One by one, the boys slip on their jerseys. The new coach let them pick their s, seniors first, lending his players a tangible sense of ownership, acquired seamlessly through a transfer of black and teal polyester from hand to hand.
But the one thing their coach wants them to understand before jogging onto the floor is that these moments belong to them and nobody else. The vertical mirror hanging on the locker room wall shows a team readying for battle, earphones in, focus fortified.
Of course, a reflection can distort reality, ever so slightly. They will learn the truth soon.
Peeking into tae’s world
While the home Bendle Tigers roster is listed proudly, the adjacent space for the Flint Jaguars is blank. 35 steps in front of the mirror, getting one last measure of himself as his final year of high school ball begins. His name is Dekobe Lemon. Prep basketball players in Flint, Mich.
In Flint, lofty promises often go unfulfilled. Stairs rise, encircling a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. His name is Taevion Rushing. Some of the Jaguars remain leery of Tae. After he quit midseason, chemistry improved. Flint has always done its talking through basketball, particularly after the shops shuttered and moved elsewhere. Beyond the sporting cliche of making a statement, what would the Jaguars say? And to whom would they say it? They can look at the sparse crowd on the road team side tonight and know that Jackson is right — no one from Flint is thinking of them.
But the Jaguars come out flat. By halftime the Jags are trailing by eight, and on his way to the locker room Jackson overhears Bendle players talking about running Flint out of the gym. We losing to Bendle! We practice one way and we come out here looking scared.
A rusted pipeline
Because the crowd out here? That what it is? The box score will say Tae, with 23 points, is the reason the Jaguars even had a chance. But did his outsized presence keep others from stepping into their roles? Tae appears from behind a row of lockers, reing the Jags.
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No matter the year, the rosters of the four teams were stocked with future college players. At some point, a generation of kids had become convinced that they had to leave the city to be developed. Miles Bridgesof Michigan State and the Charlotte Hornets, played his freshman year at Flint Southwestern before leaving for prep school. Charter schools began popping up in the late s as GM exited and tax revenues for schools went with it. Beecher has won five Class C state titles since with a steady flow of Flint.
But in Flint there still seemed to be reason for hope, even if a basketball renaissance did not appear immediately on the horizon. Petteway talked of moving on from the past, stripping the Southwestern logos and colors from the gym walls. He acknowledged the school could never be what it had once been, so why hold on? The Knights were gone, replaced by hungry Jaguars.
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He pressured the district to repaint the gym floors in black and teal. Another potential Jaguar missed tryouts because he spent a month in jail after being charged with hitting a female classmate.
After playing his freshman year here at Southwestern inJackson transferred to Hamady High, just north of town. While kids leave today to escape, he left because it was so competitive for playing time that he did not think he would get a chance to shine. At Hamady, Jackson made all-state his senior year. Tae sits casually on the top of a row of lockers, his legs dangling above his teammates, who slump on the bench below.
Two nights later, in the home opener, Flint blows out Atherton Taevion Rushing was 12 years old when the water source for the city of Flint was silently switched from treated Detroit and Lake Huron water to the Flint River to save money. A lack of corrosion controls allowed lead to leach into the water. Another older sister took it as a and moved out of town for three years. When Tae was 14, President Obama came to town. Mid-speech, as a political stunt, he coughed, asked for a glass of water it was filtered and drank from it.
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All the Rushings went to Flint high schools. The older ones remember a time when two Flint teams playing each other in basketball meant sold-out gyms and students jockeying in line for tickets during lunch breaks. Listening to her, it would come as quite the surprise that Tae and the Jaguars have run off five straight wins since Bendle, setting up an intriguing game against rival Hamady tomorrow night. Dekobe even started a group texting thread for the Jags, teeming with juvenile jokes and the latest trash talk from opponents on social media.
Demarkus Jackson quickly changed that. No matter where Tae goes at any given moment, all he sees is his iPhone. Tae begins a Facebook Live session, which allows friends to watch him while he waits for his free birthday brownie. He was let go from his first coaching job, at tiny Madison Academy. He decided to apply for the open Flint position in October because his mother felt he could connect with these kids as a younger coach.
He wants to build his coachingwhile working a hour week at a climate control systems firm and attending graduate school for business at Ferris State and helping his fiancee plan their wedding. Tae was with Gardner, a Jaguar, not his normal group of siblings or cousins. Birthday popcorn. Jackson is a Hamady alum, but the school did not hire him a year ago for its open coaching position. He picks up a couple of early fouls and finds the bench. The refs cheated at Bendle too. We gonna use the same excuse and lose again? Next, he preaches a message of ability.
His kids are consistently looking for someone else to blame. We in the game! He loses patience and gets a technical foul.
Moments later, a Dekobe three gives Flint its first lead, at The Jaguars go on a run, sending the Hamady fans into the cold night. With the game in hand, Tae can relax. His young nephew brings him a bag of popcorn, and Tae relishes each birthday bite from the bench. From a relieved visiting locker room, Jackson gives the Jaguars a pointed final order.
Even after a convincing win, and with a record, appearances matter. The kids disperse at their own leisure.
Tae walks out with Dekobe, talking about a girl he noticed in the bleachers. A rivalry that cuts deep. For Dekobe, senior year has been a revelation. The Jags areand Dekobe recently was nominated in an online vote for the Flint area player of the week. Tae and three other Jaguars Dekobe. If Beecher wins by 19 or fewer, Harris will buy the shirts.
The school left the historic Saginaw Valley League because it could no longer compete. The Flint players shake their he. Playing the cool school.
Beecher coach Mike Williams has become something of a local legend the last decade. How did Beecher become one of the top programs in the state facing many of the same societal issues?
The school found a good coach who wanted to stay. Can Demarkus Jackson become that for Flint? The way he sees it, a premier talent staying in Flint and bringing the pride back could save this school from closing like the other three. With the Flint-Beecher tipoff minutes away, it comes as no surprise to see Williams greeting a 6-foot-7 Flint eighth-grader, Aijalon Williams, and bringing him close for an embrace.