When destiny and fate cross paths
By Andrew Coakley
FN Sports Editor
This is a story about second chances, having someone believe in you and about making history.
While it sounds like a tagline for a movie trailer, this is a true story.
Two weeks ago, Magnum Rolle graduated from Louisiana Tech with a degree in Sociology.
On the surface, graduating from college may not seem that big of a deal to some people, when one understands the story behind accomplishing such a feat, then perhaps they would be able to appreciate it all.
By the way, did I mention the fact that he now becomes a prospect for a first round pick in the NBA Draft? Yeah, that's the second part of this story.
That's the part about making history.
Magnum Rolle became the first member of his family to graduate with a college degree and while that alone offers much for rejoicing, there is still more to his story.
This is the part about second chances.
Magnum's college and basketball life began when he was 15 years old, while walking through a track road past Sunset Park.
A group of boys were on the court practicing basketball under the watchful eye of coach Darrell Sears.
Noticing the then 6' 3'' slinky youngster walk across the park, immediately Sears felt inside that this kid he was seeing had greatness locked up inside of him.
Coach Sears may not have known it then, but he was about to become a part of fate and a part of a redemption plan.
Coach Sears called Magnum over and asked him if he ever played any basketball.
Young Magnum told him that he played a little bit, and so Coach Sears invited him out to their next practice.
"But he never showed up," said Coach Sears, in an interview with The Freeport News.
"Ever since then I was trying to find him again to invite him out again, but I think he was ducking me."
It would not be until long after that Sears would discover that the reason Magnum was avoiding him was because he had no basketball tennis to play in.
"He avoided me for a long time," Sears added.
"When I did finally catch up with him again, he began making all kinds of excuses as to why he couldn't come out to practice. Finally, I had to bribe him to get him out to practice."
Coach Sears asked Magnum what it was he liked to eat, and he told him Kentucky Fried Chicken. That's when Sears made the deal.
"I told him that if he would come out for one hour to practice with me, I would buy him Kentucky for an entire year, if he didn't like the practice or didn't learn anything."
Perhaps Magnum was thinking that he would go to the practice, throw up a few balls for one hour, when it was finished tell Coach Sears he hated the game and get KFC for an entire year.
A deal a 15 year old boy couldn't pass up.
Coach Sears noted that when Magnum was placed at the free throw line and told to shoot the ball into the basket, he shot it clean over the entire backboard.
"All I was thinking to myself was 'what did I get myself into,'" said Coach Sears.
"But of course, I didn't tell him that, I just told him that he did good and that he should keep trying."
Whether he knew it or not, Sears had his work cut out for him, because contrary to what Magnum told him the first time they met, Sears realised the guy had no basketball skills.
But the wheels of destiny and fate were still turning.
Coach Sears, along with coaches Patrick Victor and Mr. Munroe, gave the young, slinky teenager, who had a love for fried chicken, the foundation for the sport of basketball, which would take him places he never ever dreamed of.
"I had told Magnum that before the end of the year, every coach from every basketball program in the country would be knocking on his door wanting him to attend their school," said Sears.
By the end of the year, Magnum, who was still learning the game, had become impressive and indeed coaches were trying to get him into their programs.
While Magnum honed his skills on the basketball court, he would soon need another chance (really more than two more) in the classroom.
When Coach Sears left Alpha Omega School, he was soon approached by Kenton Rolle of St. Georges to help out with their senior boys basketball program.
Kenton told Darrell his vision for the program and Sears agreed to be a part of that vision. When he returned to coach at St. Georges, he pleaded with then principal Mary Cooper to allow Magnum to repeat the ninth grade so that he could get his GPA up.
It was a struggle to get such an agreement, but Mrs. Cooper stepped out on faith.
"She told me that she was putting her name on the line and taking a chance with Magnum, because she didn't want to see him fail," said Sears.
"Thanks to her, Magnum was able to get back into St. Georges, not just to play ball, but to improve his grades. A lot of people like Ms. Thompson and Ms. Williams worked with him, during school and after school.
"A lot of people had already written Magnum off and said that he would never graduate from high school. They may have had good reason to believe that, but me, along with a few other people, believed in him and knew that he could do it, no matter how long it took."
The fact is Magnum repeated the ninth grade as well as the tenth grade. A combination of so many people helped Magnum Rolle not only graduate from high school, but get into college and graduate with an Associate degree.
"If Mrs. Cooper had not given him that chance, we probably would not have been talking about Magnum's story today," added Sears.
"If you looked at magnum's transcript before returning to St. Georges, it would have been easy to push him aside and say he didn't have a chance at college.
"But that's why I say all people, especially kids, deserve second and even third chances."
Without having an opportunity to improve his grades, there would have been no chance for Magnum to have finished high school, nor go to college.
But Magnum went from getting a one point grade point average to getting 2.9 and 3.0 GPA.
With improved grades and improvement in his game, a road that led to college suddenly became open to the boy from the ghetto.
"It wasn't until he began to travel away to play and he noticed that coaches were asking about him, that Magnum realised the possibility of getting a college scholarship," said Coach Sears.
"We just kept working with him and it wasn't long before Louisiana came calling and he answered that call to take a college scholarship."
Although Magnum moved from Louisiana University to Louisiana Tech, he was still able to improve his game, while improving his academics.
When the opportunity to get a second round draft in the NBA came up, Coach Sears, along with the other coaches, spoke with Magnum and tried to get him to reconsider.
"I told him that if he was good enough to go into the second round pick, why not wait until he was finished with school and by that time he would have improved his game to the point where he could be in the first round pick," said Sears.
"So, if he waited until he was finished with school, he could have the possibility of going in the first round pick, and have his degree.
"The worst that could happen is that he would still end up in the second round pick, but he would still have a degree."
After considering his options, Magnum withdrew from the NBA draft and decided to complete his college education.
Two weeks ago, that journey ended with his graduation day.
"To us, it is more important to have completed that journey than to have cut it short for a draft pick," added Sears.
"Now, he's getting prepared to get in shape for the next NBA Draft pick and he's excited about the possibilities.
"His mother Myress Rolle, his sister Gretel and his cousin Ricardo are all proud of him, because he's the first one in their family to have accomplished that feat of completing a college education."
Sears admits that it was fate that brought he and Magnum together and it has been a long road to where Magnum finds himself now.
He says that Magnum's story is a testament to other young people who may feel that they are hopeless and who may feel that life has nothing to offer them.
"When you have some people who believe in you and who are willing to go out of their way to help you believe in yourself, then once you begin to believe in yourself, just about anything is possible," said Coach Sears.
© 2010 The Freeport News