Warriors’ Kevin Durant invests in his Maryland hometown’s future

WASHINGTON — Long before the mansion atop the Oakland hills, the nine All-Star appearances or the 20,494 career points, Kevin Durant was a gangly 14-year-old at his public high school.

It was a brief stop in a life defined by transience: After only a few weeks at Suitland High in Forestville, Md., Durant transferred to nearby National Christian Academy, where he first caught the attention of college coaches. But even as he chartered a course for NBA stardom away from his hometown in Prince George’s County, Md., Durant did not lose his love and appreciation for where he grew up.

In August, while in the area to celebrate his first NBA title, Durant mapped out the most ambitious philanthropic effort of his life to a handful of county and school officials at the Suitland auditorium where he once had freshman orientation. On the eve of his homecoming game against the Wizards six months later, Durant attended an event Tuesday night previewing the Durant Center in Seat Pleasant, Md.

The academic facility — made possible through a $10 million donation from Durant — will house the first East Coast center for College Track, a program that helps teens from disadvantaged communities attend and, ultimately, graduate from college. In the fall, the Durant Center will welcome an inaugural class of 60 Suitland students.

“We’re just putting more resources in our neighborhoods to inspire the youth, to do whatever they want to do, something positive in this world,” Durant said. “It’s good that we’re starting it, but we’ve got to see it come full circle.”

As a kid in Seat Pleasant, Durant struggled to fit in with his peers. His long limbs made him feel awkward. Basketball became his release, one of the few things that calmed his racing mind.

Most of his free time was spent honing his game at Seat Pleasant Rec Center. Taras “Stink” Brown, the coach who ran the facility, taught Durant proper shooting form, showed him video of Billy Owens and invited him to join the PG Jaguars, Brown’s AAU team.

Durant won two national championships with lifelong friend Michael Beasley and the Jaguars, but he was largely ignored in middle school by the area’s most respected high school coaches. Less than a month into his freshman year at Suitland, Durant left for National Christian Academy after his training partner, Charlie Bell, persuaded the coach there to watch Durant work out.

In the winter of 2004, while at a Delaware tournament called the “War on the Shore” to scout another player, then-Texas assistant coach Russell Springmann was captivated by the rail-thin 15-year-old draining mid-range jumpers off the dribble. The next day, Springmann called Durant’s coach and the high school sophomore received his first major scholarship offer.

Durant saw basketball as a vehicle to broaden his worldview, and there were plenty of new experiences to be had in Austin, Texas. After leading the Longhorns to a 25-10 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, he went No. 2 in the 2007 NBA draft to the Seattle SuperSonics, quickly emerging as one of the league’s most promising young playmakers.

His newfound celebrity often demanded distance from home. Trips to Washington to face the Wizards were chaotic, with old acquaintances reaching out for favors. During his eight years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he split off-seasons between Oklahoma City, Austin, Los Angeles and Miami.

Regardless of where he made his address, Durant held firmly to his Washington-area roots.

Across his shoulders is a massive tattoo spelling, “Maryland.” A die-hard Washington football fan, he wears his hometown NFL team’s gear every Sunday in the fall. His inner circle includes friends and mentors from his childhood. In May, Durant donated nearly $60,000 for new basketball courts at Seat Pleasant Rec Center.

“I think for him, PG County still reminds him of when everything was still pure and everything was just about basketball,” said Rich Kleiman, Durant’s close friend and business partner. “It was just about getting through the day, and all he had was basketball to fall back on. It really is the love of his life.”

Durant has long had designs on finding a hands-on way to give students in Prince George’s County the guidance they need to reach college. If not for the coaches and mentors he had through basketball, he knows he easily could have been another skilled, lanky teenager who didn’t reach his potential.

At a Silicon Valley technology conference in January 2017, Durant met College Track co-founder Laurene Powell Jobs, who told him that she was interested in starting a facility in the Washington area. In the past half-year, Durant has worked closely with county and school officials to build the Durant Center in the heart of Seat Pleasant.

The Suitland students enrolled in College Track will spend three to five hours a week after school days at Durant’s facility. The hope is that, within the next 10 years, College Track will help 700-1,000 students in Prince George’s County reach a four-year university.

“We see this investment as kind of an anchor for the Suitland community,” said Christian Rhodes, Chief of Strategic and External Affairs for Prince George’s County Public Schools. “It’s one thing to have economic development. But if you don’t have that educational component, it kind of falls flat.”

Perhaps no one inside Golden State’s organization understands the magnitude of Durant’s $10 million donation better than guard Quinn Cook. A fellow Prince George’s County native, Cook — five years Durant’s junior — also came through the PG Jaguars’ pipeline and remains close with numerous coaches and teachers in the area.

Over the past few days, as news of the Durant Center spread through Prince George’s County, Cook’s iPhone buzzed with text messages asking Cook to let Durant know how much the Suitland community appreciates him.

“Whether it’s in the media or not, he’s always giving back,” Cook said. “He’s a hero to the whole county.”

Wednesday’s game

Who: Warriors (47-14) at Washington (35-25 entering Tuesday)

When: 5 p.m. Radio: 95.7

TV: NBCSBA, ESPN

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