“Hey, Ant, shoot the ball!”
It was early summer of 2014 and I was a very happy and energetic 11 year old that was outside playing basketball in my cousins’ backyard. That summer we would play for hours every day, until it got too dark to see the hoop. I was short and small for my age and my cousins were all older than me and had been playing for several years already. This was my first time taking the game seriously, and seeing my cousins playing better than me made me want to be a better player.
Growing up, I wasn't the best athlete because I wasn't athletic -- my body wasn’t conditioned and I didn’t have very much endurance. Even though I was considered small and ‘weak’ by family and friends, that never stopped me from trying to be better than my cousins. I just kept trying and grinding. In my heart I wanted nothing more than to be better than everybody else at basketball. I used to struggle because everyone in my family was better than me -- it was difficult because I was so much newer to the game. I sometimes felt upset and discouraged because I wanted to be better than everyone, but this motivated me to practice every chance I got.
When I was 12, I was excited to join the Summer League Basketball team in Dorchester for the first time. Everyone on my team was friendly and just wanted to grind and get better at the game. I always tried to play with people better than me so that I could learn their skills and really push myself to be the best. Everyday I would dribble, shoot, and run up and down the court because I knew I had to work extra hard to make up for my size. The next year when I turned 13, I won my first Summer League game. It was a brand new team with brand new people and we had amazing chemistry in playing together. We were on a three-game winning streak and feeling like we were on top of the world. It took a while before I learned how to play well and my specialty was staying down and getting those rebound shots.
Eventually I gained the confidence to try out for my middle school team in 6th grade and made it. Basketball taught me how to connect with my teammates and build good relationships with them. In 7th and 8th grade I became a team captain because of the relationships I built. The people on my team really listened to me and looked to me as a leader. The most important lesson I learned was what it takes to lead a team. Being a captain is a big responsibility; there's so much pressure and an expectation to put in extra work for myself and my teammates. It was no longer about always winning when I was a captain but about letting my teammates be their best selves and allowing them the space to try and fail. A true leader isn’t always worried about making themselves look good, but about helping others to be successful. I have always loved basketball and will always love basketball. At the end of the day, that young eleven year old who was obsessed with being the best evolved into someone who felt great when I helped others shine.
© Anthony Guevara. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.