Hekim Lupai was facing a choice. It was a simple one, really. Though often young people in his situation need some help seeing which way to go.
Lupai got that help from L.D. Bell boys basketball coach Willie Henderson. It was the epitome of tough love.
“He was about to get removed from the basketball program, but something changed,” said Henderson. “Hekim came to a life-changing decision.
“It could have gone the other way, but he made the right choice, thankfully.”
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Hekim wasn’t in trouble with the law or anything so drastic. However, he admits that problems in his personal life created pressure that made him a person he did not want to be.
“Last year I got in trouble in art class [a fight], and I got in trouble with Coach Henderson,” he said. “Things like that got in the way of the kind of person I knew I could be.”
Hekim was born in Sudan and his family moved to America at age 5. They moved to Hurst in 2008. He lives with his mother and younger sister.
Hekim has to take care of his mother at times. She has diabetes and high blood pressure.
Yes, he was under his own pressure and still is. But now he sees his situation differently and welcomes the challenge.
“I decided I had to make some changes, I had to do more to help my mom,” he said. “I love my mom dearly, and she has done a lot for me.
“Growing up wasn’t easy, but my mom was always there to take care of me while I was younger. Now it’s my turn to take care of her.”
Hekim’s younger sister is 12. He understands she looks up to him.
“I want her to learn from watching me, and I wasn’t teaching her the right things,” he said.
He also realizes that being a senior, there are a lot of younger athletes who can learn from his transformation.
“I know there are some going through the same things I went through,” he said. “Hopefully they won’t wait as long as I did to change their ways.”
Henderson said in the past nine months, no player has worked harder than Hekim, no one has had a better attitude on the court or in the classroom, and the results have shown themselves.
“There’s a reason he was a junior and on the JV,” Henderson said. “The talent was there, but we need more than talent. He wasn’t ready mentally to play varsity.”
Now he is and he’s blossoming. Henderson said Hekim is the best shooter on the team, and that he has a chance to play in college.
“He’ll be playing somewhere next year,” Henderson said. “He gets it now, and coaches will see that. They want somebody they can rely on in all aspects, including mentally.
“You scrape by and all of a sudden you’ve got that college education. Suddenly you can support your family and have a good life.”
That is something that, Hekim admits, might not have been in his future without making changes.
“I don’t think I’d have a chance to go to college,” he said. “I’m not sure where I’d be, but it wasn’t looking good.
“Now I like where I’m headed. I feel great about my future.”
Henderson said Hekim’s adjustment is not only good for him, but also for the rest of the team. He is a walking example that changes can be made for the better.
“You can use a kid like him as a great example, not just for now but for the future,” Henderson said.
On the wall outside of Henderson’s office are photos of former Blue Raiders who played or are currently playing in college. He’s excited about adding Hekim’s photo to the wall.
“Now we can point to him and show others what he was able to do,” Henderson said. “I’m just as proud of him as any kid I’ve ever had.”