As fond as coaches and teammates were of Dedmon, he was even more popular with the fans. AVC is something of an anomaly among junior colleges: Its games are so popular that certain fans have reserved seats, while residents, students and alumni crowd the 828-seat gym, standing and stomping on the bleachers. They loved how Dedmon hustled, how he made the rim shake on follow dunks, how he yelled after big plays. That kid plays with joy, they said.
Gail hardly ever went to her son's games. Not during his senior year in high school and not now, in 2009, his first season of playing significant minutes. After all, games were often during meetings or community outreach, which took up 70 hours a month.
It hurt Gail that she was losing touch with Dewayne, just as it hurt him that she never met his teammates or knew what he was doing. When they spoke on the phone, they often argued. Again and again, the same loop:
"Mom, you're not listening," he would say.
"You never call me," she would reply.
One time they really got into it. Finally, Gail said, "You know something ..." but then, before she said something she would regret, she caught herself and hung up.
She called back early that evening, because the Bible says, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath." When he answered, she said, "You know, Dewayne, I love you, I'm your mom, and you're still my son, but we need to come to an agreement."
He loved her too, he said. But things were about to change even more. It was time to tell her about the recruitment process that had begun over the summer and about USC.
Bob Cantu had been an assistant at USC for eight years by the fall of 2009. He'd helped recruit Derrick Williams (though Williams went on to play at Arizona when coach Tim Floyd left the Trojans) and other big-time players. Even so, Cantu still dreamed about finding an Ervin Johnson.
The legend of Johnson is oft told in coaching circles: how in 1988 a 6'11" player walked into Floyd's office at New Orleans after spending the previous two years working at a grocery store in Baton Rouge; how he went on to lead the American South Conference in blocks, rebounds and shooting percentage and to play 13 years in the NBA.