Dedmon's energy began changing the tenor of the team. His teammates gravitated to him. As Horton puts it, "Here's this 6'10" kid playing harder than anyone they'd ever seen, playing so hard he's almost hurting himself. People respect that."
There is a price for such rapid development, though. Dedmon grew so fast that his body balked. His hamstrings tightened, his knees ached, his back got sore. The only solution was to freeze away the pain. So Dedmon, at the coaches' suggestion, lowered himself into a 57º whirlpool, where he sat for 20 minutes at a time, perched on an orange Home Depot bucket. Even though his body went numb from the waist down, he didn't complain. Tell Dedmon to do something, and he did it.
He came to her the fall of his senior year of high school, a few months after he turned 18. I'm going to play basketball, Dewayne said, and there's nothing you can do about it. I'm my own man now.
Absolutely not, said Gail. The Bible says you can't serve two masters.
I can do both, he said.
Gail knew he wouldn't listen to her. What Dewayne needed was a male influence. So she called upon the men at Kingdom Hall. Two of them came to the house and sat down in the small kitchen across from Dewayne. Gail put out snacks, and the men explained how basketball could take Dewayne away from his Christian upbringing. How it could corrupt him.
Dewayne sat and listened to the men. There was a lot at stake. He would be going against not just his mother's wishes but also the churchmen's. Among Jehovah's Witnesses, even minor infractions such as saluting the flag or dating a nonbeliever can lead to punishment by a judicial committee. Drifting away from the Truth can result in "disassociation": A member is disavowed by loved ones and shunned by friends. Then there was a more profound risk. If Dewayne still believed in the Truth and continued to defy his church, he might eventually face divine execution at the Battle of Armageddon. All for playing a game.
His whole life, his mother had been his world and the church his guide. The instructions were clear. "Avoid independent thinking," it said in a 1983 Watchtower magazine, and "questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization."
And yet Dewayne knew that this was likely his last chance to play ball. When he graduated in the spring, he'd need to get a job, probably something minimum wage. That's what kids like him did in Lancaster—that is, if they didn't get involved in drugs or worse. He knew plenty headed that way. He didn't want to join them.
He told the men and his mother that he'd made his decision, and it was final: He was going to play. Gail was crushed. Still, she hoped it was only a dalliance, and as the year went on she became hopeful. After all, Dewayne hardly ever played. His few minutes in games were mop-up duty and an occasional call to clog up the middle on defense. Almost all he did during his senior year at Lancaster High was sit—on the bus, on the bench, on the sideline. The coach, David Humphreys, didn't have much use for a skinny kid with no discernible skills, even if he was 6'7". Humphreys was trying to win a Golden League title.