For anyone that maybe hasn't seen it yet, there's a story I did in today's Post-Gazette on Karvel Anderson that delves a lot into his background and how he became who he is today. Obviously, over the past year or so, there have been a couple of pieces done on Anderson and his general story arc, from his mom's incarceration, to his various living situations, to his stints in junior college to where he is now.
The best piece of journalistic advice I ever got was from a professor my senior year of college who said this job's basically all about telling people something they don't already know. With this story, that's what I tried to do.
I had read, and enjoyed, all of those previous stories and in each of them, I noticed the name Jerel Jackson. When I interviewed Karvel for the story and we delved into some of the more critical moments of his life, Jackson's name always came up. He was the first person to approach him about living in a park (and getting him out). He was a major force in helping him forgive his uncle, which was the reason he was in the park in the first place. He, along with Elkhart Memorial's head coach, was an instrumental force in making Karvel's jump shot into what it is today.
(Anderson and Jackson on his senior day last month. Photo courtesy of Jerel Jackson)
Originally, I planned on doing something more in-depth on Karvel's month living in Elkhart's McNaughton Park, but Karvel's extremely adamant that his time there wasn't all that bad. He obviously didn't enjoy it, but he believes that a lot of what's been written about his time there has been exaggerated. You can't tell Karvel's story without mentioning the park, but this is HIS story, not mine. So much of his background makes for such great fodder for a story, but I got the sense that Jackson was such a big reason why he's become the person (and player) that he is.
I'll add one final thing: the term "good guy" gets thrown around a lot in sports journalism. You'll routinely hear writers like myself use it to describe someone who they cover. In a lot of cases, that person may be a total sleaze, but he isn't a jerk to you during interviews, so he's automatically great. I've gotten to know Karvel a bit over the two years I've covered him and I can say without a doubt he is a genuinely good and special person.
Needless to say, I think it's going to be hard for Robert Morris to find something close to a replacement for him.
Below, I've got a partial transcript of interviews I did with both Karvel and Jerel Jackson:
On Jackson's impact when it came to his on-court game: “He’s helped a lot of people back home on their game, but he spent a lot of time with me personally, off the court and on the court. We developed a really strong relationship. Every single day, him and I would do a lot of form shooting, a lot of different shots off the dribble – one, two dribble pull-ups. A lot of those ways to get my shot off that I learned from him are really my go-to moves now. I thank those two for bringing the shooting out of me because it was definitely a weakness of my game at one point.”
On Jackson's impact off the court: “A tremendous impact. I wouldn’t say he’s the first, but he’s one of the biggest father figures I’ve had in my life. He’s one of those people that taught me a lot of things that a dad would teach you. It was kind of a perfect match. He never had a son and I never had a dad. We were both looking for the same thing and fortunately we found each other. It’s been a perfect match ever since.”
“I talk to him every day to this day, he calls me after every game. He’s been one of those people I credit with being the man that I am.”
On the fracture of the relationship with his uncle: “I’m not going to tell the story of why we had that falling apart, but when that happened, I think it hurt both of us so much. The relationship him and I had, it was so fragile that once it happened, it tore us both.”
“That was just the type of relationship him and I had. It built so much tension between us two that I didn’t feel comfortable staying with him.”
On living in the park: “I thought a lot those nights. Night time is quiet, I’m right by a river, so all I’m listening to is bugs and that type of stuff. You do a lot of thinking and soul-searching in those type of moments.”
On how that experience has maybe been overplayed: “It’s been over-exaggerated to me. Regardless, yes, I was homeless. But it wasn’t like I was kicked out. It was by choice. It was a pride thing, which I’d definitely take back in a second if I could. Even staying out there wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I was never put in any harm, I was fed once a day, so I would have been fine even if I didn’t find a way to eat that night. It wasn’t as serious as it sounded, but at the same time, it was one of those things that not a lot of people go through. It strengthened me that I was able to do things on my own at such a young age.”
On how he and Jackson kind of gravitated to each other: “The way he is, he’ll find a person and spend all his time trying to improve that one person. He’s not a guy who works out with multiple guys at a time. He’ll find one person and put everything he has into that one person. Basketball-wise, he chose me right away.”
On Jackson asking him about his living situation: “He approached me about it and I respected him too much to lie to him. I respected him too much to make up anything, so I told him the truth. He took me in and let me stay with him for a while. He fed me a lot and him and his wife sheltered me in a lot of different ways. He was one of the few people that came to me and let me know everything would be alright. That means a lot when you don’t have much.”
On repairing his relationship with his uncle: “He told me that if I wanted to be a man that I would have to say sorry. That would be a big growing up part for me since I’m such a stubborn individual. Me and my uncle mended that relationship. Because of coach Jackson, I was able to go back and stay with my uncle for a little while. He sat us both down. He talked to us about some things and helped us out. He saved me at that point.”
On how he viewed his uncle, even when they had a grudge: “My uncle was somebody who I looked up to so much and he still is to this day, regardless of what happened. But at that time, even more, he was my hero. My uncle had a good job, a good family. He moved out of the bad part into the nice neighborhood, he had a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids. I wanted to have what my uncle had. He came from the same, if not worse, than what I did growing up. He was successful, maybe not athletically, but he still was having a successful life from where we came from. He was somebody I wanted to be like. He never gave up.”
“He had a lot of chances where he could have shut his life down and just given into things and he never did that. He kept working, he kept doing things to provide for his family to try to make their life better and make his life better. Being able to have him back in my life was a big step for me. He was kind of the first person to instill the perseverance type mentality with me.”
On Elkhart, Indiana and how it shaped him: “It made me everything I am. I faced so many things growing up in Elkhart. I faced every experience that people my age shouldn’t experience. I’ve seen some things I wish I didn’t see that I can’t forget to this day. But at the same time, it strengthened me. It gave me the toughness I have mentally, to never give up and the heart and passion to be able to strive for something. It’s one of those places where you either make it out or you fall in the trap. Those are the only two choices you really have.”
“There was a point where I was like ‘Dang, maybe I’m supposed to just be stuck here with everyone else.’ But people like coach Jackson and my uncle, from talking to them, they kept me going. I always credit Elkhart with being who I am.”
On where he'd be without Jackson: “Without coach Jackson, I'd be in Elkhart, dead, in jail or struggling, living day-by-day. Those are really the only three options. There’s just nothing there and that’s all people resort to. The violence is increasing, a lot of people are getting killed that don’t deserve to be, the unemployment rate is very high. It’s just not a good place to be living a life right now.”
“Hopefully I’m blessed with the opportunity to play professional basketball. But whether I do or not, I don’t plan on starting a life in Elkhart."
[Note: You'll see this later, but there's an interesting juxtaposition in the way that Karvel and Jackson view Elkhart. Jackson has lived there basically his whole life and sees it as the type of town where you can raise your kids, be safe and lead a happy life. It's not what it once was, given the economic recession's impact on the RV industry, but it's still not this post-industrial midwestern ghost town that some maybe make it out to be.
For Karvel, as the quotes indicate, it's obviously different. And it's understandable. He had to see and experience the kind of things that nobody that age (or really any age) should ever have to see or experience. Whether it's fair or not, there's a natural tendency to tie those kind of things in with the identity of the place where they occurred.]
On his professional basketball prospects: “It was always a dream, it was always something that, if you asked me, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’ But until then, I didn’t think I had the chance. I didn’t think I’d be given the opportunity. I always felt like if I were given the opportunity, I could show people I was good enough to play professionally. It’s just like now, if someone gives me a professional chance, I’ll prove to them that I’m worth it.”
On working to develop Karvel's game: “I took more time to Karvel than any others by coaching him and helping him out, trying to guide him the right way. I can’t say it’s all on me. He did all the work. I just helped him out and tried to guide him the right way.”
“He was one of the kids I saw that I liked. He was aggressive, he was the type of kid that, if things didn’t go right, he wanted it to go right. He was always on others, trying to encourage them. I was like, ‘I like this kid.’ As coaches, we try to select the players that we want and he was the first name that popped up.”
[Something that I wanted to add to the story, but wasn't able to fully elaborate on: Beginning his sophomore year pretty much until he left Elkhart for college, Karvel would have long workouts with some of his coaches EVERY DAY around 5:30 in the morning and then later in the afternoon.
One of the drills in particular sounded pretty interesting. Before they could finish things up, he had to stand a few feet from the basket and make seven shots in a row without the ball touching any part of the rim. Once he was done with that, he would have to step back a few more feet and do the same thing. Given all that work, it's pretty evident why he's the shooter he is today.]
On getting to know Karvel and figuring out his situation: “He’s the type of person that doesn’t like to go out and just tell you. You really have to figure him out and by me knowing him now, I can figure him out really quickly. If something’s wrong with him, I know.”
On developing a bond with Karvel: “When Karvel came into my life, that was a joy to me. Friends of mine were saying ‘Are you going to pick your son up?’ We were together every day and I would treat him like he was mine. It feels good when he would say that to others. I consider him my son.”
“For kids that had a hard life and hard time, if I can do anything to help them out, I like to be a part of their lives.”
“If there’s any guidance that they need, I’ll try to guide them the right way. And if they want to form a relationship with me, they can and if they don’t, they can try to do it on their own. With Karvel, he and I had a relationship with each other.”
On getting Karvel to forgive his uncle: “Life is hard. You have to bond with family because without family, you’d be lost.”
“I was lost and I didn’t want him to feel that way. By him being from Michigan, he really didn’t have anybody here. Get to know your family. All the beef and stuff you have with your uncle, let it go. He may not have liked it, but I think he listened.”
On Elkhart: “It changes like any other place. Some people live here for most of their life. Some people, after high school, they move on and move out of here. It’s like anywhere else. It’s what you make out of it.”
“It’s a nice place to raise your kids. Back when I was younger, you could leave your bike outside all night, you could have your door open and nobody would bother you. It’s still pretty much like it, but it’s not quite what it used to be."
“It’s not a bad place, not at all. By him being young, he probably took a lot of things to heart. When I was young, I was angry at a lot of stuff to. But as you get older, you can see it’s not so bad.”
On what his relationship with Karvel is like today: “I love that kid like he’s my own. Just like any parent would do for their kids, whatever I can do to help out, I’m always there.”
On what he admires about Karvel: “He’s a goal-getter and that’s what I like about him. Whatever he wants, he goes after and I’m glad he’s like that, I’m glad he doesn’t give up.”
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