Keith Brumbaugh making the most of second (and third) chance (cont.)
Brumbaugh sat in jail as his mother and brothers hired lawyers to help him fight the charge in Marianna and manage the impending probation violation back home. If Brumbaugh was convicted of the felony, he would have to serve jail time in Volusia. At her home near Valdosta, Ga., Brumbaugh's mother, Darla, was devastated. "I've had problems in the past," Darla said, "that nobody wants to see children repeat."
When Keith was three, Darla spent several months in a Florida prison. As a single mother with five hungry children, she'd needed quick cash. So for two years, she sold drugs. Then she got caught. "I don't know where my head was," she said. Keith's father, James Gibson, also spent time in prison when Keith was younger.
Despite his parents' issues, he said he never wanted for anything. Keith lived with an aunt for much of his childhood, but Darla wanted him to rejoin her in Georgia when he was in high school. She nearly enrolled him at Valdosta (Ga.) High, but he loved DeLand coach John Zeoli so much that he couldn't stand to leave. In high school, Brumbaugh never explained any of this to those who chronicled him, leaving others to fill in the gaps.
In truth, Keith said, he has a healthy relationship with both parents. He considers Darla the most influential person in his life, and he still calls her at least three times a day to ask for advice, to update her on his progress or just to hear her voice. But as he sat in that cell, her heart broke. He thought about that. He thought about his unborn daughter. He thought about everything, because for 70 days, Brumbaugh had nothing to do but think.
Finally, a judge agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if Brumbaugh, who had been thrown off the Chipola team, found a constructive way to pass his time. So he went to Houston to train with former NBA coach John Lucas and to complete a substance abuse program run by Lucas, who beat the cocaine addiction that cut short his playing career. Brumbaugh said Lucas helped him refocus. Brumbaugh determined that he would find his way back organized basketball.
He would but not before he had two more run-ins with the law. Brumbaugh's next arrest came Aug. 11, 2007 in Gainesville, Fla. Brumbaugh said he was hanging out with his sister at a bar when a fight broke out. As he tried to pull his sister from the melee, a bouncer grabbed him. Brumbaugh defended himself and wound up in handcuffs. A meeting at the State Attorney's Office ended with the charge dropped.
The report filed at the Port Orange, Fla., police department 13 days after the Gainesville incident is the only one Brumbaugh disputes entirely. The report accuses Brumbaugh of breaking down the door of the apartment of Shekya Grady, his high school sweetheart. According to the report, an officer responded to a domestic disturbance call. When the officer arrived, according to the report, Brumbaugh emerged from a room yelling. Unsure of the situation, the officer pulled his gun and "drew to the lethal position" on an unarmed Brumbaugh.
"No cop ever pulled a gun on me," Brumbaugh said when asked about the report. "All that stuff was ludicrous. That's why it never went to court."
The disposition of the case seems to favor Brumbaugh's account. Grady declined to press charges, according to the report. So did the property manager of the apartment complex and a burglary charge was dropped. Brumbaugh accepted a deferred prosecution agreement, agreeing to take anger management classes.
Not long after the final incident, Brumbaugh reported to HCC. Coach Derrick Worrels knew Brumbaugh's reputation, but junior college basketball is all about second, third and fourth chances. Worrels decided to reserve judgment until Brumbaugh joined his program. "I wasn't sure if he was a bad seed," Worrels said. "Or just a seed that needed water." A season later, Worrels is convinced Brumbaugh is the latter.
While at HCC, Brumbaugh met Fatah Muraisi, an Army captain who has mentored several foreign players. Muraisi, who also advises 7-2 Sudanese prep-schooler John Riek, likely will become a sports agent when he leaves the Army, but his particular skill -- he speaks Arabic -- is of too much value to let him leave now. So Muraisi mentors players in his spare time. He helped instill some military discipline in Brumbaugh, and he has set up more than a dozen private workouts with NBA teams.
Meanwhile, those anger management sessions have paid dividends. Brumbaugh said he doesn't hold grudges. He said in the past, he would "flame" his temper at any perceived slight instead of internalizing his anger. Now, he said, he has learned to back away from a situation and let that anger dissipate without incident. It hasn't just helped with Brumbaugh's off-court issues. Brumbaugh realizes now that his temper sometimes made him tough to coach or play alongside.
After working on what he calls "neck-up stuff" as much as he has worked on his game, Brumbaugh feels ready for the NBA. He knows he probably could have made a roster in 2005, but he's glad now that he walked away from the draft. Despite the pain -- self-inflicted and otherwise -- he's endured, he shudders to think at what might have happened if he'd been handed a pile of money as a teen.
"Would I trade these last two years? No," he said. "If I'd gone into the NBA with how I was thinking at 18, I would not be in the NBA right now under any circumstances. I don't think I would have been able to handle it."
Brumbaugh knows he can handle it now. He plans to settle down and make a life for himself, Grady, and their 17-month-old daughter, Delilah, a beautiful little cherub with her daddy's eyes.
After watching her son transform, Darla can barely contain her pride. Keith took his time finding his way, but she adores the transformation, and like Keith, Darla isn't sure her son could have handled the NBA without learning several hard lessons. The toughest? Simply praying for better days isn't enough.
"Tomorrow's not going to be a better day unless you make it be a better day," she said. "He couldn't continue with the things he was doing and the attitude he had. ... Tomorrow is going to be a better day, but he had to help it be a better day."