"No buts. We're going."
She made him get into the car in his socks. In Gail Lewis's house, you didn't miss meetings.
It got worse. Dewayne became insubordinate. He began hanging out with boys she didn't like, boys who were rude and got him into trouble. But now, when she got mad at him, instead of writing scripture, he jumped on his bike and rode away, sometimes from 17th Street west all the way to 70th Street, to a family friend's house. One time Gail locked him out for an afternoon. When she returned home, she found him sitting on the porch, fuming. "Boy, get in the house," she said. "You have to learn."
This defiance bled into school. As the family moved, Dewayne attended three schools. He kept talking about sports—not volleyball but basketball now. He pleaded to play. Gail held firm. She saw herself as a one-woman team: mother, father, uncle and aunt. She knew boys get to an age at which they're susceptible to influences and can take the wrong path. It was up to her to hold the line. It would be different if Dewayne's father were in the picture.
Thomas Dewayne Dedmon had been easy to spot at 6'3" and 210 pounds. But his was a transient life. He worked in the military for a while and fathered six children, three with one woman and three with Gail, whom he never married. Gail thought Thomas was giving and caring but also lazy and a bad influence on their kids. When she started to make changes in her life, trying to do the right thing and show more self-respect, she knew he couldn't be part of it.
A few years later she heard the news: At age 34, Thomas had taken his own life, according to Gail. Their youngest child, Dewayne, was three years old.
Horton couldn't believe it: Dedmon had grown again. Here it was, December 2008, early in his grayshirt season, and he was nearly 6'10"—almost two inches taller than when he'd first shown up in the AVC gym.
Dedmon was transforming himself in other ways too. Thanks to financial aid and part-time jobs, he had more money to eat, and he ate nonstop—even it was mostly fast food. When he didn't eat, he slept. For the first time in his life he was lifting weights, and slowly the muscle accreted. He drew his shoulders back, puffed out his chest, became more confident. On the practice court his footwork improved and with it his explosiveness. His jump shot remained erratic, but his form was textbook: one-two-three, L to I. "I've never seen a kid with that high a learning curve," says Atkerson. "If you saw him one week and came back two weeks later, you could see a significant improvement in all facets."
It was time to challenge the kid. AVC had a hugely athletic player named Kyisean Reed, who would go on to sign with Utah State. Reed was 6'6" and could touch the box on the backboard from a standing jump. For months he and Dedmon had matched up in practice. One day in late December, Horton gathered the team together and announced, "If at any point during practice Kyisean dunks on Dewayne, I'll end practice. Even if it's the first play."
Given an opportunity to free their teammates for an afternoon, most kids would allow themselves to be dunked on right away. Not Dedmon. Three times that day Reed rose up for a jam, and three times Dedmon met him at the basket with tremendous force. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. If Reed got a step on him, Dedmon came flying in from behind, nearly decapitating his teammate. At times Reed looked at Horton for help—"He's killing me here!"—but Horton let them play on. Reed never got that dunk.