FLASHBACK TO… Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
By Mark Selig
HARRISONBURG - Rayshawn Goins leaned his telephone booth frame against a workout mat outside the Convocation Center weight room and laughed so deep his eyes reduced to slits on his otherwise giant-featured face.
It was two days after Goins ’ worst shooting game as a James Madison basketball player, a 2-of-10 downer in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia State. He struggled so much that coach Matt Brady played the starting power forward only 20 minutes.
But Goins , a 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ohio native, didn’t seem to have a worry in his world as he guffawed like a front-row ticket-holder at a Chris Rock show, all because of a silly comment a teammate had made.
Goins probably could have missed all 10 of those shots and still been smiling an hour later. That seems to be his default appearance nowadays.
"My life today, I don’t really got no complaints, you know what I mean?" Goins said earlier. "I’m living my dream at a Division I school. … I smile because I’m happy. It’s not a struggle like it was growing up."
The fourth of six children to a single parent living on the west side of Cleveland, Goins now figures there was a “1 percent” chance he’d end up at a four-year college.
But here he is, a junior-college transfer who’s now a junior at scenic James Madison University. Not only is Goins getting an education in criminal justice - something he proudly mentions - but he’s also second on the Dukes (6-3) in points (14.3) and rebounds (8.0) per game.
Plenty of kids overcome tough surroundings, bump their grades at a junior college and go on to be successful Division I basketball players.
But when Goins said he had a “1 percent” shot at making it, he might not have been exaggerating.
Goins was always carrying a basketball as a child but admittedly paid little attention to schoolwork. His mother, Anita Dent - a former nurse’s assistant - did what she could to make sure her six children had the essentials, Goins said, even if it meant living in the projects in less-than-ideal conditions.
"My mom, she a strong woman," Goins said. "She did whatever she had to do to make sure [of] the three most important things in the world: we had food on the table, clothes on our backs and somewhere to sleep."
But when Goins was in high school, Dent assaulted a family member, she said recently by phone, and was incarcerated for 2 years at Northeast Pre-Release Center, a low-security correctional facility in Cleveland.
Goins ’ older sister Letitia, now 27, was the high-schooler’s legal guardian as they continued to live in their mother’s home.
"He had one of the worst upbringings I ever saw," Columbus State Community College coach Pat Carlisle said. "I remember when I had a coach go visit him, [the coach] was afraid to sit down. I remember him just saying, he walked into the house and it was one of the dirtiest places he had ever been in, and he just would not sit down."
Though he was a near-30-points-per-game scorer as a junior at Rhodes High School, Goins said he was kicked out of the school as a senior because of what he calls “a little altercation with the principal.”
Goins transferred to Glenville High School on the opposite, east side of Cleveland.
"Like any inner-city kid, they come with a lot of distractions," Glenville basketball coach Michael Holt said. "There were issues at the house. In a poverty-stricken area, you have to deal with issues other than basketball. … He lived on the west side of Cleveland, which is like any big inner-city neighborhood: lower employment, drugs and alcohol heavily available, broken homes."
In Holt, who has been coaching and teaching at Glenville for more than 25 years, Goins finally found a male mentor.
Glenville’s nickname is a unique one: the Tarblooders . It comes from a local fable that said the men who built the railroads on the east side of Cleveland worked so hard they sweated blood.
Holt, who called Goins ”lazy at times,” didn’t necessarily want his new player to sweat blood, but he demanded a greater work ethic in all aspects of life.
"We had to work on his grades," said Holt, whose son Kendall was the same age as Goins and also played on the basketball team. "One of the processes was, for two or three years, Ray did it his way, and it didn’t work. Now you’re here, you’ll do it my way."
Instead of traveling across town to his hardscrabble situation at home, Goins often slept at the Holts’ house - doing a number on Mrs. Holt’s cooking - especially after practices and games during basketball season.
Recruited by mid-majors (JMU looked at him) as well as big-conference schools like Penn State and South Florida, Goins said he didn’t have the grades or ACT scores to get into a four-year college out of high school, so he agreed to play for Carlisle at Columbus State.
That arrangement was doomed from the start.
Before his freshman season began, Goins broke his foot going “too fast,” in a mo-ped accident. Out for four months, Goins ’ large appetite and lack of exercise helped him balloon to more than 300 pounds.
Carlisle said Goins was always a “good citizen,” but at the start, he lacked the work ethic necessary to flourish in the classroom and on the court.
Goins , who missed the beginning of the season and was never able to get into prime shape, wasn’t happy playing for Carlisle, so when a pair of assistant coaches left for Cincinnati State Community College, Goins went with them. Along with fellow JMU transfer James Millen, a guard who becomes eligible for the Dukes in the second semester, Goins led Cincinnati State to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II title game last year.
A short but skilled big man who can bang inside with guys a half-foot taller than him, and also stretch the defense with mid-range shooting, Goins has been a game-changing addition for the Dukes this year.
"He’s a perfect example of a young, urban inner-city kid that people thought probably wasn’t going to make it," Holt said. "But given the opportunity and put in the proper circumstance, he’s performing."
There have been moments in games when the vertically challenged Goins gets his shot blocked, only for him to retrieve the ball, momentarily regroup, and go straight back at the defender with another shot. He never backs down or gives up.
According to Brady, Goins has a good work ethic but doesn’t practice particularly well. With improving conditioning, Goins ”has a chance to be one of the better, if not the best frontcourt player in the league at some point - if not this year, then next year,” Brady said.
"When I step between those lines, I just don’t blink," Goins said. "All I’m thinking about is basketball. I’m not thinking about what family problems we have or what’s going on here. That’s basically how I clear my mind."
That doesn’t mean his hardships are completely forgotten.
"It ain’t a day that I wake up that I don’t think about my past," Goins said. "If you go back to Cleveland and tell people I’d be in the position I’m in, five, six years ago, they’d laugh at you."
Probably not as hard as Goins is laughing now.
Flash Forward To… This week’s podcast with Goins, who shares his thoughts on growing up in Cleveland, talks about the Dukes’ breakout season, explains how coach Matt Brady has adapted to his players, and tells the “real” story behind his checkers rivalry with women’s basketballer Tarik Hislop.