The Portland Trail Blazers selected Memphis guard Will Barton in the second round of June's 2012 NBA Draft after he unexpectedly fell to No. 40.
In a number of first-person single-shot interviews dubbed "All or Nothing" and uploaded by YouTube user High School Hopefuls, Barton recounts in detail a particularly difficult period of his life -- when he was attending high school in Baltimore, MD. -- and reflects on the lessons he took from those experiences. (Hat tip on the videos, which were filmed during the pre-Draft process, to the SportsTwo Blazers forum.)
Barton's video autobiography begins with his sister, Shareena, who was jailed for her role in a knife incident, leaving Barton, his brother and his mother to care for Barton's niece.
"She's tough, she's hard-nosed," Barton says of his sister. "She got some kids. I'm trying to make sure they're OK and she's OK. I love her. We just try to keep her on the right track, keep her focused. She went to jail. People tried to hurt her, a girl tried to stab up. She took the knife and kind of stabbed the girl back up. The girl was messed bad, messed up real, real, real bad. She had to do some time in jail. Like a year."
Meanwhile, Barton's mother was a single mom working a night shift. Barton remembers that he and his brother, Antonio (who would later follow his older brother to play basketball at Memphis), would walk her to the bus stop late at night, and then take over responsibilities for his baby niece while his mother was at work.
"Pretty much watched her every day," Barton says. "We would have to wait for my mom to get off work. Mind you, this isn't summer time, we still have school. This is real life. We ain't on a vacation. Sometimes we were so tired. She's a baby! She's not six or seven years old, she's a baby. You know -- babies are crying all night, they need to be fed, they need to be changed, she can't talk, we don't know what to do. It was a lot of long, long, long nights. We're talking about two teenagers, two teenage boys, we don't have no kids. This is new to us. We barely know how to take care of us. What are we doing with a baby?"
The child care took a toll on his studies.
"We were up all night," he said. "I remember some days we would get up, we were so tired. We couldn't go to school. We were going to school mad late, waiting for our mom to get off [work]. You can't leave the baby by herself. Not going to school sometimes, or get there real late. You get to school, you're tired."
Barton emphasizes that he and his brother adhered to a strict "no complaining" policy and chose to keep their off-court struggles totally private.
"Nobody really knows this because I'm a happy-go-lucky guy. I'm not one of those dudes to complain, like, 'Oh my life is so messed up.' ...People think we were normal kids. I been having grown-man responsibilities... We're going through this, nobody knowing. We're not complaining. We just keep it in-house... Sometimes my grades weren't as good as they were supposed to be. People wonder: 'Did he go to class? Is he a problem kid? He's from Baltimore. He's from the hood. Ain't no telling what he's doing.' "
To make matters worse, Barton says, his family was evicted from their home in Garden Village when he was in tenth grade, with his sister still in jail. Barton, his brother, mother and niece were taken in by an "Aunt Neeva."
"Before that time I had never met that lady in my life," he says. "She already had her family in there. Her, her daughter and her daughter's son. We're all living in her house. This is all in high school. You're coming to that stage. You're liking girls, you've got friends, you're hanging out, you want to do stuff, you're becoming a young man, this ain't no elementary stuff."
The four members of the Barton family lived in a single room.
"We had one room: me, my mom, Antonio and my niece. We sleep in one bed. Times I'll never forget. We're all sleeping in the same bed, four people. I'm taller than most kids at that age. I'm a big kid. I'm 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3. Antonio he's 6-foot-1, 6-foot. My mom, she's tall for a lady, 5-foot-10. And a baby. We all slept in the same bed, every night. We did that. Not once did I complain. Coaches ain't even know. Nobody knew. Not once. We ain't complaining, 'Oh, life is miserable.' We lived it because that's all we know. As long as I've got my family, we making it through. That's all I know. Surviving."
As he began to make a name for himself on the national high school scene, Barton enrolled at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire to prepare for college. Although he had issues with his grades and his eligibility was initially in question, he was able to get cleared for his freshman season at Memphis.
"When I got to college, that was the first time I had a room to myself in my whole life," he says. "First time I ever had a room to myself. My prep school year, when I went to Brewster, that was the first time I ever had my own bed to myself."
Barton spent two seasons at Memphis before declaring for the NBA Draft. He was named Conference-USA Player of the Year as a sophomore after averaging 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
"That's why I play with that attitude," Barton says of his tough times in high school. "People say, 'He has an attitude problem.' No, I play with that [attitude] because it made me stronger. I'm skinny. I ain't supposed to be doing what I'm doing out there. I'm in there bumping. I do it because I'm tough and because of what I've been through."
So what lessons did Barton take from all of it now that he's achieved his goal of making it to the NBA? Keep working hard and keep an open mind.
"You can't complain," he says. "In life, there's going to be obstacles. Even though you plan stuff, it's never going to go exactly that way. The people who are successful are the people who fight every day when things go wrong... I tell people, 'You never know what someone is going through. Never judge people.' I've been through so much. People don't know because I don't go broadcasting it."
Barton laughs in the video about how long it takes him to get dressed now because he's not used to have more than two shirts from which to pick and how the combinations of available shirts, pants and shoes can be overwhelming. But he also fondly remembers the days that he only had one pair of shoes, some Nike Huaraches, that were used for the court and for walking around.
"I know how it feels to have nothing," he says. "I know basketball can help me secure some things in life. Not just me, my whole family."
Here's the series of video clips. The first two clips focus mostly on his off-court life. The last two clips focus more on his high school basketball career.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter