Akeem Black almost turned away from the love of his life — basketball.
Then the former Hurst L.D. Bell guard realized he would have to look in a mirror throughout the rest of his life. He wanted the man staring back to know he did everything he could to get the most out of the sport he loves so much.
“My freshman year [of college] I pretty much gave up on basketball. It was pretty much the darkest part of my life,” said Black, who returned to Bell to help Henderson with the Blue Raiders’ annual youth basketball camp.
“I was going to class. I have always taken that very serious, but I just couldn’t play basketball.”
Black became disillusioned after attending a showcase event for some colleges, an opportunity set up by Bell coach Willie Henderson. Suffice to say, his performance was less than he expected.
“He looked horrible,” Henderson said. “It hit him hard. He sat out a year, got pudgy, got lazy.”
But Henderson never gave up on Black. Nor did North Lake coach Tim McGraw.
“He could have just done school. He’s very smart,” McGraw said. “But he loves basketball. He plays with a passion.
“Every so often we get one of those stories where a kid just needs a year to clear their head. But he stayed in school, and that’s the reason I called him back. I noticed his grades, and academically he’s so far ahead of a lot of others. I knew he’d be a great addition to our team.”
However, it took Black not giving up on himself for the transformation to take place.
“I knew I loved this game and I wanted to go to a big university,” Black said. He didn’t think he wanted to be at North Lake College.
Then, something clicked and Black decided he did want to play college ball at North Lake. He was a productive part of McGraw’s Blazers (18-13), averaging around 10 points, two assists and two steals, helping them to a runner-up finish in the Metro Athletic Conference and NJCAA Region 5 Division III.
And it appears he has improved his chances of fulfilling his dream of playing in college at the NCAA Division I level.
“There’s no reason he can’t come in and have a great second year and go on to help a bigger school,” McGraw said.
“Now I feel like what I went through was for the best. I’m happy with where I am,” Black said.
“He came from a hard background. He had every excuse even before what happened with the showcase to quit, but he woke up and fought through.”
Black is studying kinesiology in college and wants to coach someday. He said he has a strong message to deliver to youngsters, such as those he was working with at the camp.
“I enjoy working with kids, and I have a lot to say to them, to keep striving,” he said. “I really take basketball seriously now that I know I almost lost it.
“If I had walked away without seeing how far I could go with it, what would I tell my kids. As long as I gave it everything I have, whatever happens in the future will be OK.”