pepperoni roll psycho...
Joined: Jan 2006
I Root For: West Virginia
Location: Knoxville, TN
Jennings finds WVU at end of long road
You think you had it tough?
The Charleston Daily Mail Wrote:Jennings finds WVU at end of long road
By Mike Casazza
Daily Mail sports writer
May 29, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A week from today, Danny Jennings will arrive at West Virginia University.
He is, as he says with emphasis, "pumped" to begin a college basketball career he believes will be beyond anything he could accurately predict.
"I'm ready for anything," he said from his home in New York City, "and everything."
What excites him most, though, are things that might not normally thrill a college freshman.
"I know the training is going to be hard, and I'm probably going to pass out a couple times, throw up a couple times, but I can't wait," he said. "I'm going to get in shape and be ready for the spectacular season that we're about to begin."
The game of basketball and everything that goes into being as good as he's become comes kind of easy for someone who's seen what Jennings has seen.
"I've been through worse," he said.
His first day on campus will be the next stop on a journey that's taken him from his drug-addicted mother to foster homes in all five New York boroughs, back to his mother and a relapse and then to another foster home that ultimately changed his life.
"I don't have a problem explaining my story to you," he said. "I've experienced a lot of ups and downs and times when I thought I'd be nothing. I kept pushing and trying to find something to occupy me. I found it and I'm blessed."
* * *
Jennings, guards Dalton Pepper and Casey Mitchell and forward/center Deniz Kilicli make up WVU's incoming recruiting class. Jennings is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound southpaw who's no doubt grown from what he's been through thus far in life.
He spent most of his first four years living with an aunt. Dan and his mother were together in a shelter in the Bronx before he says they were separated by child welfare services.
"I've basically been in foster care since I was 5 years old," he said. "My biological mom got caught up with drugs and she couldn't take care of me. From the time I was 5 to 8, I went from home to home all over New York City, all five boroughs."
Jennings doesn't exactly remember how many homes he lived in while in the system, but he remembers it was a life of constant struggle and uncertainty. There are stories about being pushed down stairs and locked in basements, about being settled one day and hurried off the next.
"You're going from home to home and you don't know how long you're going to stay," he said. "Being in an unstable home messes with a child's mind. You need stability at a young age. You need to know somebody's going to be there. I never knew how long I'd be at one place. I'd be somewhere for a couple weeks or months, then someone would come and take me and I'd never see that other person again."
Dan and his mother were reunited when Dan was 8. They were together for two years before she fell back into the grip of addiction. Dan was taken in by Cora Darby, who's raised Jennings ever since and adopted him a few years back.
"She's been the biggest impact," Jennings said. "When I first came in, I barely had any clothes. I was dirty. I wasn't taken care of properly at that age. She took care of me, taught me morals, forced me to go to church when all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends, gave me a curfew. It was tough and at the time I hated it, but if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."
* * *
Darby is the mother of four sons and daughters and a longtime pastor at All Saints Church of Christ in God. Not surprisingly, Jennings learned about forgiveness.
His mother has been clean, he said, for four years now and they have a functional relationship. Atop the list of things to do before leaving for WVU is spending some time with her.
"I totally forgive her," Jennings said. "Now that I know everything she was going through with drug abuse, I know she wasn't herself. When you're on drugs, you're not in your right mind. That was never the real side of her."
If Darby taught Jennings about amnesty, his mother taught her son about persistence.
"She made me realize when you're on a downfall, you can always rise up," he said. "Anything that happens to you, you can rise up from."
He's applied that to his life. Jennings didn't really discover basketball until he was 12. He made the junior varsity team as a freshman at Curtis High in Staten Island, but transferred across town after one season to Bishop Laughlin, where he was one year behind WVU sophomore Devin Ebanks.
He missed his sophomore year after twice breaking his right leg during pickup games. He returned as a junior and was good enough to earn an invitation to try out for the famed AAU New York Gauchos that summer. He made the team and became close friends with WVU sophomore Truck Bryant.
Suddenly basketball was a real option in his life, but academics were a possible roadblock.
"I found something I was good at and something I wanted to do and I didn't want anything to keep me from it," he said.
* * *
He left home again, this time by his choice, to play at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. His grades improved and his play garnered attention, which followed him on the AAU circuit with the Gauchos. He was MVP of the Rumble in the Bronx and last July committed to WVU.
He played this past season at St. Thomas More, in Connecticut, where Ebanks played one season before signing with the Mountaineers. Jennings signed in November and graduated earlier this month.
"I've been in bad places in my life, and there were times I thought I'd be on the streets doing something bad," he said. "Basketball has helped me though all my struggles in life and kept me focused. Without basketball, I'd be focused on the negative stuff. I've had turmoil, but I've been focused on a goal instead, and it's helped me block out all the trials and tribulations."
The first goal is now achieved and he has tiered his expectations for his time at WVU. There is a plan for gradual development. As a freshman, he doesn't want to be a scorer.
"I don't need to," he said. "We have guys who can score."
Jennings is rather obsessed with rebounding and blocking shots and getting easy baskets on the run or under the rim. In a day when players strive to be Kobe or LeBron, he wants to be Denver's Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin or Detroit's Jason Maxiell. The last two played for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati.
"I'm on a mission," Jennings said. "I'm hungry. Basketball isn't just a game for me now. It's a business and I understand that. I want to be the best player I can be and that starts with me doing all those little things my first year. Those guys are monsters who change the game. I want to do that and get better through the years. I'm not going to be satisfied until I'm the guy I want to be."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at http://www.blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.
If this kid is on a mission, like he says, and the rest of the Mountaineers pick up on it, because that kind of drive and enthusiasm is contagious, The BEast will be West Virginia's before too much longer. The only question is, when...