"Remember who you are and whose you are."
Dear Freshman-year Marcus,
“Remember who you are and whose you are,” your parents will say when they drop you off at school.
You’re that tall guy from Bailey—that town nobody knows.
That introvert whose heart starts racing as the teacher calls roll.
That Native American who proudly represents his people.
That basketball player who lies in bed dreaming of running out of the tunnel and onto the Dean Dome floor.
That guy that claimed to be a Christian, but didn’t even know what it meant.
“Whose you are,” though? That’s tough. Albert and Marcia’s son, and John, James, and Michael’s brother, right?
Your parents definitely had the biggest influence on you.
Growing up you couldn’t go anywhere in Hollister without hearing “I just know you’re Marcia’s boy,” or “you look just like ya mama.” But as you get older, you’ll start to hear “you’re Albert’s son, ain’t ya?” And, “Whew ya sound just like him too!”
You’ll be artistic like your mom. Smart like she is, too. She’ll show you how to care deeply about the people around you. She’ll be your teacher all the way through graduation.
You’ll be a basketball player like your dad. And a planner like him, too. He’ll show you how to set goals and work hard to accomplish them. He’ll be your first basketball coach.
Together they’ll lead you to Christ. They’ll discipline you and show you forgiveness. They’ll be an amazing example of Christ’s unconditional love. They’ll be the best parents you could have asked for.
And there’s one more thing they’ll both pass down to you—a love for Carolina.
You weren't old enough to remember Coach Roy Williams’ first championship at UNC in 2005, but you do remember watching him win his second in 2009.
From that moment on you dreamt of playing basketball at UNC, but you never really believed you could. It’s difficult to do something that’s never been done. Nobody from your family played basketball in college. Nobody from your tribe has either. That’s ok—remember, anything worth doing is going to be difficult.
Like most Native Americans, your “representation” growing up was Pocahontas and Tonto—so not great to say the least.
But, soon you’ll realize how different sports are. For the first time you’ll see Native Americans on TV not wearing buckskin or feather headdresses.
You’ll watch the Schimmel Sisters play in the women’s basketball national championship game in 2013. Shoni Schimmel will make a circus shot over Brittney Griner. ESPN will play it over and over, and then you’ll proceed to imitate it for the next two weeks. Two Native American sisters playing at the highest level of college basketball. They’ll become your idols.
Most importantly, they’ll turn your dream into a goal. Seeing them play will inspire you to play at the next level—to play at UNC.
Like every hooper, a new season means new kicks.
Next year, in 2014, Nike will release the N7 Stutter Step. Those will be your first real basketball shoes. You’ll set a new career-high three times that season.
Those shoes will be your introduction to N7. You’ll learn that N7 is a Nike sub-brand started by Sam McCracken; that N7 serves Indigenous communities across the United States and Canada by inspiring
and enabling them to live better lives through the power of sport. Years later, you’ll learn about the internship program—and once again a dream becomes a goal.
Two years later, you’ll go to Carolina Basketball camp. You’ll get to play in Carmichael Gym. You’ll meet two coaches that will change your life.
One of your court coaches will be Hubert Davis. He’ll inspire you with his story from talking Coach Dean Smith into offering him a scholarship to playing in the NBA. He’ll also talk about the junior varsity basketball team that he coaches—remember that.
Another will be a man named Bill Robinson, the head basketball coach at Milligan College in Tennessee.
He’ll see something in you that you don’t see in yourself.
You’ll stay in contact with him after the camp. Over the next few years, you’ll go watch Milligan play a couple of times. You’ll take a visit out to see the campus. There, you’ll practice with the team, and before you leave he’ll give you your first college basketball offer.
You won’t accept it.
You love the staff. You love the school. It’s college basketball, but it’s not Carolina basketball. It’s not the school where your dad went. You won’t get to wear the Carolina blue. You won’t get to play in the Dean Dome, or run out of that tunnel, or play on that floor.
That was your goal—play basketball at UNC.
So, now we’re here. You got into your dream school. You’re a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You just moved into Koury and said goodbye to your parents.
“Remember who you are and whose you are,” your parents say as they leave.
You’ll go into your room and write two goals down on your desk and enter them into your phone. You don’t really need it—at this point, they’re etched into your brain: “Make the JV basketball team. Intern for Nike’s N7 department.”
It’ll take some time to adjust to school. Before you even arrive at UNC, you’ll change your major. Being homeschooled means you’re going from a class of one to a class of 4,295. Three months after walking alone across the stage for graduation, you’ll be walking into a classroom full of 400 other students.
Take it one step at a time. First, find your people. Listen to Mikayla and go to the Carolina Indian Circle’s cookout.
I know you hate this. I know you hate small talk, and you’d rather just stay in and watch The Office. I know it’s challenging for you to make new friends.
But, remember, anything worth doing is going to be difficult.
You’ll convince yourself you’ll just stay for the food. Then, you’ll make up an excuse to leave. Just make yourself go.
You’ll walk up feeling like you swallowed a golf ball. Your hands will shake, just like they always do when you're nervous. The group will do icebreakers, and you’ll put your hands behind your back to keep people from noticing them trembling. That’s when you’ll start overthinking.
“What if they think I’m awkward? Nobody else has their hands behind their back... I know, I’ll put them in my pockets. Ok, now I definitely look awkward. Ok, just move your hands when you start to talk. Then, they can’t see how much they’re shaking.” That must have worked because you’ll start talking with your hands a whole lot from that point on.
After the icebreakers, you’ll force yourself to talk to a few people. You’ll eat and politely excuse yourself back to your dorm.
Two weeks later, you’ll be eating alone in Chase when Cole, Hayley, Jamie, Kaylee, and Caitlin from the cookout invite you to sit with them. Y’all will become best friends. You’ll make countless memories. You’ll room with Cole for the next three years, and soon you’ll meet some more friends. Y’all will spend way too much time in the dining hall together.
Now that you’ve got your people—find your place. As always, it’ll be in a gym. Woollen will become your second home. Every day after class, you’ll shoot at least 200 shots, making at least 150.
Always start with form shooting. “Shot, pocket, follow through.” Good. Again. “Shot, pocket, follow through.” Those words will repeat over and over again in your mind as you jam to Andy Mineo and KB.
Move to the elbow—you’re going to get a lot of shots from the elbow. Make it your sweet spot. Good. Now do what you do best, space the floor. 5 threes from each spot in a row. You missed. You’re tired, remember to jump. Start over. Ok, free throws. Make 20, you have to shoot 80% or better. Ok, now five in a row—all swishes—and you can leave. If you hit the rim, you have to start over. Breathe. Three bounces. Bend your knees. Up and release. Again. 3 more times. Good.
Now go across the street and run the bleachers in Kenan. I know it’s 95 degrees out—you’ll get used to it.
Left foot forward first. You’re weaker going to your left. Good. Find your rhythm. That’s it. Again. Now switch. Ok, now two steps at a time. Don’t trip. Great. Five down-and-backs to the 40. Get some water. One lap around the field. Back to the dorm.
Now you’re adjusted. You’ve got a routine. You wake up, eat, go to class, eat again, class, workout, dinner, study, eat one last time, sleep, and repeat.
But there’s still something missing. A piece in a puzzle that’s been lost for years.
I wish you’d found it sooner, but God’s timing is never early or late.
Let’s back it up again. Before you leave for school, you’re going to find your old Bible. It’ll be on top of your drawer, covered in so much dust that you won’t recognize it. You’ll debate whether to bring it or not. You’ll leave it.
Thankfully, God is faithful. Your dad will give you his old Bible. You’ll pack that one. But then you’ll leave it unopened for the next 3 months.
Thankfully, God is faithful. He’ll send a friend. Hannah will ask you every week, “what’s God been teaching you lately?” You’ll make up an answer. Just can’t stop kicking the can down the road, huh?
Thankfully, God is faithful. God will send another friend, a coach. He’ll lead by example. He’ll still inspire you with the same story.
You’ll be in French class when you get the email: “2018-2019 JV Team.” Scroll to the bottom. There. There it is, “Marcus Richardson.” You made the team. You’re a Tar Heel. You’re an athlete at the University of National Champions.
“Bonjour la classe,” your teacher will interrupt. Make that “student-athlete.” Go ahead and pay attention—this gen ed will actually pay off.
Three years after you first met Coach Hubert Davis at Carolina Basketball camp, he’ll pick you for his JV team. Soon, you’ll have a locker in the Dean Dome, handscan access to the practice gym, and some brand new kicks.
Walking onto Roy Williams Court for the first time will leave you breathless.
You’ll warm up like you always do—form shooting first. “Shot, pocket, follow through.” Move to the elbow. Great, now some threes. Free throws.
Then practice will start. You’ll sweat more than you thought possible. But you’ll love every minute of it. Practice in high school was always easy. This is a challenge.
You’ll learn the progressions of Coach Smith’s famous secondary break. Coach Davis will teach some of the fast break drills UNC runs. Then you’ll get a taste of all the conditioning UNC does. You won’t love running 33s so much.
You’ll wake up the next morning sore everywhere. You’ll get used to it.
You’ll have to wait until Spring semester for your first game.
When it comes you’ll realize just how far you’ve made it. From homeschool basketball in dusty gyms, to college basketball in the Dean Dome.
You’ll score in your first game. A three-ball, right corner pocket. But what you’ll remember most isn’t the bucket, but what happened before and after the game. You’ll remember running out of the tunnel and seeing your parents and brothers in the stands. You’ll remember hugging them after the game and reminiscing about the years spent working towards this moment.
Everything’s great now—the puzzle’s finally complete…right? Hardly. You’ll spend the next few weeks wondering why you're not happy—why you still feel unsatisfied. You’ve achieved your goal, yet it’s still not enough.
At some point during practice, Coach Davis will quote Proverbs 14:23,
“In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.”
While he undoubtedly meant it for basketball, you’ll apply it to every aspect of your life. You’ll memorize it. You’ll check your heart. You’ll ask yourself—do my actions align with my talk? Am I working towards where I want to be in life? You weren’t.
Years of focusing on the goal of playing college basketball at UNC meant sacrificing the only thing that matters for eternity—a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You’ll do what you always do—set a new goal. Read the entire Bible in a year. It’ll be tough, but remember “in all labor there is profit.”
You’ll start by reading a bit in the morning when you wake up and at night when you go to bed. It’ll be a chore at first, something to check off of your to-do list. But soon it’ll be a habit. It’ll be second nature to wake up and reach for your Bible instead of your phone.
You’ll read books of the Bible you didn’t know existed. Heads up, there's a book called Micah and one called Malachi—two separate books. You’ll learn Philippians 4:13—just about every athlete’s favorite verse—doesn’t mean what you think it does. You’ll get into apologetics. And you’ll memorize a host of new verses that will steer your life in a new direction: Micah 6:8, Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and Psalms 23.
But most importantly you’ll learn two things: Jesus has to be at the center of everything you do, and you can’t walk this life alone.
That’ll be the most influential year of your life. You’ll start to surround yourself with more Christian brothers and sisters—Max, Zach, Kade, Ben, and a host of other amazing people. You’ll start to walk in step with the Spirit.
When that happens—when you really start to trust the Lord with every part of your life—that’s when you’ll find peace and joy. Not because you won’t have tough times, but because even in the worst moments you’ll know that you are not alone.
Come junior year, you’ll be looking to accomplish your next goal: get the Nike N7 internship.
You, being naive, will only apply to one company. You’ll apply to Nike and get selected to do a phone interview.
You’ll network with a Jordan Brand employee, DT, Darron Trobetsky. He’ll help you with your interview. You’ll feel confident when it’s over, but as the calendar flips from November to March your confidence will start to drop.
Then you’ll get an email: “Thank you from Nike, Inc.” It’ll read: “Because of the quality of candidates and after a review of your qualifications and those of the other candidates, we have decided to move forward with individuals whose background and experience more closely match our needs.” Your heart will drop. Your confidence will be gone.
You’ll reach out to DT to thank him for his help, and he’ll give you the best piece of advice—
send a thank you note.
You’ll shoot the recruiter a thank you note. Within minutes she’ll reach back out notifying you that there’s been a mistake in the system. You’re not out. You’ll have a chance to interview with Sam McCracken for the N7 internship.
You’ll knock it out of the park. You’ll accept the offer and just like that you’ll be an N7 intern.
You’ll find out Sam is a former basketball coach and huge UNC basketball fan, so you’ll spend every Wednesday morning talking hoops.
You’ll have the best mentor, Bailey, and fellow mentees, Catie, Bryn, and Sydney. You’ll come in second in the combine with Will, Dom, Claudia, Chance, Asaiah, Jermar, and Mack.
And you’ll meet Tony Dorado who will invite you to Peach Jam—Nike’s EYBL championship tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
You and your dad will sit in the lobby of the hotel and watch as coach after coach arrives to scout some of the nation’s top talent.
It’s there you’ll see a whole new side of the game you love.
You’ll act like a coach for a weekend. Notepad in hand as you jump from game to game.
You’ll watch and take notes on personnel, situations, and stats.
Ok, now it’s the end of the game, and we need a three to win with 3 seconds left—who’s my best shooter? Number one for sure, she’s 3/4 from three this game. She has a great stroke, and she’s tall, so she can shoot over a contest if she has to. We have a timeout, so here’s what we’re going to do: Set a stagger screen at the top of the key and curl off it. Catch it, one dribble to the other side of halfcourt, and then everybody calls for a timeout. Then we’ll set up our sideline out-of-bounds play. Got it. Good. Let’s go execute.
Unfortunately, the coach won’t take your silent suggestion this time, and they’ll turn it over before they get to half court.
It’ll go on like that all weekend. Game after game. Situation after situation. 8:30am to 7:30pm straight Friday through Sunday. There’s no better way to spend a weekend.
You’ll leave Augusta with a newfound appreciation for all your coaches and a new goal: become a basketball coach.
In your senior year, you’ll ask people on your Instagram story how they would describe you using three words. Through the clutter of buzzwords, one word sticks out like a sore thumb—basketball. While others may see that as a hobby‚ to us it’s a personality trait.
For better or worse, we’re “the basketball guy.” The one who’s happiest in a gym and whose favorite noise is still a ball bouncing and a crowd cheering.
I’m positive that will never change.
We’re still that tall guy from Bailey—that town nobody knows.
We’ll always be that Native American who proudly represents his people. A small part in something much bigger than ourselves. Representing those who have come before us and setting an example for the next generation. We’ll still be hanging with those same friends from Freshman year, the one’s whose kindness we can never repay.
But now our heart’s not racing when the teacher calls our name. We still talk with our hands to cover up the shakes, but now we enjoy meeting people. We still recharge alone in our room, but the idea of going to a big event no longer fills us with dread.
And most importantly, the people that know us now, know us as someone who is caring, supportive, and thoughtful towards others, and someone who is genuine in his walk with God.
“Remember who you are and whose you are,” your parents said when they dropped you off at school.
Eventually, we’ll realize the problem with this statement: the answer can change.
Sure, we’ll always be a hooper, we’ll always be Native, but now we can finally say we’re Christian.
So as we prepare for graduation and whatever God has in store for us after—remember, anything worth doing is going to be difficult, but we don’t have to do it alone. We’ll always have our family, friends, and the Lord to help us through.
P.S. Toujours reconnaissant.
- Marcus Richardson