FEATURE: A formative conversation with all 15 of our players

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Through memories, influences and unique perspectives, we’re attempting here in this space to explain how all 15 players on the Texas Tech basketball roster developed a love for the game. This isn’t a complete biography on any of them. That’s not the objective. In their own words, these are simply recollections from their formative years that could help construct how their pursuit began.
 
De’Vion Harmon, senior from Denton, Texas: The first word I ever said was ‘ball’. That’s what my family tells me. It started early.

Jaylon Tyson, sophomore from Plano, Texas: We were the Panther Pack. It was in PSA. The Plano Sports Association. I remember always being the tallest dude and playing on the small hoop. That 8-feet tall hoop is my first memory of basketball. We would just throw the ball up and hope it went in. I was scoring over little guys back then too though.

Robert Jennings, freshman from Desoto, Texas: I was always playing in our back yard. My dad would pick me up to dunk it. I’ll never forget it.

Elijah Fisher, freshman from Toronto, Ontario: My pops would be playing in rec league games when I was about 2 or 3 years old. I’d be in a stroller and buckled up. Somehow I’d get out of the stroller and run onto the court to try and get the ball. My mom would chase me down and buckle me back up in the stroller. I really believe my love of the game started there.

Kerwin Walton, junior from Hopkins, Minnesota: There was a park across the street from my house that my dad and I would go to practice dribbling and layups. Those times were the beginning for me. It was Aquila Park in Minnesota.

Daniel Batcho, sophomore from Paris, France: I was in France watching Lebron James on YouTube. I was so impressed about everything he was doing on the court. He looked like a superhero to me. I wanted to do that too.

Malik Ondigo, senior from El Mirage, Arizona: Tim Duncan hit a 3 against the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs. I don’t remember the full context of it. It was from the top of the key. I was at Mario’s Pizza with my great aunt, great uncle and cousin. We were all in shock. I was always a huge Phoenix Suns fan as a kid. They were always making runs in the playoffs and Steve Nash had his MVP seasons. The Spurs were always a struggle to get past. I’ll always remember that. It’s my first memory of basketball.

KJ Allen, junior from Los Angeles, California: Having fun with my friends in middle school is all I wanted to do. I remember basketball was what we loved the most.

D’Maurian Williams, junior from Phoenix, Arizona: My mom took me to the YMCA to play when I was about 5. That’s when I fell in love with it.  

Fardaws Aimaq, senior from Vancouver, B.C.: I was probably about 10 or 11 years old when I started playing with my friends in the park. I had no idea how to shoot but I was tall. I was pretty good at layups against them. I would just get as close as possible and throw it up.

Richard Isaacs, freshman from Las Vegas: I was always in basketball gyms as a toddler because my dad coached. I was sitting on the bench with his AAU teams from before I can remember. The game means everything to our family. I’ve really never known anything else besides being around the game.

Ethan Duncan, freshman from Lubbock, Texas: Being around my dad and his teams has to be my first memories of the game. I was really young and he’d be coaching his Trinity Christian teams. I’d be on the sidelines dribbling the ball all over the place trying to be like his players or NBA guys that I saw on TV. I think that’s where I fell in love with the game.

Lamar Washington, freshman from Portland, Oregon: I always played with the older guys. They would steal the ball from me or wouldn’t let me play at first. I stayed with it though. It made me get tougher.

CJ Williams, freshman from Fayetteville, Arkansas: Florida State going to the Sweet 16. My dad was coaching there. I was probably about 8. Seeing that team beat Notre Dame and Texas A&M to advance to the Sweet 16 is the first memory that sticks out. That was a lot of fun.

Kevin Obanor, senior from Houston, Texas: It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I really started playing. That’s the first time I played organized basketball. The game wasn’t really anything to me before that. Making that team is a great memory because it’s when my life really changed for the better.

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Fisher: There is so much energy around the game. It’s art. Once you’re inside those lines, you’re painting the picture. You have the paint brush. No one controls your canvas if you put your mind to it.

 

Aimaq: The game gave me a chance to be myself and get away from everything for a while. If I was having a rough day, being at the court allowed me to flush everything out and have fun with my friends.

Allen: Everyone in my family played basketball. It was everything for us. We competed against each other and always wanted to win.

Harmon: The game has always meant everything to me. I started playing basketball at 3-years-old and was serious about it from the start. It’s always been fun for me and the goal was always to play in the NBA. I loved competing and having fun with my friends. It’s a beautiful game and is something I’ve enjoyed my whole life.

Isaacs: It brings me so much joy. There’s nothing like it for me.

D’Maurian Williams: At first, I was just playing basketball because it was fun. It quickly became everything for me though. I loved being with my friends at first. Then it was about competing. I was driven to keep getting better. The better I got the more fun I was having.

Walton: It was always my passion growing up. It has defined me and my lifestyle from the beginning. It’s really been everything for me. I love shooting and dribbling. Playing. Competing.

Jennings: The game was always fun for me. It was never not fun. As I got older and better, I started realizing how it could affect my life positively along with being fun. I’d always be outside playing with my friends and older dudes in the neighborhood. It brought the community together.

Washington: It kept me out of trouble and focused. Huge part of my life. It gave me a great feeling when I made big plays.

Tyson: Basketball was always fun. I played football too when I was growing up but basketball was my favorite once I made a full transition. It brought me a lot of joy. I was in a rec center every day from middle school to high school. We would be in there all the time playing. I never wanted to leave. That place was just full of joy. The game has taught me a lot and it all started back there.

Batcho: The game gave me a chance to express myself. I was always tall and people always said I should play.

CJ Williams: It meant everything to me as a kid. I grew up around the game with my dad coaching and I always wanted to play.

Ondigo: I really didn’t start playing until I was in high school. I was a quiet kid. Basketball gave me a new form of expression in high school. I got to compete. I got to yell. I got to slap the floor and run around. It was a lot of fun. For the first time I got to release a lot of energy.

 

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Walton: We won the state championship my junior year of high school. My boys had been working our entire lives for that. We got it. Our team was bought in completely for each other. There was a real bond there. That game was in the Timberwolves arena. We talked about getting there and winning it forever. Nothing would stop us. That was the best feeling ever for me.

Isaacs: Winning a U16 gold medal playing for USA Basketball was a great experience for me. I was able to represent the country with USA across my chest while also playing the game I love. There’s a gold medal at my house right now. That’s special to me.

Aimaq: I was a junior in high school and we lost in the state championship game. It was one of those losses where we didn’t play bad. I put up ridiculous numbers with 40 points and 30 rebounds but we still lost. It reminded me that you just have to keep playing hard and stay focused. You’re not going to win every game but you have to do everything you can. That loss sticks out to me even now as a learning lesson.

Tyson: The day I got offered by Texas Tech was also a day that I’ll never forget because of this game. We were playing Allen. I had got cut from their team. I was now playing at John Paul and we went to play in the Allen Tournament. Tech coaches were in the stands and I had a really good game. Scored 40. I was offered that night. That was life changing. The game was incredible for a lot of reasons. I’ll never forget that day.

Washington: My favorite memory is my first dunk. It was a crazy experience. Sophomore year. We were playing Sherwood at Jefferson High School. I’ll never forget it. Everyone was going crazy. They almost stopped the game. Coach had to call a timeout.

CJ Williams: I broke the record at Fayetteville High with nine 3-pointers in a game. That’s a night I’ll never forget.

Fisher: I scored 75 points in a game last year. It was great game and I was feeling it. I hadn’t felt that way before. I also had 11 assists and 10 rebounds. We were playing New Horizon. I felt like I was playing in NBA 2K. That game was right after my visit here at Texas Tech. It was my first game back and I was feeling really good.

Jennings: I played in the Comerica Center in Frisco against Jaylon Tyson and the John Paul Cardinals. The game was incredible. After that game, my entire life changed. My basketball trajectory changed. I got my first offer after that game. A lot of coaches started calling then. That game started with a big dunk, I had a putback and was rolling. I was hitting shots and it was clicking. That’s when I really started believing that I could do this.

Harmon: We played South Grand Prairie in the playoffs of my junior year. We were down six with a like a minute left. My teammate, Jalen Wilson, hit a 3 and then Christian Carter hit another 3 to tie it up. Jalen got a steal with six seconds left and set up a layup to win it. That was a crazy game.

Duncan: In sixth grade I was playing AAU. We played the No. 1 team in the country. We were all so young then but it seemed huge. We beat them. They had guys who I had seen on YouTube and can remember how that really motivated me and made me believe this was possible. It gave me confidence that I could go against anyone.

Ondigo: Our team hadn’t had a home playoff game in six years at Dysart High School. My senior year we were blessed to earn one. We were down eight with about five minutes left. Our team was in a huddle after I had gotten fouled and was about to go to the free-throw line. I could tell everyone was a little uptight and nervous. I told them we were going to win the game. I remember it like it was yesterday. My teammates started believing. I finished with 30 points and we won. That’s a great memory for me.

D’Maurian Williams: My prep year at Putnam Science was incredible. We won the national championship. It was a lot of fun because we had all come together from different parts of the country and brought it together to win. We sacrificed everything. It was a group of guys who had played really well in high school but wanted another year in prep to get better. We made it about the team even though we were all trying to get more offers. Guys were unselfish. I loved that team.

Isaacs: Last year in a game I scored 40 points. That came because I was ready. I went into it focused and excited. I went out there with something to prove.

Allen: Winning the City Championship when I was at Westchester is my favorite memory. We had great coaches and our team was focused. We lost in that game the year before and were really motivated to get it. Our team never gave up.

 

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Tyson: Lebron James is my favorite player. His game is really versatile where he can shoot, dribble and pass. He makes others around him better. One thing I’d copy about his game is really to affect the game in different ways. It’s not always about scoring but impacting the game.

Jennings: Growing up and still to this day, my favorite player is Kevin Durant. I like his game because he’s so versatile. He’s also always himself. He doesn’t let anybody make him be different no matter what the circumstance is.

Harmon: Allen Iverson was always my favorite player growing up. Then it was Lebron James. Those two guys were really important for me. AI is the reason I always wore the head band. He was an inspiration for me.

Allen: My favorite player growing up was Kobe. I liked the way he always wanted the ball in big moments and how competitive he was. I just want to always have the same hunger for the game that he did.

Obanor: Draymond Green. I love the way he impacts the game without having to score. He’s a natural born winner. I want my game to be as impactful as his is.

Isaacs: Growing up in Los Angeles, my favorite player was Kobe Bryant. I admired him forever. He was so dedicated to the game and always worked hard. Kobe was everything I want to be myself.

D’Maurian Williams: My favorite player growing up was Lebron James. He always has a huge impact on the court. He leads by example. Not only is he extremely skilled offensively but he also always brings it on the defensive end. He knows how to bring his team together to win. I would like to implement that in my game and learn to lead by example like Lebron has.

Washington: Lebron is my all-time favorite player. He can do everything on the court and is never selfish. He even gets criticism for passing too much which is something I love about his game. I want to be an all-around player and playmaker like him.

 

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Duncan: I was able to develop a hardworking mentality being a coach’s son. I’d see my dad staying up late breaking down film after a long day at practice. He’d do whatever he could to help his team win. I saw that and admired what he was doing for his players. He taught me a lot about the game but also supported me all the time. My sister played too. They had a huge impact on me.

Obanor: Harry Williams was my coach in high school. He really opened doors for me. He brought me to my prep school and really worked with me to make me a better player and person. There was never any leeway or shortcuts to what we were doing. As people, we don’t always like to be challenged but he did it in a way that made me believe in myself and set me on a path that has brought me here.

Harmon: There are a lot of people who have helped me in basketball in my life. My dad is the most important though. He pushes me all the time to get better. He’s why I’m the player I am today.

Walton: My dad has always been a big part of my basketball life. He’s definitely who got me started. Coach Novak in high school helped me develop and taught me what it took at that level and what I would have to keep getting better at to play at this level. He saw little things in my game and pushed me to get better at them. They both helped me get here and encouraged me.   

Aimaq: Harp runs an academy, 3 Seed Training. He’s been my guy since I was really young. I talk to him every single day. He’s been on this journey with me since it started. I wouldn’t be the player I am without him.

CJ Williams: Donovan Redden never sugar coated anything with me. From an early age he helped me develop my game and mindset.

Ondigo: I’ve had multiple coaches and mentors that I value. Mark Schommer was my P.E. coach growing up and then was a coach in high school. My AAU coaches Kenny Mullins and Gino Crump came out and saw potential in me as a sophomore. They helped develop me and put me in front of college coaches. It takes people believing in you to get here. I was really lucky to have them and so many more.

D’Maurian Williams: Kenny Mullins was huge for me. He believed in me when he didn’t have to and there really wasn’t any reason to. He saw potential and gave me opportunities. At that time, the game was just about being around my friends. He made me see the big picture. Helped me develop my game and also make me want to get more from the game.

Allen: Coach Azzam at Westchester High School took me in and took me to another level. He showed me how to play and to believe in myself. He had a lot of knowledge of the game and taught us the right way to play it.

Jennings: My cousins and my uncle were big mentors for me. My uncle passed away. My cousins still have a huge impact on me. They push me every day. I could call them right now and get great advice. They truly care how I’m doing. That pushes me. I see it that I’m doing an injustice to the work they put into me if I don’t go out there and do my best every day. Uncle Q. My cousins Dez, Tony and Gerodd. They got me to the place I’m at today. They all want me to be great.  

Washington: It’s taken a village to get me to where I’m at. So many people put time and effort into me. My big bros and coaches were always there for me. Playing with and watching my brother is where basketball started for me. I was about 4 when we started playing in our back yard. I wanted to be just like him. He pushed me to be talented in basketball.

Fisher: I have a lot of coaches and mentors who have helped me get here. They have all influenced me. My cousin Trey probably had the biggest impact. He formed me with hard work. I’d go over to his house to have fun and he’d be setting up cones in the basement for us to go through drills. We’d take off our socks and play a full court game into laundry baskets to compete against each other. Trey Thomas. He plays at Vanderbilt right now.

Tyson: Trai Givens is family to me. I don’t call him a mentor or coach anymore. He’s family. He’s been there from the jump. We both give each other a hard time, but he holds me accountable. From an early age he’s helped me develop and stay focused. I still get texts from him telling me to work harder. There’s no holding back. He’s seen potential in me and has made me believe in myself even through some challenging times. No one pushes me harder.

Isaacs: My guy Cartiea in Seattle is really important to me. He’s my guy on and off the court. He’s my best friend but it started with basketball. We talk about life now. Every day. Basketball is really important to us, but he’s helped me develop as a person too. Cartiea French-Toney. Don’t think I’d be here right now without him.

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Batcho: Bryson Williams is the best that I’ve ever played with. I competed against him every day. It made me better. He is amazing. He never took one day off and wouldn’t let me either. He’s a little crazy. You have to be ready with him.

Isaacs: I’ve played with TyTy Washington and Jaden Hardy. They both got drafted this year. It was super fun playing with both of them. I played with Jaden when I was a freshman in high school. He was a top-5 recruit and helped put some spotlight on me too. He was really good and helped me develop my game. TyTy is one of my best friends. We played together for a while. Seeing them in the NBA is crazy. I’m really proud of them. Motivated too.

Allen: Joe Hampton really impacted me. We played in junior college together. He was an older guy and had played at a higher level. He was back at junior college but he wasn’t giving up. Joe motivated me by showing me that you can get back in shape and be successful if you dedicate yourself.

Aimaq: I played against Cole Anthony in my senior year. He lit us up for about 50. It was an easy 50. He was playing with his AAU team out of New York. He went on to UNC, got drafted really high and is having a successful NBA career. Playing against him and seeing all his success makes me realize that I’m right there and can play at that level if I keep working hard.

Walton: Zeke Nnaji is the best I’ve played with. He went to Arizona for college and is with the Denver Nuggets right now. He pushed me to be better. We were connected and had the same goals and passion. We were both gym rats. I see where he is now and continue to be motivated by him. He’s a great friend and someone I admire for the way he plays the game.

D’Maurian Williams: The best player I’ve ever played with is Isaiah King. We were playing together since I was about 7 years old. He was my best friend and stuck with me through it all. He’s still training me and helping me out. He had a huge impact. He knows me the best. Knows if I’m not giving a full effort. He’s honest. I need that sometimes.

Ondigo: Keenan Evans. No question. I was a freshman and got to be on a team with one of the top 5 best players in the nation. He always did the little things at an elite level. He got the free-throw line at will. He played well off the ball. Off the court, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he was the best player. He was incredibly humble and caring about the entire team. He carried himself so well that all of us as teammates became better just by being around him.

Tyson: Manny Obaseki plays at Texas A&M and Daeshun Ruffin at Ole Miss are a couple guys I’ve played with who are really talented. I’ve learned a lot through them and was pushed to become better by working with them.

Harmon: My best friend Tyrese Maxie is the best player I’ve ever played with. You see him in the NBA now with the 76ers going into his third year and I’m really proud of him. He’s made a huge impact on my life as a friend and teammate. I learn from him all the time by seeing the way he approaches the game.

Jennings: I’d say Wade Taylor is the best player I played with. He’s at Texas A&M right now. We played in AAU together. He played hard the whole game on both sides of the ball all the time. He found a way to make me and all his teammates better.

Fisher: Jahcobi Neath was a great teammate of mine. He’s playing at Wisconsin now. He made a big impact on me. He is a mentor. Always hoops and gets the job done. Best player I ever played with.

Duncan: Jonathan Kuminga and Bryson Williams are great guys I’ve played with. They had a great work ethic. Bryson never gave up on anything. He is the hardest worker I’ve ever been around. Kuminga was super electric and a really good teammate. We played together on the Mudiay Elite. He was fun to be around. Great energy.

Washington: Mike James is a real mentor to me. He’s always checking in on me and makes sure I’m staying focused. He just texted me the other day to tell me that it’s a grind but to stay locked in and I can have anything I want. He’s older than me, so we only played together in summer leagues and open runs. He’s playing overseas now and has been a EuroLeague MVP multiple times. One of the best players out there.

CJ Williams: Jace Carter is a really hard worker and great player. He’s at UIC now. He’s an underdog but is really good. I saw how hard he worked to get to where he’s at and really respect it. He motivated me.

 

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Fisher: Basketball has made me who I am. It shaped me to take responsibility and ownership in everything that I do. It also taught me to have fun and respect others. I go back to those first memories where I fell in love with the game when I may be struggling and it makes me smile and remember why I’m playing.

Jennings: My youth taught me life lessons. It taught me how to be a leader, how to be coachable, how to listen and how to believe in yourself. I feel like I’m a better man because of what I’ve gone through in my life playing basketball.

Obanor: Playing sports teaches you a lot of things that you can take off the court also. Dedication and overcoming adversity was really something that the game helped me with when I needed it the most. I picked up the basketball and changed as a person. I can openly say now that I was just going through the motions in life before I started playing in my sophomore year of high school. It changed everything for me.

Tyson: Bumps and bruises are something you go through growing up. I think mine have made me and my family stronger. Basketball has always been really important to us and brought us a lot of joy. It’s never stopped being fun. That’s what this is all about for me. I think everything that I’ve gone through has made me a selfless player. Whatever coach and the team need me to do is all I care about right now.

Batcho: Basketball has given me so much. I wouldn’t be here without the game. You have to be focused on the present. It’s a game where you can never control everything. You just have to work hard and do everything possible you can to be great. Stay focused. I go on the court 100 percent every time. I’ve learned that’s what you have to do.

Washington: Basketball made me a better kid and has helped me become a stronger man. It’s been a long road but it’s given me a lot of opportunities that I would have never had the chance to do. I’ve never taken the game for granted.

D’Maurian Williams: Playing basketball as a kid was my outlet to meeting new people. I stayed to myself before I started playing basketball. I wasn’t a talker. Basketball forces you too though. I built so many friendships that I would never have without the game. It’s a different kind of bond.

Allen: I’m competitive and always want to win. I’ve always been like that.

Walton: There’s something new to learn and see every day. I think I’ve taken from my journey to be ready for this opportunity.

Ondigo: I’ve always been able to learn about myself through basketball. It’s something you have to be proud of with all the work that’s been put in to get here. Most of us out here are very critical of ourselves because we want to be the best. When I reflect on my youth though, I see everything as a blessing. I can take pride in it. We are out here continuing to build relationships through our experiences in basketball. That’s one of the best parts of the game that I’ve always appreciated.

Isaacs: Being around the game from birth basically has been everything for me. I’ve never not loved it. This is everything for me. My mom loves basketball. My dad coached it. They both love it. They love seeing me play. That means everything. It pushes me now that I’m here.

CJ Williams: The game isn’t just fun for me. Being a coach’s son, basketball has been my whole life. I’ve seen the game from an analytics standpoint and read the game a little differently because I’ve been around it like that for so long. It’s really all I know. I love it.

Harmon: Experience is the best teacher you can have in life. I’ve been through a lot playing basketball and continue learning to this day. I think you learn from the good and the bad and keep on going. Basketball taught me that.



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