• Marcus Richardson

"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.


Seems straightforward.


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.

(Submitted)

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.

(Submitted)

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.

(Submitted)
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.

(Submitted)

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.

(Submitted)

“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.

(Submitted)

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