Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Struggles & Progress of URI's Kahiem Seawright

Nice story right here on the struggles and progress of URI's Kahiem Seawright, via ProJo Sports:

Maybe his tattoos tell the story. Or at least some of it. On his left arm is one that says "the wind beneath my wings" over his mother’s face. On his right arm is one says "no struggle, no progress." Higher up on his left arm is one that immortalizes a friend who was killed when he was 13 years old. They are all reminders, both of the places he’s been and the ones he’s trying to get to.

All are part of Kahiem Seawright’s journey, the one that started back in the Long Island of his youth and continues to this day, a journey that is both about basketball and more than basketball. "How many people understand your journey?" he is asked. He pauses for a second. "Nobody," he says.

The basketball part we know about. He’s been a starter for four years now, one of those tough blue-collar guys who everyone loves to have on their team. He’s only the second player in URI history to score 1,000 points, get 700 rebounds, 200 blocks, and 100 assists. He’s one of those players who are going to live for a long time in the URI record book. Then again, the basketball was always the easy part.

For Seawright’s story is more than numbers in a basketball career. Most of all, it’s a journey about trying to become a man, no easy thing when you’ve grown up without a father, one of those-so-called “at-risk kids’’ who grow up with a lot of odds stacked against them from the beginning.

Seawright was one of four children of a mother whom he calls a rock, someone who kept the family together, even it meant changing addresses or working two jobs or doing whatever she had to do to keep things going. She died last summer and Seawright calls her a hero, the reason why he’s where he is today.

"He’s known some hard, hard times," says Tom Diana, who coached Seawright in high school. "He had a friend killed on the street right in front of him, and he had to pick him up and carry him home. But his mother was a strong, tough, loving woman. There was a lot of love in that house. And his mother always told me to do whatever I had to do [to keep Seawright from going the wrong way], and that she had my back."

But Seawright makes no secret of the fact that it could have gone either way for him. The street was a siren song. The town was full of kids who never made it out. There were gangs. There were drugs. There was violence. All the things that rob kids of their futures in high school. Seawright could have been one of them.

"I never really believed I could go to college," he says. There’s no question that when he first arrived at Uniondale High School, down the street from Hofstra, he didn’t have any love for school. School was just a place you went to play ball. But from the beginning Diana told him he wasn’t going to play on the varsity unless he did what he had to do in the classroom, even though he was the best player in the school as a freshman. He eventually got the message.

He was the two-time Nassau County player of the year in high school, recruited by the likes of Marquette and St. John’s. He picked URI for essentially two reasons: The chance to play right away, and because both he and Diana liked Jim Baron. Because as Diana says, "Coach Baron came down here and impressed us."

Diana tells the story of the day Seawright signed his national letter of intent to go to URI. His mother was crying and hugging everybody. The kid who had come into the school in the ninth grade with no educational goals — with the idea of maybe one day going to college as far off as the moon — was now getting a scholarship to play college basketball.

"If you would have told me this was possible as a freshman, I would have told you not to waste your time," Seawright told Diana. "I would have told you I’m not a good person. "That was what Diana had seen change. Not only had he seen Seawright grow as a player, he also saw him grow as a person. Seen him change from someone very guarded, to someone who had begun to care about other people. How he goes back to Uniondale High School and is still a presence in the basketball program there. How he’s there in the summers, working Diana’s camp, working out hard, showing the younger kids what it takes to succeed in today’s basketball world, a role model in the best sense of the word. "When he was younger I don’t think he ever thought he could get to be where he is now," Diana says. "He’s turning into a person he can be proud of."

He is a senior now, of course, the sands rapidly slipping through the hour glass of his career. He is going to graduate with a degree in sociology this spring, and who would have ever believed that back when he was a freshman in high school? He wants to play professional basketball somewhere, the reason why he used to get up every morning last summer at 6 to work out before he worked Diana’s basketball camp.

For things have changed since he first came here four years ago. His mother’s death last summer at 53 only reinforced that. He feels the need to be is family’s rock now, the one they can depend on, no easy things when you’re 22 and your life is supposed to be about going to school and winning games, not worrying about keeping everyone together.

His mother used to come to a lot of the games in the Ryan Center, sitting behind the URI bench, his number one fan. His mother who always reminded him of how far he’s come. In a sense, he’s played four years here for all his family and friends back home, the ones who never got the chance he did. He’s the one who made it, who got out of the neighborhood with his dreams still intact, the one who learned that there’s no progress without struggle, learned it so well that he burned it into his arm.

So that it’s always there, right there with his mother’s name. Reminders of the past. Reminders of his journey. The one he’s made so well.

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