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Homeless former Valley High player chases hoops dream at junior college

Updated November 23, 2017 - 11:01 pm

He stands 6 feet 7 inches tall, although the program at Highline College just south of Seattle lists him at 6-8. He played basketball and studied the best he could at Valley High School before winding up in junior college.

His name is Desmond Hudson.

You may think you have heard his story before, but you probably haven’t.

The Thunderbirds of Highline College are taking a break over Thanksgiving. Most of the players went home to be with their families. Desmond Hudson did not go home, because he doesn’t have a home to go to.

When he’s not away at school, he spends most of his day at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth shelter in the shadow of UNLV, across the street from the Liberace Mansion. At night, he usually sleeps on somebody’s couch. He said he probably has slept on 50 couches but that he has never slept outdoors on a park bench.

He speaks softly, but he smiles a lot.

Desmond Hudson reminds you of the man in that John Mellencamp song, the one who has an interstate runnin’ through his front yard and thinks he’s got it so good.

Chasing a dream

This is his second season at Highline, which lists Brian Scalabrine, who went on to star at Southern Cal and play 10 seasons in the NBA, among its alums.

This is Desmond’s dream, too.

Last season he came off the bench, averaging 13 minutes. This season he has started one of Highline’s two games. He played 27 minutes and scored seven points in an 80-71 victory over Shoreline Community College. (Travis Rice of Bishop Gorman played all 40 minutes and scored nine points.) He realizes he might have to settle for playing at a small four-year school rather than follow in Brian Scalabrine’s footsteps.

The NAIA would be fine, he said. It would mean two more years that he wouldn’t have to couch surf during the school year.

“It’s about always having hope when you’re living day by day,” Desmond Hudson says.

Helping hands

He was having lunch at Pizza Rock on the day he left for school. Laura Herlovich, who owns a local public relations firm and once was media director for the Utah Jazz, was sitting alongside. They met at a Marvel Superheroes show that Herlovich’s company was promoting. Desmond was with kids from the youth shelter and stood out above the crowd.

His flight to Seattle wasn’t until late afternoon. Laura Herlovich had appointments. Desmond tagged along until it was time to go to the airport. He took the leftover pizza with him in a box.

“This year has been very different,” he said. “A lot of people have been helping me. They’re helping me go on, and to support my dream. I’ve been very blessed that people have been there for me.”

He got to meet former boxing champ Mike Tyson and Rick Harrison from TV’s “Pawn Stars.” He said Iron Mike told him to stay in school. Harrison contributed to a GoFundMe account that Herlovich set up to help with his college expenses.

In talking to Hudson, it almost seemed as if we had met before.

When Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league was in town, some former NBA players answered questions from the youth shelter kids who then were given care packages at a local Target store. Desmond Hudson stood out above the crowd. He was wearing the blue, green and white Nike pullover he had on at lunch, which he had acquired at the shelter. NPHY also paid for his size-14 basketball shoes.

Shelter from the storm

Hudson said his father isn’t part of his life, that his mother has health issues that preclude her from working. “We were always moving around a lot,” he said of a meager upbringing that saw him attend four high schools in four years.

Did he have enough to eat? Most of the time. Some of the time. “We had food stamps,” he said.

Desmond and his three sisters used to stay at Siegel Suites, but their mother’s disability check didn’t cover the necessities. That’s how they wound up at the youth shelter, and surfing for couches on which to sleep.

“We’re really proud of Desmond. He’s an incredibly resilient young man,” said Arash Ghafoori, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth executive director. “Lots of ambition, lots of talent. We’re just so happy he’s investing himself so much and working so hard with his basketball, but also keeping his grades up and exploring other opportunities.”

Desmond said he’s not a very good free-throw shooter, so he is studying sports medicine and would like to become an athletic trainer.

When we chatted Sunday, the team was looking good and so were his grades. He is on schedule to become the first from his family to receive an associate degree, he said. And that his grandma from Arkansas is planning on being there when he does.

“She’s definitely not going to miss that,” Desmond Hudson said.

He was smiling again, like the man who has an interstate runnin’ through his front yard and thinks he’s got it so good.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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