THE SCENE AT Kerr Middle School mirrored that of the NBA combine where aspiring players put their skills to the test ahead of draft night. Reflex drills took place on the sideline while vertical testing and basketball drills took place on opposite ends of the floor.
However, there were a few key differences in Tuesday’s combine compared to the one that occurs every May in Chicago: the group was made up entirely of seventh and eighth graders; there was only one NBA player; and the main focus of this combine was character.
The one NBA player present was Thunder rookie, Darius Bazley who endured gauntlet of the NBA combine only nine months ago. Bazley roamed through each of the four stations of the character combine offering his expertise on the drills at hand, three of which were dedicated to on-court basketball skills.
The fourth station however, required no athletic ability at all. As a matter of fact, all it required was a permanent marker and a big dream. Four easels stood in front of the bleachers with the faces of Misty Copeland, Jackie Robinson, Madam C.J. Walker and Oprah Winfrey displayed on each one.
When asked what they knew about each one, the young group belted out, “Ballerina!”, “First African American baseball player!”, “She’s a millionaire!”
All correct answers, but what they didn’t realize were the small steps each one had to take every day to get to their respective points of recognition. Winfrey grew up in rural Mississippi to a low-income family and with the massive goal in mind to have her own television show, accomplished small victories every single day to help her get to where she is today.
“I just think it all correlates because when you look at those people, you always just see their big wins and sometimes you don’t see their little wins,” said Bazley. “I think it’s big for them to see how someone as big as those four people were and realize some of the small things they did to get to where they are.”
Each person at the station identified their big win that they wanted to accomplish in life and wrote it down on a massive banner spread on the floor with “Celebrate the Win” inscribed across the top. On the other side of the banner, the group wrote down the small, daily wins that would be necessary to achieve each goal and then connected the line that tied those two goals together.
“I think that was probably the most impactful thing, especially for young kids because I know when I was younger, I wasn’t learning about little wins that make a big difference,” said Bazley. “Nobody really broke it down like they did so it was pretty cool.”
Bazley brought a modern day, tangible take to what small victories might look like. For him, making his bed every day and making sure his house is clean helps him to feel prepared to conquer each day. The group locked their gaze on the rookie as he spoke. As an NBA player, his words resonated with the seventh and eight grade basketball players who have their whole lives ahead of them and big dreams for the taking.
“They listen to adults, but when it’s someone like that, they really listen and they really look up to those guys,” said Darcy Budde, Assistant Principal at Kerr Middle School. “I hope that they take away that they really can do anything they put their minds to.”