Basketball had been a hobby for Rayshawn Brown. Of the four players in the van he had the least basketball education but the most classroom dedication. "If you get injured, what do you have left?" Rayshawn says. "Your mind. You have to have your education to fall back on."
His parents separated when he was one, and his mother raised her three children in the Bronx. Basketball was not Rayshawn's first love. Doing flips was. And juggling. And tumbling. He was a natural gymnast, and the circus fascinated him.
He worked hard in school and was interested in architecture and computers. He also began tumbling for the Big Apple Circus, a nonprofit performing group, when he was 13. "Rayshawn was probably the most responsible kid I had," says Frank Sellitto, the head instructor at Big Apple Circus. "He had lots of energy."
He earned A's and B's at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School for International Careers. The school had everything Rayshawn wanted except basketball. He had led his junior high basketball team to the eighth-grade city championship. After studying and training with the circus, he practiced on courts near his apartment until midnight. He played his way into tournaments. The circus drills helped him jump higher, cut quicker and muscle others out of the way. Though only 5'10", he dunked with ease.
He graduated in 1996 and left for Grambling State in Louisiana. But he was never comfortable there. He made high honors studying architecture and played intramural basketball for one semester, then transferred to Alabama A&M. Again unhappy, he lasted only a semester, making dean's list before returning home in the spring of 1997, frustrated but undaunted.
Rayshawn worked part time at a dry cleaners and played basketball day and night. On a fenced-in court near his apartment building in the fall of 1997, he found himself facing a rare challenge. Covering him was an equally quick and cocky guard who had a mouth that wouldn't stop.
"We were talking smack all game," Keshon Moore recalls with a smile.
"Yeah, I was talking trash," Rayshawn remembers. "He couldn't guard me."
A friendship was born. The next spring Rayshawn was trying to figure out how to afford the tuition at Clemson, where he had just been accepted but had not been offered a scholarship, when Keshon suggested he try for a full ride at North Carolina Central.
The barrage was over. The entire incident had taken barely 60 seconds. The van rested in a thicket of trees. Rayshawn grabbed the door handle again and jumped out onto the wet grass. He heard shouts ordering him to freeze, and he buried his face in the ground.