Three years ago, Scene profiled the sad story of Rodney Lemons
, the former pride of Beachwood High School who, in 1991, was voted one of the best high school basketball players in the country by a team of scouts.
His dreams of playing for Michigan came to a halt when the school couldn’t come through with a scholarship. So the basketball star landed at Casper College in Wyoming, thinking he’d then transfer to a Division I school. But a drunken classmate would intervene with these plans.
During a team party in 1992, some people started trash-talking about black students. Lemons fought back, not realizing that one of the trash-talkers had a knife. Lemons was stabbed three times in the arm. He tried to make a comeback, playing for a junior college in Illinois, then earning a scholarship to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he went head to head against Ray Allen in the NCAA tournament. After graduation, he spent a decade working out at NBA teams’ training camps. He never made the final cut and spent years fighting depression...
But in 2005, after playing in an NBA summer league, Lemons was approached by an agent who knew of a potential opening. The catch: The job was with the English national team. Lemons moved to London, where he averaged 36 points a game. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much competition a land whose principal sport is soccer. “The other guys couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean,” Lemons complains, and the team lost most of their games.
After his season abroad, Lemons was invited to the training camps with the Orlando Magic and the Portland Trailblazers. A torn Achilles tendon, however, left him on the injured list.
Now back in Cleveland, he started a fundamentals camp for suburban hopefuls -- boys who weren’t quite good enough to make their high school teams. He worked one on one with the 40 players, videotaping their shots, and working on their confidence. After one season of training, 39 of his 40 players landed spots on their varsity teams.
Now Lemons has scored a $250,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, Munsell Realty, and the Bridge Foundation to start an after-school basketball clinic for 16-18 year olds, starting in May. He believes he can pass on these lessons better than most outsiders, since he’s been through the professional system.
“A lot of these kids are taught that if they don’t make it to the NBA or to a Division I school, then their life is over,” Lemons says. “That’s what I believed once. But you can still be a productive member of society without that.”
It’s a lesson that’s taken Lemons 33 years to master. – Rebecca Meiser