As Durango High School basketball players ran drills during a recent practice, Jermaine Seagears pulled a small notebook from his pocket. It’s filled with inspirational messages he has written for his sports and training program, Work or Don’t Eat.
The name was inspired by the Bible verse 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” according to Seagers. And each time he calls out the phrase “Work or Don’t Eat,” the team responds, “Go Get that Plate.”
“(Jermaine’s training) is hard-hitting and motivational,” varsity player Vernell Watts, 17, said. “It makes you contemplate why you are here and if you really want the things you say that you want.”
Seagears, of North Las Vegas, started the program in 2012 after he graduated with a degree in mass communication and broadcast journalism at what was then called the University of Texas-Pan American, where he also played basketball his junior and senior years after transferring from Arizona’s Chandler-Gilbert Community College, he said. When he returned to his hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, he realized he didn’t want to play basketball anymore. Instead, he wanted to create a career out of his love for both the sport and motivational speaking.
“‘Reality sets in, and it’s like, ‘You’re good at basketball, but you’re greater in other areas, and you need to use that gift,’” Seagears recalls saying to himself. “I started to realize that I wanted to make more of a statement in my life rather than just playing basketball for myself.”
He coached the junior varsity basketball team at his former high school in Maryland for about two years and started Work or Don’t Eat in 2012. In 2014, he moved to Las Vegas when his younger brother, Jerome, was recruited to play for UNLV.
“It was like having someone there who is always going to push you to the max and won’t let you settle for anything less than great,” Jerome Seagears said. He now plays for the Maine Red Claws in the G League, a minor-league affiliate of the Boston Celtics. “I think it’s why I am where I am now.”
He also has worked with former UNLV player Pat McCaw, who’s now with the Golden State Warriors, he said.
Shortly after moving, Jermaine met Durango High School basketball coach DeShawn Henry, and he began coaching strength and conditioning that same year. Word spread, and Jermaine began getting more training sessions, coaching at several schools throughout the valley. He also began giving motivational speeches to school organizations, unrelated to basketball, he said.
“I think he complements our program just with his motivation and positive message,” Henry said. “It’s not rare (for coaches), but he’s unique in the sense that how he prepares and motivates the players, the players gravitate towards it. They gravitate towards him. They gravitate towards his work ethic.”
Just as his company was picking up, Jermaine was diagnosed with lymphoma — a cancerous tumor growing on his nose — in November 2016. As he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, he was out of commission for six to eight months.
“(So) after all this grinding to get here, so I can level up my brand … I get sick,” he said. “It was one of the most devastating moments in my life, knowing that there’s a chance that I may die and I know how I’m going to die. Or, I can fight back and use everything that I instill in these kids and be an example of what I stand by.”
He documented his journey on social media and started a nonprofit organization called Journee for Cures Foundation— to support cancer patients and their families — in June 2017. He also hosted a basketball camp that month at Lied Middle School where he raised $500, which he plans on using to provide resources, such as Uber and Lyft rides, healthy food baskets and journals for cancer patients to document their journey fighting the disease. He also started a campaign called Life 4 Lymphona in which he challenged people to post a video of themselves lifting something seven times to represent a cancer patient going through chemotheraphy seven days a week.
“I remember when he was sick, he still came to train with us,” said Demetrius Valdez, who trained with Seagers while he was attending Durango. He’s now playing at Benedictine University near Chicago. “(It was like) this man is diagnosed with cancer, and he’s still trying to help us get better.
Hes’s obviously inspiring, and I wish there were more people like him that care about the community and will sacrifice themselves for others.”
As of August, Seagears is cancer free and is starting to get back into the rhythm of coaching students.
In addition to training players, Seagers creates Work or Don’t Eat mixtapes, which are highlight videos for players to send to recruiters, and hosts costal element training events at California beaches.
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Work or Don’t Eat