An Underdog Makes Good

We all love a story of the underdog who works their butt off and then makes it big. We like to learn of the obstacles they have overcome or the struggles they have endured on the road to success. We want to know how they did it. What was their secret? And, how we can benefit from their experience?

A truly remarkable young man with an amazing story is Tim Duncan. You know him as a superstar basketball player for Wake Forest from 1993 to 1997. But did you know that he never even played basketball until he was 14 year old? And, three years later at the age of 17, he walked onto the Wake Forest Campus for the first time.

Tim was born in 1976 in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. His family was hard working and better off than most. Tim was a bright precocious child who learned quickly and excelled in school. He was advanced a grade in grade school because he surpassed his classmates. So, he would always be younger than his classmates in the future. Long and lean like his 2 sisters, Tim was a great swimmer. He had his eyes on the Olympics early on. His specialty, the 400 meter freestyle. At age 12 and 13 he broke many records and was tops in his bracket.

Fast forward to September 17, 1989 and Hurricane Hugo. The storm devastated the island; including the swim team’s pool. Just prior to the hurricane, Tim’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the spring of 1990, she died, and Tim never swam competitively after that.

A year earlier, his sister now married and living in Columbus Ohio shipped a basketball goal, hoop and post to him for a gift. This began his interest in the game. His dad helped by anchoring it and pouring cement for the base. When his sister and her husband moved back to St. Croix there was nonstop play on that hoop. His brother in law, Ricky, who had played for Capital University in Columbus, was his practice partner.

Tim played in high school, grew nine inches and excelled as the top player on the island. Crazy stories filtered back to the US and curiosity about this guy developed. Several colleges flew scouts down for a look, and to offer athletic scholarships. But Dave Odom, head coach at Wake Forest, went there personally to look at Tim. Odom liked what he saw and in 1993, Tim arrived on the Wake Forest campus as a 17 year old college freshman. Tim became the ‘mystery man’ that first season and it took a few months for him to adjust. He was a bit timid but half way through the season everything clicked. He became a force to be reckoned with and Odom was a hero.

As he moved through each year at Wake Forest there was talk about him being the #1 draft pick in 1995; if he would leave school early for the pros. Tim was adamant that he would not be leaving college before graduation, no matter the offer. He was intent on receiving his degree… to honor his mother.