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Behind the Smile

Zach Andrews' game has brought him to the cusp of the NBA. His life's brought him to the brink and back.

He was three years old when he became the charge of the State of California.

Until then, Andrews had spent most of his life living with his grandmother. His father hadn’t been present since his birth, and his mother couldn’t do much better. As her children got older and the pressures added up, she turned to chemicals – most often alcohol – to rinse life, briefly, away.

“It was just a struggle for her,” Andrews said. “You’ve got six kids, and you’re the only one that’s providing.”

Andrews was in foster care for a decade, starting at the age of three.

So he and his sisters – there are four of them on his mom’s side, of six total children – moved in with their father’s mother in Rancho Cordova. She managed for a bit, making sure that the kids had clean clothes, that the girls’ hair was “perfect” and that everyone got to school on time, Andrews said. Then her body started to fail her.

“My grandma was always in and out of surgeries,” said Andrews’ younger sister, Shavonna. “So she didn’t have the ability to take care of us. She was like ‘I can’t do it,’ and mother was nowhere to be found.”

“She needed to get better, and she couldn’t give me and my sisters attention we needed at the time,” Zach said.

The family splintered. The older girls went to live in a group home, while Zach and Shavonna went to live together in a smaller setting. It was here that Andrews remembers his foster mom stepping on him in the hallway.

But it only got worse when the two split, with Shavonna staying with a new family and Zach moving to a group home for boys.

“It was a situation where you don’t have someone to look out for you,” Shavonna said. “I know he had a couple issues in the boys home with the other boys. They’d just be mean to him and that kind of thing. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like to remember it as that, but it wasn’t all peachy.”

So when Zach went to his next foster home, he brought scars with him.

His next stop was Sacramento, where he moved in with the Wrights, an older couple that gave him the first consistent feeling of love he’d had since his grandmother passed away. He just wasn’t ready for it.

“Because I was so full of anger from the first foster home, I took advantage of that family,” he said. “I was doing things like stealing, and I just didn’t care about school as much as I wish I would’ve.”

Later, when Andrews aged out of the foster system, as the term goes, he’d jump on the bus and go visit the Wrights to say thanks.

“Half of the things I do now are because of that family,” he said. “I learned a lot of manners from them and how to be very polite. I wish I could’ve thanked them more before they passed away. I don’t know how they put up with me that much, but they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

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