Duquesne student-athletes make their point during North Hills Middle School visit
While he was growing up near Washington, D.C., Derrick Colter, 19, remembers his mother telling him he could accomplish anything he put his mind to — but first, he would have to finish his homework.
This was just one of the stories that members of the 2013-2014 Duquesne Dukes basketball team shared with the seventh- and eighth-graders at North Hills Middle School on Oct. 16. Seven players discussed topics ranging from learning time-management skills and developing a strong work ethic to making good life choices and knowing who to trust as friends.
The Dukes visit up to five schools a year to deliver motivational talks, said Rich Glesmann, an assistant men's basketball coach at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
“We feel this is an important age group to address. Middle school students are still impressionable,” he said.
More than 200 students at the Ross Township school opted to attend the discussions, which were offered during a 30-minute activity period at the end of the school day.
Colter said he never cared for school until the basketball coach asked him to play on the team when he was in the eighth grade.
“All I wanted to do was fight people,” Colter said. “But that coach really helped me. He helped me with my homework, and he helped me stay focused.
“When I made the team, I cried.”
From then on, Colter stayed on the right track.
“I stayed focused, I stayed positive, and I avoided the bad crowd. Now, I've been recruited to play basketball for the Dukes, and I'm a marketing major at Duquesne University. It's been a real blessing for me,” the sophomore point guard said.
Stories such as this one inspired many of the students in attendance.
“These guys showed me that older people have to go through tough times, too. That makes me want to do better,” said eighth-grader Tyler Wright, 14, of Ross Township.
Abby Evans, a 13, an eighth-grader from Ross said the players' stories showed her “it's important to pay attention” in school.
“They encouraged me to try harder,” she said.
Standing 5 feet, 11 inches, Colter asked the students what kind of dunk they wanted to see him make.
“I can do any dunk you want me to,” he said.
Just as his mother had always told him, Colter now knows he can accomplish many things — including inspiring young teens to aim higher, too.
Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.