For many around Indiana, basketball is a way of life. Whether you spent summers on blacktop courts or watched from the bleachers during sectional championship games, basketball – specifically Indiana basketball – is woven into the very fabric of our lives. My family is no different as I’m sure my parents can attest to dedicating large blocks of time to practices in gyms all over Indianapolis and AAU tournaments around the country during summers. Except for my sister Gabrielle (Class of 2019) we all took a shot at it at some point growing up – David (NC Class of 2009), Alex (NC Class of 2011) and Wes (NC Class of 2015). David and I had those dreams of basketball success dashed relatively early. Alex would transition over to football and become and All-State Cornerback. And Wes, well Wes would outdo us all.
Looking back, I always knew he was talented, but it takes a bit more in order to achieve any degree of success. His hard work and determination played a vital role in his development, but additionally it was his ability to see the bigger picture that can be helpful for others hoping to walk this same path. We chatted a few weeks ago about his development, opportunities and his future.
GS: Growing up in Washington Township there are a variety of different opportunities, what was it about basketball that made the biggest impact on you early on?
WS: I used to watch guys like Eric Gordon play on ESPN. To see someone that lives down the street being recognized at the national level made me fall in love with the game and the school. With such a good team and such good players, everyone coming up in grade school and middle school wanted to play ball so making teams (travel teams, middle school teams) throughout the years was a big deal.
GS: I think it’s sometimes easy for athletes to get lost in their specific sport, talk about some of your additional activities while in high school and how that played a role in your development?
WS: I was involved in COHORT, a program at North Central that brings together African American students that are in accelerated classes. I was the only African American in some of my accelerated classes which at times made me feel uncomfortable. COHORT gave me the opportunity to meet people who may have been going through the same struggles as me. Over the four years, I started to gain meaningful friendships with others in the program.
GS: For the past six years, I’ve mentored a group of young black men ages 13 – 16, many of them want to be professional athletes – where do you think this stems from? Society, lack of exposure or something else?
WS: In my opinion, every kid wants to be a professional athlete because that is one of the coolest ways to be rich. I don’t blame them but where kids go wrong is not keeping it real with themselves. Some kids get that and channel their energy elsewhere and some don’t, and the years go by with a waste. I think it is all about guidance and what others think of you. If your parents, friends, and others only compliment you when it has to do with sports, and they do this to you your entire life then you believe that you can only succeed in that one area. Too many African American kids believe the only way to succeed is through sports. As a culture we must start celebrating A’s and B’s the same way we celebrate 30-point games.
There were a variety of transitions throughout Wes’ career, from playing in the Panther Youth League to Marian, it was indeed a process.
GS: Talk about your transition into high school basketball?
WS: High school was tough to say the least. I felt I was one of the best players coming in as a freshman if not the best, but I was placed on the freshman team, which was a humbling experience. Although disappointed not to be playing JV/Varsity my first year, that year was one of the most fun years of playing basketball. We were all good friends and we had a pretty good team. The following year is when I started to see good friends either get cut or transfer. It was tough knowing that I was not going to be alongside my best friends on the court, but I had to stay focused.
WS: I committed to Marian University in the spring of 2015. I entered the program with a mentality that I was not going to wait for my opportunity but instead I was going to take it. I broke a few records but I most proud of going to the elite-8 and final-4 the last two years of my career. I came into a program with little success and left it as one of best teams in the nation.
GS: What’s next for you?
WS: Human resources at Eli Lilly and Company. I completed a ten-week HR internship last summer at Lilly and they extended an offer in which I accepted in September of my senior year. I will be a part of the global mobility team for my first position. With the move to Eli Lilly, I will look to gain experience as a business professional for quite some time.
From early days in youth leagues to professional development, Wes always had a great support system of family and friends. He was exposed to new ideas and perspectives early on thanks in part to Washington Township. While sports provided him with a variety of opportunities, it was his ability to use those transferable skills in ways to help him grow. While Wes certainly has a unique story, its my hope it can serve as a blueprint for others looking to make their mark.