By Steev Riccardo
DUDLEY – Although only a few of the freshmen and sophomores who listened to former NBA and college basketball player Chris Herren speak last week at Shepherd Hill had heard of him beforehand, it’s pretty certain they will remember him and his life story from now on.
Herren gave two speeches, also talking about his incredible journey to the junior and senior classes, who were equally enthralled. It’s a story that’s hard not to think about.
If you are not familiar with Herren’s story: he was a heralded high school basketball star at Durfee High School in Fall River, where he scored 2072 points and was named Boston Globe Player of the Year from 1992-94. He was also featured in a book entitled Fall River Dreams, which followed the path of him and some of his teammates, as they made school sports history.
Heavily recruited by major colleges such as Duke and Kentucky, Herren decided to stay close to home and play for Boston College, but was dismissed from the team during his freshman season after failing several drug tests, and eventually played for Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State College, where he averaged 15 points and five assists a game in three seasons.
He could have been an NBA lottery pick after his junior season but failed another drug test, which returned him back to school for his senior year.
The Denver Nuggets drafted him in the second round draft in 1998 and he was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he only played a half season before blowing his knee out and being released.
Herren’s basketball career, which also landed him on several European teams, is, sadly, not the real story here. He could have been great, but instead he used cocaine, heroin, oxycontin, and other drugs heavily and was addicted for ten years of his life. He was arrested several times and even found himself homeless at one point.
It took Herren, now 37, years, but he finally got straight in 2008 and since then has made a film for ESPN, released a book called Basketball Junkie, and more importantly, has told his story to mostly high school audiences, hoping that others will not make the mistakes he made.
Herren’s speech at Shepherd Hill was extremely intense and you could see the impact he made on the students. He explained how time and time again drugs controlled his life and how he neglected his wife and kids, as well as his tremendous basketball talents, so he could get high.
He needed drugs to survive and did everything he could do to get them, which led to the end of a promising basketball career and nearly his life. It’s a story hard to forget.
Shepherd Hill Guidance Counselor Lisa Incutto heard about Herren from fellow teacher Nate Skermont, who had showed the film ESPN made about Herren, entitled Unguarded, to some of his classes and received a great response.
“He (Skermont) told me about it and we thought it would be great to get Herren to come to the school, so I looked into it. I told him it would be really expensive and I didn’t know how we could make it happen,” said Incutto.
“The District gets to write a grant for the Educational Foundation and I wrote the grant requesting the money for two sessions back to back. Knowing that they get a lot of applications, I didn’t really think more about it, and then I was awarded the grant late last spring. I called Herren’s foundation in June and the next available date was January.”
Incutto was very impressed. “It was everything I expected and more; the story itself is not surprising but his words and his powerful presentation make a huge difference.”
Sophomore Chris Lindstrom didn’t know who Chris Herren was before he heard him speak, but said afterwards that he was glad he saw him. “It was an awesome speech, I think they (the students) were really and truly touched by it.”
Freshman Michael Rapoza did know who Herren was. He had seen Unguarded on ESPN and said it was “very good.” He also felt the speech would make a difference with his classmates.
Tim Lewis, also a freshman, currently reading Herren’s book Basketball Junkie, was able to get his copy signed. He said “I feel that our class will take this seriously because it is a real life experience and it’s something that they should take seriously.”
- Monday, 11 February 2013