February 12, 2021

‘I’ve tried to make the most of it’

Faith, family and Seton community help small school star live his NBA dream

A 2016 graduate of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, Desmond Bane was chosen in the first round of the 2020 National Basketball Association draft and plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. Here, he drives to the basket in a Feb. 2 game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. His pro debut in Indiana drew several hundred fans from Richmond and the Seton community. (Photo courtesy of Matt Kryger, photographer for Indiana Pacers Sports & Entertainment)

A 2016 graduate of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, Desmond Bane was chosen in the first round of the 2020 National Basketball Association draft and plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. Here, he drives to the basket in a Feb. 2 game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. His pro debut in Indiana drew several hundred fans from Richmond and the Seton community. (Photo courtesy of Matt Kryger, photographer for Indiana Pacers Sports & Entertainment)

By John Shaughnessy

On the day his dream came true, Desmond Bane stood in front of the modest home where he grew up, wanting to pay tribute to all the people who supported him along the way.

Flashing a huge smile, the 22-year-old Bane created a video that focused on his family, his friends and all his supporters in his hometown of Richmond.

In that emotional moment, Bane thought of his great-grandparents—how he had lived with them since he was 2, how they loved him, and how they guided him to live a life rooted in faith, hard work and humility.

In the background, the video also captured a glimpse of the driveway where he had been playing basketball since he was 3, where he and his friends played countless games, and where his dream of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) began.

Now that dream was within hours of becoming a reality on this day of Nov. 18, 2020—the day of the NBA draft. Looking into the camera, Bane was trying to describe how he was feeling, and what it would mean for him—one of the 20 graduates of the 2016 class of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond—to be drafted.

“You can’t really put it into words,” Bane said into the camera. “It’s starting to hit now. I mean, looking here at the home I grew up in, being in the city I grew up in, my family here, close friends here. It’s indescribable. It’s indescribable.”

Later that night, in that same house, Bane sat next to his great-grandmother, Fabbie, in a room filled with family and friends, watching the televised broadcast of the NBA draft. And when the NBA commissioner announced that Bane was the last pick of the first round, the room erupted in cheers, smiles and pure joy as Bane hugged his great-grandmother.

The only regret of the day was that his great-grandfather, Bob, wasn’t physically part of the celebration. He died on July 20 after contracting the COVID-19 virus. Still, Bob’s photo was prominently displayed on a table in front of where Bane sat. And he had the feeling that his great-grandfather—who was one of his coaches in his youth—was with him, celebrating the dream that came true.

‘I’ve tried to make the most of it’

Fast-forward to Jan. 31, 2021—two days before Bane returned home to Indiana as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, to play for the first time against the team he rooted for as a child and a youth, the Indiana Pacers.

Less than two months into the season, Bane was already being hailed by NBA analysts as “among the surprises of the 2020 rookie class.” In a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 30, he helped the Grizzlies to a 129-112 win, hitting 6 of 8 shots, including all 3 three-pointers that he took. Yet in a phone interview with The Criterion the next day, Bane approached his strong start to the season with humility.

“If I said it was easy, I’d be lying to you,” he said. “It’s been an extreme learning curve. We’ve had some injuries and some other things come up, and I’ve had the opportunity. I’ve tried to make the most of it.”

That approach defines Bane. He played at one of the smallest high schools in Indiana and became an Indiana All-Star. He received only one scholarship offer to continue playing at a major college—Texas Christian University (TCU)—and he was named to the Big 12’s all-conference first team in two seasons. And now he’s in the NBA, making a significant contribution as a rookie.

He has made “the most of it” at every turn, yet he deflects the credit back to his great-grandparents.

“My great-grandparents did a great job of instilling values in me,” said Bane, who makes a point of calling his great-grandmother at least once a day and usually twice.

“It’s indescribable the things I learned from them. There’s not a lot of stuff they haven’t seen. The experiences they’ve seen helped me think about life and what you want to get out of it.”

For Bane, that goal includes making the most of his Catholic faith.

“It serves as my backbone when things are going great and not going great,” he said. “You always have it to lean on. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.”

As the principal of Seton Catholic High School, John Markward has seen how Bane lives his faith.

“I am truly amazed by Desmond’s faith and passion. When he is in town, you will always see him at church,” said Markward, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond.

“He is not afraid to post something about God on social media, and he praises God for his blessings. In today’s society, there are many people that would shy away from this for fear of being viewed differently.”

Markward then shares two of his favorite stories about Bane, stories that took place in settings far from the spotlight.

Living a life with character

The first one occurred last summer when Markward installed a new basketball goal at his house so his 13-year-old son Nic and his friends could play.

“My son thought it would be neat if Desmond signed it,” Markward recalled. “I ended up reaching out and asking Desmond if he would stop by and sign it quickly. He agreed. When he arrived, he ended up staying for 1 1/2 hours, playing basketball with my son and the neighborhood kids and adults. It was an experience that I know many will never forget. My neighbors were shocked at how humble he was.”

Bane enjoyed that moment, too. He said being there was just his way of thanking Markward for letting him use the Seton Catholic gym for early morning workouts to improve his game.

“I thought that was the least I could do for letting me get shots in and stay in shape,” Bane recalled. “They live less than a mile from my house. We had to break the goal in. So we played a couple of games of 21 and H-O-R-S-E. It was good.”

So was the visit he made to his old high school on the day of the NBA draft. Bane returned to the Seton Catholic gym to talk to the current students about his journey—his way of giving back for what he calls “the close-knit connection” he had with students and staff during his four years there.

“I told them I was sitting in those same seats as them not long ago,” Bane said about the basic theme of his talk. “I told them, ‘Whatever dream you have, do it, and you’ll live a happy life.’ ”

Living your dream is just part of his approach to life. Living your life with character is equally important to him. A pre-draft analysis of him noted, “Bane is regularly praised for his character and approach to the game.”

“Character is huge, whether you play basketball or not,” Bane said. “The person you are will last longer than playing basketball. My great-grandmother instilled that in me at an early age. Whether it’s the janitor or the CEO, you treat them all with respect.”

Markward marvels at Bane’s willingness to return to Seton that day.

“It is the biggest day of his life as he is about to get drafted by an NBA team, and he took the time out of his day to speak to the student body about his journey through Seton and TCU, and about his faith and never giving up on your dreams.

“Desmond has remained a humble person throughout his journey. His approach to life, how he treats others and his faith are admirable.”

Those traits help explain why a few hundred people made the trip from Richmond to Indianapolis on Feb. 2 to watch Bane play his first pro game in Indiana—against the Pacers in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

‘A dream come true’

As he prepared for the game against the Pacers, Bane said, “It’s going to be a dream come true. I grew up rooting for the Pacers. To be on the court and be in that game is going to be surreal. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple hundred people [from Richmond] there.”

There were, and maybe a couple hundred more beyond that, said Josh Jurgens, the head coach of Seton Catholic High School’s boys’ basketball team.

“I think there were only 1,400 fans there for the game [because of COVID-19 restrictions], and we had two sections that were pretty much Wayne County and Richmond,” said Jurgens, who coached Bane for four years at Seton.

“There were people wearing Desmond Bane jerseys, and you could hear everybody yelling for him. When he would get in or make a shot, the place would get louder for him.”

Bane scored 16 points and dished out five assists during the game which the Pacers won, 134-116.

When the game ended, Bane didn’t have much time to linger on the court because of NBA guidelines concerning the coronavirus. Still, he looked up and pointed to the Seton-Richmond-Wayne County contingent, letting them know he appreciated them being there and cheering for him. Then he did something that touched Jurgens and others even more.

“He ended up giving his jersey to his uncle, Tony, in the crowd,” Jurgens said. “He gave his jersey to his uncle so he could give it to his great-grandmother because she wasn’t able to make it to the game.”

Soon, Jurgens was sharing another favorite moment about Bane. Everyone who knows him seems to have more than a few stories they want to tell about him.

‘He doesn’t forget people or where he came from’

When Bane was a senior at Seton Catholic, a friend approached Jurgens and asked if Bane would make an appearance at a birthday party for her twin daughters, because the little girls were in awe of him as a star basketball player. Jurgens told Bane about the request after a Saturday practice, adding that the birthday party was in Connersville, about 30 minutes away. He also told Bane there was no pressure to go.

“He showed up and surprised them. And he stayed for their whole birthday party—two to three hours,” Jurgens said. “I have so many stories of him helping people, and he didn’t have to do it. He went to so many little kids’ games just to be there for them.”

Bane also had a dramatic impact on his high school teammates.

“He’s always that person who wants to make everyone around him better,” Jurgens said. “He was the first player in the gym and the last one to leave. When you have that out of your best player, it’s easy to hold everyone else accountable.”

Bane’s high school coach shared one more tribute to him. Jurgens noted that his 9-year-old son, Tripp, is the proud owner of a Desmond Bane Memphis Grizzlies’ jersey. As a father, Jurgens views Bane as a worthy hero for his son.

“He’s an old soul raised by his great-grandparents,” Jurgens said. “They raised him right, for sure. He listened to what they taught him about becoming a better person, staying humble, working hard and being kind to people. He took all that to heart. He gives back. He doesn’t forget people or where he came from.”

Bane says he never could.

“The people who I have in my career and my life are special people,” he said. Those are the people I’ve known my whole life.

“There’s no reason to act differently because of the position I’m in now. I’m extremely grateful for the position I’m in, and I’m extremely grateful to have those people around me. They’ve been following me my whole life and make me feel supported.” †

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