My high school basketball days

August 14th  |  ,

Lincoln High School, right at the corner of Malcolm X and Hatcher in sunny south Dallas—that was where a lot changed for me. I experienced some of the best times in my life there.

Lincoln was always known as a school where basketball was very important and winning was expected. When you walked into the school’s main entrance and looked immediately to the left, you’d see a brick wall with two gigantic panoramic pictures of the back-to-back state champs from 1990 and 1991. “Tiger pride” wasn’t just an expression; it was a reality. Guys who graduated 30 years prior would come back, demanding the best as they cheered us on from the sidelines and benches. To this day, people still come up to me and tell me they went to Lincoln followed by the year they graduated. Tiger pride is always there.

As a freshman, I was primed and excited to elevate myself as a basketball player, motivated and eager to prove myself. I was determined to make varsity that year, but it didn’t quite work out that way. When sophomore year started, I knew that I was returning as a better player because I’d worked my butt off during the summer. I got the opportunity to start and gained a ton of experience that year. Our team surprised a lot of people that season because no one expected us to make much noise, but we won our fair share of games. We even got within one game of the state tournament and lost to our crosstown rivals, Madison High School. That loss hurt more than anything and still to this day leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I talk about it. The next year—junior year—we made it to the state tourney. This time, we were full of ourselves and expected to win it all easily. You can probably guess what happened. We lost to Lanier High in the semifinals and Ozen High, led by Kendrick Perkins, ended up winning it all. That experience taught us all that you still have to go out there and play the game. You don’t win by just showing up. 

In our senior year, we were humbled and motivated to make our community proud. A state title was our goal, and anything less than that would be considered a failure. We blew through the first part of our schedule and made it to the holiday season with an unblemished record. We stacked up wins against big-time teams with some of the nation’s best talent. Lamarcus Aldridge, Deron Williams, Acie Law IV, Donald Sloan, Ike Diogu, and Jason Maxiell were some of the local talent you could see on any given night. We even got a little national attention as we continued to win game after game, surpassing other teams we’d only read about in the national rankings until Lincoln was right there at #2 behind Oak Hill Academy. 

The day Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl was a bittersweet day for me. I’d made a bet with my friend that the Patriots would lose so we watched the game closely. Everyone was talking about the football game, but something else was on my mind. I knew that Oak Hill was going out west to play Mater Dei and if there was any day that they were going to lose, this was the day. I sat there tirelessly in front of my desktop computer, continuously hitting refresh to get updates on the score. Back then, there was no livestream or highlights of high school basketball. We couldn’t even get internet without a dial tone. After hitting refresh for the hundredth time, I saw that Oak Hill had actually lost their game and I was no longer upset about losing that Super Bowl bet. I ran to call my friend and tell him the good news, but I had to wait because my dad was using our phone. When I finally called, my friend kept interrupting me, saying how he’d told me the Patriots were the best, not giving me a chance to deliver the historic news that we were a part of. After countless minutes of heckling, I just yelled it out to him over the phone that Oak Hill had lost. We hung up and immediately called the rest of our teammates. 

The very next day, people were coming to school with newspapers in hand, talking about what had just happened. News trucks were parked outside, and anchors we’d only seen on TV were there, reporting on what we’d done and waiting to get an interview from one of us. It was surreal. Nothing like that had ever happened in our community before. Usually, if the news teams were there, it wasn’t a positive thing. We went from playing games in front of about 20 people during my freshman year to playing for 20,000 people in sold-out arenas. That year, we ended up winning the 2002 state and national titles and finished the season with an undefeated record of 40-0, achieving the goal we’d set four years prior.

It’s been 15 years since I played my last high school game and every time I return to my hometown, someone reminds me of what we did. When I’m in Dallas, I’m more likely to hear “Hey, Tiger” than any kind of NBA reference. It’s funny how you never truly realize how special something is while you’re experiencing it. My time at Lincoln has a greater, deeper meaning to me now. I’m happy that I was a part of something great, a part of our community. I’m proud to be a TIGER.

{photo by April Belle Photography}

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