Today, most basketball trainers are trying to develop the next Kevin Durant. Me? Help my Student-Athletes develop from the inside out. In doing so, hoping to nurture the next Barack Obama—who just so happens to love basketball.
So, my story isn’t about my accolades.
It’s about how to use life’s obstacles to overcome a fear of failure. It’s how I’ve learned from those failures— and my resulting successes—and how you can, too.
Even in my innocence at the age of 9, I knew my deepest passion would be to inspire others. Engaging people and touching their lives through positive influence was a natural outgrowth of being raised by my hero—my mom, Ann Gumbs.
I watched her empower others, create confidence, and motivate change. She was often described as being an inspirational figure in the U.S. Virgin Islands community where I was raised. So, when my third-grade teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up, my response was no surprise to me;. “to be one of the top 5, most influential individuals to every person that knew me.
Little did I know my life would evolve into being that influential person for many young student-athletes in the Bay Area today, knowing that responsibility would be my greatest privilege, my highest honor, and my life’s work.
While my mom instilled many of my life skills, it is paramount to recognize my father, Wilbert Arnold Gumbs, for a positive example of work ethic and discipline. Although he never made it to high school, his exemplary life was being involved in construction projects from a very young age. He built our family a three-story masonry home single-handedly.
As a growing player, an insight I had was that obstacles have a peculiar way of guiding us into our dreams and visions, even though they are rarely anticipated.
For me, adversity showed up at a young age. There was the normal peer pressure and being misled by friends. But then, one playful afternoon at the age of 13, a bicycle accident resulted in a severe head injury and near death experience. Stunned and scared, my day went from playing with friends to being rushed to a hospital in Puerto Rico. My mom was at my side when the seizures started. There is still a dent in my skull where it had been pressing into my brain and causing the seizures, but, for some mysterious reason, the pressure released and the seizures stopped right before surgery.
What some might call an accident might also be called a gift. It motivated me to change my life and fully commit to living up to the potential that was seen in myself at the age of 9, deciding then to become a leader.
This is where my pursuit of excellence began. As the only boy in a family with six sisters, and with my mom and dad working all the time, it pushed me to mature faster. My brush with death accelerated that sense of maturity.
Basketball became my escape, outlet, and focus. By giving me a place to feel comfortable pursuing a passion, while also being surrounded by active, like-minded people, basketball helped me develop the confidence to both act and carry myself differently. My network of friends grew as we shared common bonds, and it also brought me closer to my family—who were happy to see my hard work and proud of my growing sense of self-respect.
Cyril Benjamin, my Junior National Coach—and the most influential coach in my life—came into my life at this time.
‘CB’ took a keen interest in me. He saw that my potential went beyond the basketball court. In doing so, he also gave me the promise of creating a brighter future. CB was a second dad to me and always will be. Coach was the person that showed me the blueprint of empowerment.
Under the tutelage of Coach Benjamin, I was named the U.S. Virgin Islands Best High School Player in 1999. That same year, we traveled with our Jr National Team to Chicago and won the gold in the 16 Under NIKE Global Challenge.
His support motivated me to leave the comfort zone of my home and a championship team to go to the United States to pursue an even BIGGER dream.
After moving to Florida, in a new country and new home—far away from the family and friends, leaving behind titles, championships, gold medals, and accolades I realized that chasing your dreams often comes with frustrations.
Now only a junior in high school, I was alone, up against new challenges and without familiar comforts. The hard work and skills I was praised for encountered little respect in Florida. As an outsider, there was little opportunity to showcase my talents, which left me feeling belittled and anything but empowered.
Coach Benjamin had taught me to know myself and to not give up, but to find a deeper determination to succeed. There was a risk to take to go even further out of my comfort zone if I was going to reach success.
After moving to another school in Kentucky, I was introduced to my second empowering coach, John Tinsley.
Coach Tinsley was the ultimate motivator in teaching me to believe in myself, to exceed my expectations, and to play like it. He demanded that next logical step was to move into my leadership role and stop being so unselfish. That motivation led me to an incredible basketball season—my achievement was being added to the Kentucky All-Star team, something no player born outside of the state had ever done before.
My excitement grew when I was propelled on to California. With a scholarship to the University of San Francisco, given to me by Coach Phillip Matthews, it was evident that my parent’s dream for me to graduate from college—something no one else in my family had done would be fulfilled.
Arriving on the campus of the University of San Francisco, there were many expectations: to be Preseason Freshman of the Year, achieve a higher basketball IQ, and get good grades.
However, the overwhelming feelings of being homesick, the drastic difference between high school and college (in both academics and sports), and probably the most pivotal moment in my life, the unanticipated responsibility of being a father were never expected. Once again, I had to grow up faster than my fellow peers.
My life was no longer just about me. It became more about setting the best example for my son, Jaydon.
As a result of this new drive, it was important to refocus. My initial inspiration—the nine-year-old me that wanted to inspire and empower—became a man.
Working harder than ever led me to become a starter and captain on the team. I was named the West Coast Conference (WCC) Player of the Week, was on the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 List, and played postseason in the NIT Tournament.
Despite all of this, insecurity and disappointment would once again arise. After three years of success, a new coach sat me at the end of the bench during my senior year. Even though my highest scoring game saw 31 points against a Texas Tech team being coached by the famous Bobby Knight, that new coach undermined my skills and confidence, making me feel being good wasn’t good enough.
You might expect that ending my college career on the USF bench to be a defeating experience. It might be for some. It wasn’t for me.
My agent pushed me to pursue professional basketball overseas, and my trainer, Donovan Blythe, helped me get physically and mentally prepared for a successful career. My career overseas was full of amazing experiences, lasted eight successful years, and was highlighted by winning a European Championship.
Now, having read my story—what is one thing that remained the same over the course of my journeys? Your guess is correct. It’s me.
The only thing that changed was my coaches. Some were empowering; some were defeating. I grew and changed, yes. Choosing to become the accumulation of all of my empowering coaches, and my heroes —my parents, is how change and growth happen.
I’ve created a transformational, life-enriching program for young, aspiring student-athletes in the San Francisco Bay Area. And each one of my students is just like me—able to fulfill their dreams and then some.
This bio was written to share the reasons why my mission is to show that Empower ME Academy’s empowerment goes beyond sports. I am committed to ingraining life lessons and developing empowered young adults and just happen to be using basketball as a vehicle to teach. My vision of providing a premier resource for empowerment and mentorship was developed from my life experiences—both success and failures. I view myself as a motivator and teacher of life lessons first and a coach second.
To ponder the words once quoted by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to DREAM more, LEARN more, DO more and BECOME more, you are a LEADER!”
When my students walk away with lessons about perseverance, respect for teammates, parents, and community, the nine-year-old in me is smiling.
Having so much to smile about is my greatest honor.
Yours in Empowerment,