From Doubt to Pride

I still remember the feeling of dread stabbing me in the pit of my stomach. I was called down to the office; I was making my way down, and the palm of my hands were sweating non-stop. After all, was it really that important to me to do funny things in class like make faces, random hand signs, or act like a total lunatic? Was it worth it at the end of the day? I was thinking so much in so little time I couldn’t stand still; my knees were wobbling and my body was shaking with so much regret. However, my principal walked in the room with a gloomy look on her face; she handed me the papers and announced to me, “pack your stuff it’s time to say goodbye.” Those words hit me so fast it was like a strike to the face. I knew something very horrendous was going to happen. I was being expelled in the 6th grade.

It’s six years later, I thought I would never get past this horrific moment. I thought everything would never be the same, and I was going to be another lousy kid from Boxton who does nothing with his life. Those haters could still be right.

My name is Danny Rodriguez. I am a Puerto Rican from Newark, New Jersey. I am 17 years old, and I’m a Senior at Boxton High School. My hair is short; I have blue eyes, and my height is 6'4. I live with my supportive parents. All of my friends and family know that basketball is the love of my life. I am not like most of the kids in my grade; they would rather party, get drunk, and always hang out, which shows lots of laziness. I would rather stay focused in school, workout, and develop my game in basketball. Most people would say I’m very likable. I guess you could also say I am kind. I have many friends and family who support me and the decisions I make. As well as many people who want to see me fail. I use the negativity as motivation, something to keep me going and working harder.

”You better be ready for the next game Danny boy. The Red Knights are definitely a much better team than the Falcons, and by the way you play, you won’t stand a chance.” said an irrelevant boy in my grade. His name isn’t even worth mentioning, but these are the type of haters I’m talking about.

”Ready for the big game tonight my boy?” my best friend David asked me. He always been around my life he’s funny, cool, and whenever I need someone to talk to he is always there for me.

”Of course, bro, tonight is going to be special. Both of us are undefeated but you already know we are the underdogs. They say we don’t play big teams and that’s the reason for our record. Like I said, haters, but that’s cool and I’m fine with being known as the underdog. If we beat them we will be the only team undefeated in the whole district! Just imagine that! Being 17 and 0? Like I said, tonight is going to be special, my guy.” I looked at him excitedly. I was so pumped for tonight.

”That means it’s time to ball out, Dan. We on a mission homie.” I can tell by his face he was very excited for tonights game as well.

Before game time I had to speak to one of my coaches that I know I can trust with my life. He was my midget football coach, and also my 8th grade basketball coach. Now he is someone that knows everything about me and my past.

”Hey, buddy, how’s it going?” Tommy approached me.

”I’m doing well, man. Just a little nervous about today’s big game.”

”Listen, it’s ok to be a little anxious. I have confidence in you, Danny. You came a long, long way. I know you have what it takes to be a leader out there and win this game. Just play ball like you always have been.”

”Thank you so much coach, I know I can always count on you.”

Coach Tom and I have a really close relationship. He knows all the things I been through when I was younger. It was always tough for me. But luckily I had people like him, and a lot of others to always be by my side.

The time was finally here. Boxton Warriors against the Millingsville Red knights, both teams undefeated and ready to prove a point. I know the squad was ready for full action. As the excitement flowed by knowing it was time, there was a little bit of butterflies also flowing in my stomach. But once the first tip of the game was set and done all of the anxiety flushed away. It was game time.

”And there he goes again with the power slam! This kid is something else!” The reporter expressed about myself.

”We have ourself a tight game thus far as the first half is coming to an end. The Warriors have possession. 3 seconds left, D-Rod makes a move and let’s it go….. Splash he hit his 3rd three of the half to tie the game at 43 a piece. Oh my god this kid is on fire! So far the Senior has 23 points at the half, and he doesn’t seem like he’s going to start slowing down just yet.”

This game felt like a dream. I was hitting shots left and right. It was just an awesome atmosphere at the time. My teammates knew I was on fire so they kept feeding me the ball! So far, we are playing with our hearts. It’s a tie game with one of the best teams we will face all year. You can smell the disgusting sweat from each and every one of us. That’s shows how hard we are all playing. The other team had a ranked player. He was number one in the state. His name is James Harrison. I am also ranked number eight in the state of PA. So this was the matchup they have been talking about through out the half.

As the 3rd quarter comes to an end, the Warriors are down by 11. Knowing we have to play our tails off to have our selves a little rally in the 4th. As the 4th goes by I have the ball in my hand. We are down by 6 points, with 2 minutes left. Harrison is guarding me. I look him straight in his eyes fearless. I make a move “shake and bake” I turn him to the right as I go left and jack up a three.

”Bang as the whole crowd goes wild! D-Rod has his team down by 3 points with 1:29 remaining of the game.

After another missed shot by the knights I knew we didn’t need a three point bucket right away. So I set a play up, calling our big man to set a screen. As he sets it, I fake his way to the ball screen, tricking the defense and find myself drilling the ball through the hoop like the world was shaking a tiny bit from the powerful slam. We were down 1 and it was time for more D to be played.

”Here comes Harrison trying to avoid the trap and oh no he lost it! He lost the ball! As he was coming up the court the Warriors trapped him once he crossed half court which forced him to cause that turnover. The Red Knights crowd with a dis-belief look. The Warriors with the rock with 30 seconds left!”

Thirty seconds winding down; I hurry along setting up a play. As more time ticks down it was finally time to make a move. I try not to think negative. As that always had me thinking to much and not focused on any situation. That was my past. I didn’t want to look back to that. I knew I had something to get accomplished here right at this moment. As the finals seconds ticking. I shoot it from the elbow and, I blew it. The shot went in and out as the time expired. We have received our first loss of the season. So much disappoint going through the air. So much stress. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it.

The announcer continued, “tough loss for the Warriors as they received their first all year marking them at 16–1. Great game overall as they remain 1st in their section but second in the districts; right behind the Knights. These teams will see each other again and the match up between Pa’s finest will be even more interesting.”

Our head coach just finished speaking to us. He told us we did whatever we can out there and to keep our head up. I couldn’t process that correctly. Everything felt dead to me. I didn’t know one game can do so much damage. I felt like negativity was coming back to me all so fast. I felt like the past was coming to me ready to ruin everything for me.

As I get home I throw my bag down and head straight to the fridge. My momma approaches me and embraces me in a warm hug. After the rough day I had it felt so great to have my mom come up to me and show me love. Even though I was upset, I was really glad she came to comfort me.

”Sweetie, I know what happened, I just want to let you know you’re my little angel and I don’t want this game to affect you; there’s plenty more games left so please bounce back from this one.”

”Thank you mom, I love you.” I respond.

”You’re welcome son. I love you too. Try to get ready for bed soon, so you can get some rest.”

“On it.” I was stressed out. Because I know my family does not have it easy. My mom works a third shift job, and I know she does a lot to support me. I love her so much, and I regret the fact that I was so mean to her, my father and the rest of my family. My step dad doesn’t like me as much. I was a pain before and he is a type to hold grudges on people. There is still times I can be disrespectful, but I don’t do it on purpose; it’s because I care and, at times, people don’t realize that. I hate seeing my mom not happy. I hate seeing my step dad not showing love to my mother or even. family members being so needy, lazy, and very childish. And all I ever do is stress and stress from their actions. I get into my feelings and times get rough again, and things don’t get solved correctly. I become fearful of the old me. Ready to strike and set my goals and promises further back. I don’t want my family issues to affect me from basketball; so all I have to do at this moment is believe things will get better, talk to my family more, and stay positive.

I was down the whole night. I was about ready to get some sleep, but before I can lay down, my phone starts ringing. My father was calling me and waiting for me to answer.

”Hello Danny, how are you doing buddy?” My father started.

”Hey Pops, I’m alright just getting over this tough L from earlier.” I answered.

”Yeah son, I heard what happened. I just wanted to say you are a very great player and hard worker. Don’t let all this beat you up. You are one of the greatest high school players from your city, and not only skill wise but being a leader, and knowing how to handle different situations. You’re a positive young man especially to others around you. But you have a tendency when you are alone to blame every single thing on yourself. It’s not your fault son. You did whatever you could do tonight. A great ball player redeems himself and works 10 times harder for the next one. I know you can do that son. I know we don’t have it easy in my life, and it is hard that we are away from each other. But just know I will always be here to support you; I will always find time to visit you, and whenever you’re down talk to me or your mother. We are always here for you no matter what’s the situation.”

”Dad I-”

”And I know we fight a lot. Just know I will always love you no matter how hard things get. You’re my champ, son. Always remember that.”

”Thank you so much dad.” I say with tears in my eyes. I continued, “I love you so much. I hope things can get better soon.”

We then talked for a little more, but he had to go because he had to get up for work real early in the am. My father’s name is also Danny. Things ain’t perfect in my life. But love can make things more comfortable. To stop thinking about this cruel night; I shut my eyes and I finally get some rest.

***

It was three weeks later, and I was up to 960 points in my basketball career. I realized I was 40 points away from 1000, a goal I have had since I was young. I am finally close enough to accomplish it.

. We haven’t lost since the game against the Red Knights. Since then we have been red hot. It was playoff time, and we knew we had something to prove. We are in districts now, after easily running through our own league tournament. We won each game by 20 and the championship game by 18. It was a great accomplishment; but now we know districts will be better competition. All I was thinking about was playing in the Giant Center, wining it all, and scoring 1000 points in front of thousands. I knew it was possible. I was putting pressure on myself for some apparent reason, so I went over to coach Tom after school today.

”Hey Coach.” I greeted him and continued, “We have a big week coming up, huh?”

”Indeed you do buddy. Proud of you and what you have been doing this season so far. Are you ready?” Coach Tom responded.

”Of course coach, I have been having some mental thoughts and been putting some pressure on myself lately. If we lose the first game of playoffs, that could be it for the season. I hate thinking negative but it’s my senior year that means no district title nor scoring 1000 of my career. We have worked so hard this year I don’t want to start thinking negative now.

”Listen Danny just stop thinking about it so much. Have confidence, and be positive. You guys did so much already to have mental breakdowns. Continue working hard and get yourself ready for the playoffs. Don’t think about the 1000 points you will have that chance don’t worry. Don’t force nothing and let the game come to Mr. D Rod.”

That talk really helped me out. Now I know what I have to do to prepare myself for the week coming up. Nothing but determination is going through my mind. It was time to put the city in our hands.

***

”And the Warriors win it against the Eagles! Making their way to the championship game of districts facing the Red Knights. A big rematch for these two teams especially for the number 1 and number 8 ranked players of PA; D-Rod and J Buckets. This matchup took place earlier in the season where the Red Knights found themselves victorious against the number 2 team in the power rankings. Both teams incredibly great, so this game should be legendary.”

. The big game was finally here. I was ready for big time revenge. I was ready to fight and compete for my first district championship game. I’m 17 points away from 1000, and the whole school is expecting me to get it done tonight. All I’m worried about is winning and receiving that gold with my team. As I was stretching in the living room getting ready for momma to take me to the school so I can catch the bus; my family and friends all walked in the door wishing me luck for tonight’s championship game. My best friend David has some words of wisdom for me. Well let’s just say it was a fun loving moment.

”D…D…D…it’s your time. It’s your time for greatness. It’s your time to make history!” David says to me proudly with a grin.

”It’s that time Mr. Danny dan Rodriguez to put on a show for his family, friends, and the fans of Boxton, PA!”

As my family cheesing laughing of joy, I thanked him while laughing also, giving. him a big hug. It was a special moment. Once I talk to each and one of my family members something so exciting happened afterwards. My father coming through the door; with a large smile on his face cheesing so hard. I was excited. We hugged showing lots of emotion. I couldn’t believe my father was going to one of the biggest game of my whole life.

”Work hard today son. You are the best basketball player ever coming out of this city. Show no fear today and make all the doubters doubt even more. It’s your time D-Rod.” My father expressed to me.

”This is going to be for the family and fans pops. I love you and mom so much. I love you all so much.” , I said.

They all said together, “we love you too.”

Moments before the game, I was sitting in the locker room of the Giant Center arena. Mentality focused listening to some tunes. I was Trying to get pumped up and relaxed before game time. I knew that very shortly it was time for the team and I to make a statement here tonight.

It was the 4th quarter. Nothing but chaos and excitement going around the whole arena. We were down by 7 with 2 minutes left to go. Nothing but mamba mentality was going through my head.

”2:15 remaining in the 4th quarter the Warriors are down by 7, here comes the Red Knights with ball looking to waste out the clock.” The announcer expressed.

I had 10 points at this time. Not a great game thus far, but I knew I had to change it from here on out and that’s when my defensive play started the rally.

”Time is continuing to tick and the Knights have wasted a whole minute and a half this game maybe oh — — oh oh my gosh it was deflected at the wing by D-Rod and he comes with the nasty jam! Down by just 5 points with 57 seconds remaining. The Warriors are in a full court press trying to pressure the Red Knights; James Harrison splits the defense and hammers the ball down the lane! Back up by 7 with 45 seconds left. Danny sprinting up the court throws a quick lob to Brandon for the jam! That was a quick flush by the senior forward! Back to 5! And there’s a steal! Warriors pass it out and Danny with the rock hesitates but then pulls up for three and sinks it in! 30 seconds left down by 2 a timeout called by the Red Knights.”

”Defense boys. It’s now or never we are going to do whatever it takes to have a stop and score on the other end! It’s time to believe fellows this is our time right now!” I encouraged my teammates.

”Here are the Knights passing it in; the Warriors are not fouling just putting pressure D on them. As time continues to tick Harrison is getting pressured and lost the ball! The Warriors are in full possession down by 2 with 6 seconds left!”

6 seconds left. Jimmy passes the ball in to me. I hurry up the court, knowing I can’t waste time. I call for a quick screen ready to attack the basket quickly, but suddenly then step into it and all I can do is just step back; all that was going through my mind was you either win it orle lose it now. I let go of the ball with perfect form. As I watch it travel in the air I knew I was going to shock the whole state.

”Boom! He hit the shot oh my goodness gracious Danny has hit the shot with no time remaining! The fans are going crazy and the players celebrating on the middle of the court! This is very special for the Boxton Warriors and Danny Rodriguez as he scores 1001 point of his career making it very special. Congrats to both teams as they battled hard out there, a very intense game; a show for the whole state tonight.”

I did it. I actually did it. I couldn’t be anymore excited for myself. I couldn’t do it without any of my family, friends, or coaches. I really did it. My mind was going crazy. But it was just full of shock, excitement, and love.

People are going crazy, the whole crowd full of support, and joy cheering for the team win and my 1000th point. The people who doubted my teammates and I were also cheering. This was so special for me, to actually accomplish my 1000 point goal and winning the district championship game. It was revenge for sure. We won this game in style.

As the presentation was taking place we were all receiving our rewards. My family and friends set up a little ceremony individually for myself for accomplishing this milestone. Mom and Dad our proud and so is my Step Dad. My brother also showing love; this rarely happens but, when it does it always special.

”Congrats little bro, you did it man keep making mom and the family proud; you are the only that can make a difference now. Don’t follow mine or your sisters footsteps, you can be different and be successful bro. I believe in you.” My brother approached with a proud smile in his face. Those words really got to me. I didn’t want to cry; that was definitely not me. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cry. I won’t cry. I cried.

”Thank you bro.” I said with tears coming down my face; flowing like a river. “Your the best, I know you will make up from your mistakes. All of you. I believe in you guys as well. I love you.”

”I love you too little man.”

My sisters were also there witnessing what my brother has told me. We all hugged at once cherishing this special moment.

My Family continued coming up to me and congratulating me, the announcers finally announced my name.

”Please give it up to Danny for scoring his 1000th point of his career!” The announcer released.

I couldn’t be anymore blessed and thankful.

then he continued, “Any words D-Rod?”

”I just want to thank God, my family, friends, the fans, and the city for all of the support you’ve shown me throughout this exciting journey. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.” I said.

”Even though it’s obvious we also want to let you know that you are this years MVP of the District tournament! Congratulations this was well deserved.”

I thanked the man and held the trophy up high to the crowd as they all continued to cheer. There was literally a standing ovation just for me. I would of never imagined this before. That’s because I never believed in myself. Things has changed since then. Anyways this was very special. Very very special. So special that something happened that I wasn’t even close to expecting. As I was done speaking with each and one of the reporters, a man tapped me on my shoulders. It was the head coach of. the Kentucky Wildcats. I repeat the Kentucky Wildcats. Mr. John Calipari.

”Young man I suppose you know who I am?” Calipari asked me with a grin on his face.

”Ye-ye-yes I do. You are John Calipari!” I said in shock. This whole time I got offers from colleges like Ohio state, USC, and LSU; those are big D1 colleges but getting an offer from Kentucky was a dream come true. I was full of excitement while speaking to him. You can really tell he was very interested in me.

”You have big things coming Danny. Take my agents card and we’ll set you up for a visit soon.”

”Thank you so much, it was a real honor meeting you. I will definitely see you soon Mr. Calipari.” I was full of excitement. As my family and friends noticed what happened, I happily hugged each and one of them as they proudly congratulated me. This was a memorable night for me. I would always remember this day.

***

It’s finally signing day. I had a terrific basketball career at Boxton High school. After winning districts, states, and scoring 1000, I have received a lot more offers from colleges. I have many colleges I looked at with mom, dad, and coaches. For a very long time I was stressed and overwhelmed from the colleges I needed to decide from. But when you have family and friends that help and comfort you, things can be less complicated. I had narrowed down my choices to a top 3 for which college I wanted to go to: Kentucky, Villanova, or Ucla. I announced last week and so many predictions have been taking place since. To make sure I chose which college was best suited for me, I reviewed them again with some family and my coaches. Especially coach Tom. He’ always a good guy to talk to like I said before. I also had a long talk with my dad about it. But before my decision was 100 percent, I had to talk to my mom about it.

”Hey momma” I approached her giving her a hug and kiss. She laughed with joy and gave me a kiss back.

”Hello handsome. Is everything ok?” She answered.

“Of course ma just saying what’s up you know hehe.” She wasn’t buying it.

”Yeah sure, this is about today isn’t it son, signing day?

”Yeah mom, it is. I just wanted to go over it with you one last time. I think I know where to go and I just wanted you to know first.” She smiled at me and held my hand.

”Just like we talked about before Danny, these schools are good for your education. But you choose wherever you think will be the best fit for you and where you will be comfortable.” To be honest with you guys, they are all equally comfortable and best suited for me. I just have to choose where I’m going to go. I have always been a mommas boy and I think leaving momma to college would be really hard for her. Unless it’s not too too far away. I love my mom. Mom would always support me.

”Means a lot mom, I really love you. Things really changed. I really changed. I would of never thought this was going to happen mom. From being expelled and going through things with our family. It’s just crazy realizing I’ll be off to college somewhere. But it’s not a somewhere anymore more I have decided and I’m ready to tell you.”

She smiles with tears coming from her face, “I love you son, I am so proud of you. We all are. Your father, brother, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, each and one of us are very proud sweetie. You did it baby boy. Just know I will miss you where ever you go. But I am now ready to know pa.” That really warmed my heart. Hearing each and one of those words. It hit me all so fast. I was so emotional holding her hand. I am finally announcing where I’m going to her.

”Mom I am going to………..”

***

Two months have gone by since my announcement. I am now packing for college. My friends and family came over to the house today, even my coaches. They knew it was time for me to go and live the next chapter of my life. Coach Tom told me to stay focused and to play smart with my full potential. Something he has always told me growing up. It never gets old. It was a very emotional day very similar back to signing day, but the only difference today is that I’m actually leaving.

”Okay guys lets say our goodbyes! Time for us to take Danny up to college!” My momma told everybody at the house. It was my mom and brother taking me up to my school. I was thinking to myself how great this was. It was time to take pride of what was going on. After so much negativity through out my life, positivity was the only thing getting in my way. Basketball at a big time college was soon to be.

”We just want to let. you know.” My mom said. “We are very proud of you.”

”Very proud of you bro.” My brother continued. I smiled proudly. Then we were just having conversations the rest of our way laughing and talking. I thought to myself, I am ready to continue my career as a Villanova Wildcat.