At Inner-City Hope High School, 'Ball Is Life'Play
"I actually, um, I just skimmed through it," Marquis Young says with a laugh. "And when I saw my name, I'll read that page."
The book he’s been flipping through is "Hope: A School, A Team, A Dream."
It’s the account of the 2012 season of the Hope High School boys’ basketball team, for which Marquis played. We’re sitting in the Hope High gym in Providence, Rhode Island, with, among others, the book’s author, longtime Providence Journal writer Bill Reynolds.
'It Was Like A Bad Gym Class'
"The first couple days of practice I was horrified," Reynolds says. "You had kids with different colored uniforms, different colored shirts, sneakers. It was like a bad gym class. And you had coaches trying to impose a structure on something that at the time was unstructurable, if that's a term."
It was chaos half of the time in the beginning until we all got together and everybody was on the same page.Wayne Clements
"Was it like a bad gym class at the beginning?" I ask Wayne Clements, the 2012 team’s point guard. "Is that what it felt like to you?"
"Yes," he says. "It was chaos half of the time in the beginning, until we all got together and everybody was on the same page," he says.
"The first time I met Wayne," Reynolds says, "was over here in the bleachers. And he wasn't playing. And I said, 'What happened to you?' And he says, 'Well, I broke my wrist.' And I said, 'How?' He said, 'There was a big girl fight down the street at Brown. And we were running from the cops, and I jumped over a fence, and I broke my wrist.'"
"Yeah, that's true — my elbow, actually," Clements says.
"Excuse me," Reynolds says.
'Your Heart Goes Out For These Kids'
Injuries happen, and sometimes they happen when you’re running away from the police. Homelessness happens, too, and so does hunger. At one point during the 2012 season, Reynolds learned that one of the Hope High players hadn’t eaten all day, and wasn’t likely to eat before the game, unless one of his teammates had a leftover candy bar.
"These kids go through things that most people have no clue," Reynolds says. "They do it on a daily basis. And this is not just Hope High School here. This is every inner-city school in Providence. This is every inner-city school in America. And this is the reality of it. They come into a difficult environment every day. It's not a neighborhood school. They have to travel from other parts of the city to get here. They come back after games, and there are no cars here. They go home to sometimes chaotic situations. Everything here is difficult. So you can't be around it for too long without realizing that your heart goes out to these kids."
"You know, what he was saying, it is true," says Malieke Young, a consistent scoring threat on the 2012 team. "We do go through some things that some people wouldn't experience, but, how he just described it, when I was in high school going through it, I didn't see it as that. I seen it as, I'm getting a chance to play basketball, and that's what I love. That was enough for me. Taking the bus didn't really matter. I was getting here. Playing with my friends, with my brother. You know, I've known Wayne for 10 years. So that was a real blessing. My family came here. It was actually the school I wanted to go to since I was in like sixth grade. I wanted to go to Hope."
Malieke Young is not unusual in that respect. Hope High School, built in 1936 and looking its age, has a proud basketball history. There are championship banners on the walls of the old gym. But according to head coach Dave Nyblom, who's been at Hope for over two decades, the job requires sensitivity to a lot more than the pick-and-roll and the zone defense.
These kids go through things that most people have no clue. They do it on a daily basis. And this is not just Hope High School here. This is every inner city school in Providence. This is every inner-city school in America.Bill Reynolds
"You know, if we coached the way we want to coach, we wouldn't have a team here," Nyblom says. "Because they come late. Because they miss practices. Because they miss schoolwork. But you've gotta make exceptions because of the stuff they deal with out of every day life, which is frustrating."
To say Nyblom's witnessed highs and the lows would understate dramatically his experience there.
"Unfortunately I've had five former players of mine have already died," he says. "A couple of them injuries or sicknesses but a couple of them have been shot. A couple of them have been in the wrong place wrong time. So when that happens, it's not just myself, it's a big family that comes out and supports."
Even journalist Bill Reynolds felt he had no choice but to become part of that family.
"You start off as an observer, and you're gonna come in here, and you're gonna be kinda detached," Reynolds says. "And that lasts about two days. And eventually you root for them, and you get to know them, some of them better than others, and you want them to do well."
A Comeback Season -- And Then Life After High School
In 2012, they did do well. Though it didn’t look as if they would when they season began.
"I can remember going on the bus to the first real game — Hendricken, on the road," Reynolds says, "and they scored, like, three points in the first quarter. And I’m sitting behind the bench, saying, 'What have I signed up here for? Because I didn’t quite know what this is.' But that turns out to be part of the story, too."
A small part, as it turned out. After starting the season 2-7, Hope High got organized, stopped looking like a bad gym class, won the Division I championship, and made it to the semi-finals of the state tournament, where there were undone by foul calls some of the coaches still consider dubious.
When that season ended, Malieke Young took a year off before enrolling at Community College of Rhode Island.
"After my senior year," he says, "I knew I wasn't good enough for college. So, I said, 'I'm going to take a year off and I'm gonna work at it.' Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. That's all that is. And I work hard. And so I actually walked onto CCRI. And within like seven or eight games, I got the starting role. And I had two decent years at CCRI. I can't complain about it. And it was cool, it was cool."
"And what's happening now?" I ask. "What are you up to now?"
"Here we go. Let's get this. After that year, it was sort of like my senior year, I was like, 'I don't wanna go anywhere else,'" Young says. "Johnson and Wales wanted me. Lasell, but I was like, 'I don't wanna go 'cause I know I'm not ready for that.' I was like, 'I wanna work out. I've got two more years of eligibility. I wanna work out and try to go Div. II somewhere. Walk on. I can shoot the ball. Everyone can take a shooter. And I was like, 'Follow your heart, Malieke.'
And you know what? I didn't follow my heart. I listened to other people, and I knew this was going to happen at Johnson and Wales. And I wasn't ready for it. And I knew I wasn't. And I got thrown in that water, and I can't swim. And I drowned. But it's life. You learn. You live and I'm gonna go back to CCRI in September and get a fresh start. I might even run track. I was talking to the athletic director today. I think I'm gonna run track. I'm gonna try to flip this. Try to flip it."
At one point in the book, Bill Reynolds characterizes the state high school tournament in Rhode Island as “a little sliver of the big time.” Like Malieke Young, Wayne Clements isn’t ready to accept that that “little sliver” of time is over.
"I know I'll be on the big stage again, so losing the finals and all that at Hope, it didn't really stress me that much to be all honest," he says. "I know I'll be playing again, so..."
Certainly stranger things have happened. As Coach Nyblom says, these are talented players with lots of basketball potential beyond high school. But some of them acknowledged that they considered school a place to play basketball. Studying wasn’t part of the plan. Very few basketball players, even basketball players with great potential, ever get the opportunity to play professionally. For everybody else, some sort of “Plan B” is not just a good idea, it’s crucial. But ask Wayne Clements to name his favorite subject at Community College of Rhode Island and he’s likely to say, “Ball is life.”
Come to think of it, that’s exactly what he did say. He was laughing when he said it.
This segment aired on March 5, 2016.