King's court a refuge from life's trials (Published in Orange County Register/March 12, 2010)
April 7, 2010
By MARK WHICKER, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER (March 12, 2010)
SANTA ANA - Next year Keala King goes to Arizona State, home of the light air and the sunsets and the spectacular noontime scenery.
Perhaps he can find his youth there.
Life has relentlessly full-court-pressed King, especially this year. His mother is recovering from breast cancer surgery, his father is still in prison four hours east of here, and his teachers at Mater Dei, his new school, don't back down.
So neither does King. He carries a 3.5 grade-point average and he also helps carry the Monarchs, who play Taft in a state regional game Saturday night.
Fortunately he has no other world to which to compare his. He sat down the other day in the Mater Dei locker room and seemed at peace.
'Everything I've been through has taught me how to be independent and not to lean on anyone for anything. Just be yourself,' he said. 'I look at it as reality.'
He's not alone. His uncle, David Faamausili, is at home in Long Beach, tending to Mona, his sister and Keala's mom. He is a superintendent at an oil refinery.
Mona is facing a year or two of chemotherapy. She had the first of her two operations when Mater Dei went to Springfield, Mass., to beat DeMatha, 79-71. Keala didn't want to go but she ordered him to.
'She begged me to go do my thing,' King said. 'Then she came to our CIF game the other night (Saturday at Honda Center). I was so happy. She's been in a struggle lately. I never thought she'd have cancer, because she's all about being on a good diet. That was kinda crazy.'
'I tuck Keala in every night,' Faamausili said. 'He's been through a lot. He's a strong man.'
The father, DeShone King, is in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, near Blythe. He's been there since 2006 and is scheduled for release at the end of 2010. Keala went to see him once.
'It wasn't nice,' he said. 'Guys with tattoos, throwing up gang signs. It wasn't a nice sight. My dad looked like he was happy and feeling fine, so if he's happy I'm happy. I'm not sure what will happen when he gets out. My opinion is that my mom likes being single. A couple brings a lot of stress. I don't think she needs that right now.'
Another older brother has been 'in and out of jail,' according to Keala.
King himself was shielded somewhat by the basketball he was holding. Well before his teenage years he would go to Luders Park in Compton, with his mom, where he 'saw a lot of stuff. It was a Bloods hangout. People shooting in the air, jumping people. They gave me a pass, though. They knew I had a chance to play.'
'We tried not to expose him to what was really going on there,' Faamausili said. 'It was worse than what he saw.'
King was traveling cross-country when he was 10. He played two years at Dominguez, where his team beat Mater Dei in a CIF Final when he was a sophomore.
'Yeah, you hit a big 3-pointer against us, too,' coach Gary McKnight grumped.
King transferred from Dominguez on the heels of coach Russell Otis' continued difficulties. But he doesn't forsake Compton.
'When you say you grew up there people look at you wrong, but Compton teaches you how to be tough,' King said. 'In street ball there, nobody calls fouls. If you did, against those so-called roughnecks, they'd call you a weenie. That's not what you want to hear in Compton.'
King is a 6-foot-4 swingman whom McKnight believes will be a point guard for ASU. He manages to give the Monarchs a bit of everything. Lately, it's been rebounding.
'He's a great kid,' McKnight said, 'but he plays with a chip on his shoulder.'
The Monarchs, and everyone else, thought they would peak in 2009, but Andy Brown tore up his knee, and then they lost in the CIF Finals and early in the regionals.
But King helped fill some vacuums, and Mater Dei still has Gary Franklin (headed for Cal) and Tyler Lamb (UCLA). McKnight lost point guard Tommy Stangl to injury, which made McKnight nervous 'because everyone else wants to shoot the ball,' but so far the chemistry has held.
Whatever happens, King is just a few months away from perhaps the sunshine of his life. A few tests and study halls, too. 'I ask myself sometimes why I go through this,' he said, but not very often, since he doesn't have time to search for answers he already knows.