Shabazz Napier, the 24th pick in the NBA Draft, wants you to know that he grew up in Roxbury, not the more broadly defined city of Boston. “There’s a pride in that,” Napier has said. “When you can come out of a place like that, all you can think of is, hope and blessings.”
Andrew Angus, 30, is the sports coordinator at a YMCA in Dorchester, another Boston neighborhood, which borders Roxbury to the east. Angus knows what Napier’s success means for others in the community.
“[Napier] went to my high school,” he said. “Those type of guys, those kind of leaders, give people like David hope, you know like, ‘I can do this. If he did this, I could do it.’ ”
“David” is David Lovett, a 19-year-old basketball player out of Dorchester. Colleges, private high schools and even AAU teams don’t send recruiters to Boston’s inner city very often.
Speaking from the gym at the Y, Angus said Lovett hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves.
“You’re not really gonna hear his name unless you’re in our community,” Angus said. “So when you walk around, people will be like, ‘I know David Lovett.’ Even at the park, little kids will be like, ‘Oh, I know David Lovett, he’s up here all the time.’ ”
Lovett wears his hair in tight braids and is quick with a solid handshake and a broad, genuine smile. And, yes, he spends a lot of time in this gym.
“Probably more than I spend in my actual home,” he added. “It’s hard to calculate. A lot of statistics.”
Until he met Angus, Lovett didn’t study statistics — or anything else. Ninety percent of his time was spent dreaming of a life in the NBA. College wasn’t even on his radar. It’s that way for a lot of kids in this neighborhood.
“You don’t see a lot of successful people,” Lovett said. “And to be around that, you kind of, that’s where your limits are. And at the Dorchester Y, they help you out by guiding you and taking your hand and showing you and pointing you, like, this is where you need to be at. You don’t want to be here.”
To get where he needed to go, Lovett was told to put down the basketball and pick up the books — at least some of the time.
Once he realized he could have success beyond the game, Lovett says he had a lot of questions. And to Lovett’s amazement, Angus knew how to respond.
“The area that we live in, you know, a ton of questions can come up,” Angus said. “’How do I make it out of this?’ — you know what I’m saying? ‘Do I have what it takes to get out of it?’ So he comes with these questions and it’s like, alright, here’s your answer.”
Angus can tell kids like Lovett to study. He can tell them to use sports as a tool, not a destination. But the only question he can’t answer is why more college coaches aren’t noticing their efforts.
“I keep telling everybody, Dorchester really does have talent,” he said. “You just have to come and look for yourself. Minus all the bad stuff in the community, stuff like that, we still have great roses that blossom and if you come in the gym you’ll see that all the time.”
Slim Chances Of Turning Pro
James Worthy has heard these stories before. He’s an NBA Hall of Famer who played for the LA Lakers from 1982 through 1994. During his work with the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and his own foundation, he’s met a lot of kids whose only dream is to play professional basketball.
“It’s sad to see but most of them aren’t going to make it,” Worthy said. “And I tell them the true stories, not all the great stories, but a lot of the bad stories. Just try to give them the scare factor of you know, you’re not going to make it.
“I tell kids all the time, you have a better chance of becoming an astronaut than you do an NBA player. And the stats show that it’s true.”
What exactly do those statistics show?
NASA currently employs 78 astronauts, and there are nearly 600 roster spots in the NBA and WNBA. But, while interest in becoming an astronaut peaked generations ago, nearly a million teens play high school basketball. About 1 percent, just a little more than 10,000, will find a spot on a Division I college team. Every year those players compete against others from around the world for just 60 slots in the NBA Draft and 36 in the WNBA.
The odds are against players like David Lovett. And talented players who didn’t have a back-up plan are a common sight in struggling communities across the country. That’s why Eileen Connors was so impressed when she heard Lovett speak at a gala for the Y. She and her husband, Jack, had just spent a thousand dollars in an auction for VIP Boston Celtics tickets.
“We were very moved by him; he was a great young man,” Connors said. “So Jack and I kinda whispered to each other and said, ‘Let’s give him the Celtics package,’ and so we did.”
Lovett could have taken anyone to the game, but he chose his mentor, Angus. Only six and a half miles separate their Dorchester neighborhood from the Connors’ tree-lined street in affluent Brookline, and Jack Connors said, whether you’re a well-known philanthropist or an inner city mentor, the way to help kids find a better life is the same.
“One of the quotes that I’m very familiar with is from Francis of Assisi — who lived in the 1500s, so I’m not 100 percent sure he said this — he said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times, even if you have to use words.’ So it’s the example, the way you live your life,” he said. “And if you teach somebody who’s a troubled child how to be a better person, then that means their family’s going to have a better shot.”
So while he studies at Bunker Hill Community College and tries to land a scholarship with a Division I team, Lovett’s already passing on the things he’s learned. Every Saturday morning, he and Angus coach together at the Y. Lovett says he’s on the lookout for younger players to mentor.
It was part of the promise he made when Angus took him on. And, he says, without Angus, he’s not sure where he’d be today.
“I actually thought about that the other day,” Lovett said. “I was laying down, had a basketball in my hand, air shooting, and I was like, I wonder what would happen if I didn’t know Andrew Angus? And where would I be? Or what would I be doing right now? How would I be so disciplined?”
Again, Lovett found himself with more questions than answers. “Honestly my mind went from left to right, up, down, there were no answers I could find in my head.”