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Then one day the team was losing a match and an assistant coach yelled at Dewayne. Really yelled at him. He'd been scolded before, but not like this. He yelled back. And that, Gail decided, was that. You are never playing again, she declared. As she would later say, "No boy of mine was going to embarrass me like that. He needed to learn."
How do you win a race in which everyone else has an 18-year head start? The day after that first workout with Horton, Dedmon started with the basics, stuff most kids learned in junior high. Drop steps, pivots, box outs. Horton reconstructed Dedmon's jumper and forbade him to shoot from outside the key. Start at your hip, then make an L with your arm and push it up into an I, Horton said. One-two-three, he counted with every shot, one-two-three. In one sense Dedmon was a coach's nightmare; in another he was a coach's dream. He had no bad habits to correct, because he had no habits. He was a blank slate.
One day Horton showed up with a pair of size-18 Adidas hightops he'd ordered for $35 off Eastbay.com. Dedmon was ecstatic—"like it was Christmas," Horton remembers. In the fall, when Dedmon received his uniform and warmups, he was overjoyed. He wore them everywhere: to class, on the bus, while studying.
Not only did Dedmon have new clothes, he had a dozen new friends. He became particularly close with fellow grayshirts Edwin Herrera and Jason Logan. They ate burgers at Primos and called themselves the Three Amigos. Logan liked Dedmon, who was funny and gentle, but didn't think much of his basketball ability. "You could tell he'd never played," Logan remembers. "He couldn't jump. He couldn't even dunk some days."
In October, after six months of working out with Horton and on his own, Dedmon joined the team for its first practices. They were brutal. Drills were performed until perfected. If a player didn't go hard, everyone ran sprints. Whole afternoons were spent solely on defense. Dedmon loved it. He raced up and down the floor as if in an Olympic trial. He dived after loose balls. His teammates stared; didn't the new kid understand this was just practice? As AVC assistant coach Tim Atkerson puts it, Dedmon "defied all the things that [kids just out of] high school are supposed to be."
Whatever was needed, Dedmon did it. He helped clean the gym. After games he stuck around and let elementary school kids throw him alley-oops. The assistant coaches' children particularly took to him. He put them on his shoulders, remembered their names, made them feel special. They saw him as just another kid, if an enormous one.
There was only one problem: attendance. Dedmon missed class repeatedly and fared poorly in his studies; he missed some practices too. Horton was annoyed until he learned that Dedmon lived in southeast Palmdale, 15 miles away, and had no regular ride to school. His family had one car, and his mom needed it for work most days. So Dedmon relied on friends with cars or took 45-minute bus rides.
Horton didn't get it. Here was a kid who needed to make up a lot of ground, and yet for some reason he was having trouble just getting to school.
It began with the shoes. One afternoon when he was a boy, Dewayne announced that he couldn't find his. And without shoes, how could he go to Kingdom Hall? "Too bad, then you're going without them," Gail said.