I severely sprained my ankle, which sidelined me from my senior game. I was devastated. I cried plenty of times, even during the senior game ceremony. However, I found a way to live with it.
My grades and character issues, so the newspapers said, kept me from receiving D1 scholarship offers. I was forced to take the junior college route, and I ended up signing to Walters State University, a D1 junior college in Morristown, Tennessee. Morristown is located in the middle of nowhere, and and at times, I thought about giving up. I saw all my high school friends having fun in college, but I wasn’t, which made life tough.
Then, my life changed forever when I received a call from my high school sweetheart informing me that she was pregnant. I was nervous, scared, and overall, unprepared.
After one year of college, I dropped out and went back to Cleveland to be a father, saying goodbye to the sport that I grew to love so much. I thought it was over. In 2014, my son was born, and I found myself doing things I never thought I would do, and had no business doing.
I completely lost myself.
One day, I ran into an old friend of the family, and he said, “Kash, what are you doing with yourself? Don’t waste your talent.” That stuck with me because I figured people had forgotten about what I could do on the court. So in the summer of 2015, I enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College in my hometown of Cleveland, where I began to workout daily and get myself back in basketball shape. I was going to try my best to make a comeback. I even enrolled in summer classes.
Immediately before the first scrimmage of the season, I was informed that I was still two credit hours short, and I wouldn’t be able to get on the court until either the following year or the following semester. Once again, I was hurt. I put my all into getting back on the court and it all came crashing down. I thought about saying “forget it” and quitting again. At this point, basketball was letting me down more than making me happy.
The next semester came, and I was cleared to play with my biggest fans watching courtside: my mother and my son. In the middle of the year, I found out my mother was suffering from liver failure due to alcohol abuse, but she still made it to every home game. I knew I was playing for more than just me.
After the season, I received First Team All Conference honors and many other awards. I even received a full scholarship to continue my education and basketball career at Rochester College. I accepted and signed my letter of intent in Cleveland with my mother right next to me.
I gave the game another chance, and this time basketball didn’t let me down. During the summer before I had to leave for RC, I spent much time with my family, friends and loved ones.
The day before I was scheduled to leave for RC, I stopped by my mom’s house to say my last goodbye to her, but she didn’t answer the door and that was very unlike her. I found my way in, and when I went to her room, she was unresponsive. I called the ambulance and waited — in pure shock and heartbreak, just hoping she was OK. I saw my mother laying in front of me in the ICU, so basketball and RC were the last things on my mind at the time. I even questioned God, asking why does he keep putting me through all of this?
My mother passed away the next day, and I had many thoughts of calling the coaches at RC and telling them that I didn’t want to play anymore. However, with the help of my family and friends encouraging me to keep pushing through, I was convinced that continuing my education was the most important goal I could pursue. I knew my mom would want that for me.
Everyday I step on the court, I always look into the stands because I can sometimes see her at every game and every practice cheering me on.
The game of basketball has given me much, but it also has given me some of my toughest battles. However, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I have hated the game of basketball, but for the most part, it’s all love because it made me a Warrior.