By SAZOUN GRAYER
It is 2017 and three young high school basketball players at Klein Forest High School in Houston finally have their opportunity to shine. These boys are childhood friends. Their parents know each other. The game of basketball has kept them close from an early age.
They have patiently waited for their turns behind a stacked basketball program, but now they have a chance to showcase their abilities on the varsity stage. They take advantage and lead the team on a great run, being the No. 2 team in the state at one point and winning a district championship. They even make it three rounds deep in the state championship tournament, before a close, tough loss to end their season. This was far from the end, though, for these three teammates and friends.
Now, many miles away from home, TaMarcus Butler, D’Angelo Smith and Calvin Williams are together once again. They live together outside of school. They do everything together – practice, study, eat, work out. When one of them needs help with classwork, they go to the library and work on it together. Before a game, they usually watch some game film together in their apartment. They understand each other’s body language and their strengths and weaknesses.
Butler, Smith and Williams were all born and raised in Houston. The game of basketball has made them familiar with each other since their middle school days when then they played as rivals. Playing with each other that long, their relationship on and off the court has only grown over the years.
“We’ve been playing with each other since like sixth grade, so playing with each other now is nothing,” Williams said. “We know each other’s game really well.”
The trio’s chemistry only got better once they got to high school where they would play together as teammates at Klein Forest High School. Since Klein Forest was a basketball powerhouse, only Smith saw varsity action before senior year. When they shared the court together that last season, the group flourished. Their senior season they helped lead the Eagles to a 28-6 record and an appearance in the 2018 Boys 6A Basketball Championship Tournament. A one-point loss to Dekaney High School in the quarterfinals would signal an end to the guys’ high school careers, but the loss they suffered together only motivated them to want more.
They said the experience playing together in school not only helped make them become better players but also brought them closer together.
“When we played against each other, we gave Calvin the buckets,” Smith said laughing about their younger days. “We gave him a lot. But that’s how I knew we were always going to know each other. We were always going to play and [have that] chemistry just from playing together.”
Things changed for the group after high school. Despite their success coming out of Klein Forest, they weren’t highly recruited. Smith and Butler encountered Eastfield through a relationship between Coach Anthony Fletcher and then Klein Forest assistant coach Jonathan Cook, now the head coach at Klein Cane High School.
“I’m so proud of those guys,” Cook said. “There was limited interest in those guys, … [but] they just stepped to the court and kept getting better. I know those type of guys. They’re gym rats. They don’t lose.”
When Cook reached out to Fletcher to find his players a home, Fletcher had the two come up for a workout.
“We really liked them,” Fletcher said. “Both kids are kind of undersized players, and a lot of times you have guys like that that can really play fall in between the cracks because they don’t look the part.”
When Smith and Butler learned about the prestige of the Harvester basketball program and the promise by Fletcher to get them scholarships to four-year universities and advance their careers, the two looked no further.
“Basically [he told us] we come here, we play hard and win and he’s going to get us to the next level,” Butler said.
Williams took a different route following graduation. Instead of going straight to school, Williams tried out for the Junior Basketball Association, a professional basketball league founded by Big Baller Brand CEO Lavar Ball. Williams was one of 10 players out of a pool of 300 to make it.
“It was a good experience,” Williams said. “I feel like it got me better because I was playing against Division I and really, pro talent. I felt like that improved my game.”
However, the JBA only lasted one season before folding, so Williams sat out a year that he could have been playing collegiately. As much as the experience helped him, he wishes he would have gone straight to college.
“After they ended it, he didn’t really know what to do other than go overseas,” said Smith. “We got him up here. We didn’t even know we could, but we got him up here. So, it’s just all three of us here at Eastfield now, going off.”
Smith and Butler made that happen for him this season. They told Fletcher about Williams and Fletcher invited him up from Houston for a workout. From there, it was almost destiny. The three friends from Houston were reunited once more.
This season they have helped lead the Harvesters to a 23-6 record, a No. 8 national ranking and a shot at a national championship heading into the playoffs. Together, they have combined for 94.2 minutes of floor time and about 50 points a game.
“We grew, we got better,” Butler said. “We be having fun. We all got it. Like, we communicate well. The chemistry is there.”
Now, they have their eyes set on a playoff berth and a push for a national title. But no matter what happens, Butler, Smith and Williams have a bond that will not be broken.
“They’re like brothers to me,” Williams said. “I can always depend on TaMarcus and D’Angelo if I need anything down here or if I need help. We’re just close. I can always depend on them. It makes me feel more comfortable … if you feel comfortable while playing basketball, you can go a long way.”