*Photo credit: The Kansas City Star
Life for KU basketball forward Jamari Traylor looks a whole lot different today than it did when he was 15-years-old according to ESPN. Traylor grew up in Chicago, Illinois and lived with his parents and younger brother. His father had two previous convictions on his record which made it difficult to find a well-paying job, so he turned to selling drugs in order to provide for his family. When he got his third conviction in 2008, Traylor’s father received a life sentence.
The news was hard for Traylor to handle since he had a close relationship with his father. His mother, Theresa Golson, began to see major changes in his attitude and behavior. Traylor started cutting class, getting in fights, shuffling in and out of juvenile detention centers, being disrespectful at home and picking on his younger brother. Things got worse when Golson was laid off from her job as a licensed plumber.
One winter night in 2008, Golson had had enough of Traylor’s refusal to obey instructions. She had asked her son to leave many times before, but this night, she asked him to leave for good. She changed the locks and told Traylor’s friends not to let him stay with them. She wanted her son to value his home. Traylor was homeless, and he found himself sleeping in abandoned cars and buildings and stealing food from gas stations to survive. He dropped out of high school and began to think that no one cared about him.
Traylor later enrolled at Fenger High School in Chicago where basketball coach Loren Jackson changed his life. Traylor had never played organized basketball before, but Jackson liked the new sophomore and believed he had potential. Traylor followed Jackson’s transfer to Julian High School and students began noticing his talent. Traylor’s name began appearing on Chicago basketball websites and in local newspapers. Jackson worked to keep Traylor grounded, making sure he went to class and raised his grades. His attitude improved and Traylor was able to mend his relationship with mother who had found new employment. She began attending her son’s games wearing his jersey.
“Jamari just needed someone to show him that they cared, to show him how to be a man,” Jackson says. “His mom allowed me to be a surrogate father for him. If we needed to stay up until 4 a.m. to finish a paper, we stayed up until 4 a.m. I kept trying to explain to him that this gift he had could change his life, his family’s life.”
When Jackson was hired to coach at IMG Academy, Traylor joined him in Bradenton, Florida. Soon scholarships started rolling in as Traylor’s skills developed. Jackson had been close friends with University of Kansas Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bill Self for years and convinced him to check out the 6-foot-7 forward. Self liked what he saw and invited Traylor to visit the KU campus and meet with other players. After securing a 21 on the ACT, Traylor was officially going to college on a basketball scholarship.
“I’ll never forget what Loren Jackson did for me,” Traylor says. “If it wasn’t for him, who knows what I’d be doing right now.”
Today, Traylor has an enormous support group of players, fans and coaching staff. His relationship with his mother is better than ever. Traylor’s father is in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, but he watches the games on tv and the two talk regularly over the phone. Sometimes Traylor thinks back to the cold nights where he had to sleep in an abandoned car and steal food to survive, but Coach Self reminds him that his life will never be as bad as how it was.
“Coach is right,” he says. “Being here is completely different. I don’t have to worry about having a roof over my head. I don’t have to worry about food. I don’t have to worry about anyone doing anything crazy to me. People here care about me. They really care.”
Traylor shared his story and thanked the people who cared about him on senior day in March 2016 after playing his final game at Allen Fieldhouse. Coach Self was moved to tears by the speech, even calling Traylor’s journey from homeless teen to college graduate “maybe the greatest story we’ve ever had here.”
In addition to the players he coaches, Self assists in the lives of youth through his foundation and is on the Executive Board of Directors for KVC Health Systems. Each June, KVC teams up with local celebrities and Coach Self on behalf of children in foster care at the KVC Hero Luncheon. The event draws more than 500 people together for a fun, engaging and inspiring lunch with some of Kansas City’s most recognized celebrities. The luncheon highlights KVC Everyday Heroes; monthly giving partners who make a tremendous difference in the lives of children by meeting essential medical, psychological and educational needs. Learn more, purchase tickets or view sponsorship opportunities at www.kvc.org/heroluncheon.