There was a time in which basketball wasn't on Fred Sturdivant's radar. He proudly boasted recently that he was a football player as a ninth-grader. Then Brainerd High School assistant coach Tre High lobbied the gangly 6-foot-3 kid to join the hoops team, and his goals changed.
Now he's about to embark on a professional basketball career.
Sturdivant recently signed a contract with the Ottawa Skyhawks of the National Basketball League of Canada. The 6-foot-7, 185-pounder played the past two seasons at Texas Southern under former Indiana University coach Mike Davis, who directed the Hoosiers to the 2002 national championship game.
Sturdivant averaged 11.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks (seventh in the nation) and was named first-team all-conference as well the Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year last season. The Tigers went 16-2 in the SWAC, but probation prevented them from competing in the postseason.
"We had a great season. It was amazing getting to play for Coach Davis," Sturdivant said. "For him to come to Texas Southern, I learned a lot being under him. He's a great coach, a great guy, and led me in the right direction. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now."
The same could be said for the influence of High and his uncle, legendary former Brainerd coach Robert High. Sturdivant led the Panthers to the state semifinals in 2009.
"They're where it all started. When I first started playing basketball, I wasn't good at all. I couldn't barely catch and wasn't coordinated," he said. "They had me doing wall jumps and extra stuff to make me better. I appreciate them the most; they pushed me to succeed over the past few years, but they really developed and originated my skills."
Sturdivant leaves this morning for Ottawa, a new team in the NBLC, which is in its third season of existence. He was the second player signed to the Skyhawks, and his first game will be against the Windsor Express on Nov. 2 at the Canadian Tire Centre.
"We're just overwhelmed by all of this now," said his father, Fred Sr. "We're humble people, and we just thank God for everything that has happened. He's the one -- the one we stand for and the one we want to acknowledge."
The family also praised Al Cantrell for his help with Sturdivant during the offseason.
Fred Jr. is just excited about the opportunity.
"My goal was to be a professional basketball player. To come from where I came from, it's a blessing to be in the position I'm in," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to play ball. I'm trying to get a tryout to play on an NBA team -- all I need is an opportunity, that's all. That's the goal; this is the first step."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.