The Meridian Star
Growing up in a single parent home, Meridian High standout and retired NBA forward Derrick McKey personally knows the hardships that children in similar situations can go through, which is why he gives back to the community that helped him become a professional basketball player.
On Thursday night, he was the honoree of the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi's annual Celebration of Excellence, held at the Frank Cochran Center in Highland Park.
"The opportunity to come back here and speak tonight is a privilege," McKey said. "It's one of the ways to give back and set a good example to kids and for other people also."
The event is a thank you to the Club's sponsors and volunteers, but also allows them to see what a difference they make by giving boys and girls an extra support system.
McKey wasn't involved with the Club growing up, but he knows their intention is in the right place and has since gotten involved.
McKey grew up without a father, but looked up to his uncle, Billy McKey, as a role model. Boys and Girls Club is an outlet for the same support, something McKey believes all children to should have.
"He sort of filled that void of being a father figure," McKey said. "And him just doing some of the things that normally a father would be doing with their kids."
Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi Executive Director Ricky Hood said asking McKey to be the guest speaker was an easy choice because of his background.
"Derrick is an inspiration to our young people because he grew up with some of the same circumstances as the kids that we have, that we serve," Hood said.
Hood said the Clubs program is to be a resource for a role model when children don't have one of their own, and McKey fits the bill.
Once McKey took the mic after the Boys and Girls Club choir performed, he outlined his basketball career that started in Meridian, took him to Alabama University and led to being drafted ninth overall in 1987 by the Seattle SuperSonics.
But his message was clear. Those filling the Frank Cochran Center turned banquet hall were responsible for helping keep the children involved with the program on the same track, because they all have bright futures.
"I'm being honest tonight, it's more about it's me, it's us, and it we. It's all about ya'll, all about Eastern Garden, it's all about my mother, my family, it's all about my friends. It's all about my church, because without all of you, I wouldn't be here."
It was guidance by his uncle, the former Meridian coach Billy Clearman and his church members that built him to be strong and determined.
He shared his experience of the 1987 NBA draft because it was a moment he had to stay composed. He sat there, waiting to hear his name and future team, confident the Los Angeles Clippers would take him fourth overall, but they didn't.
"So, there was the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth picks," he said. "At this point, I'm steaming. You can't tell, but I'm steaming."
Five picks later and he was a professional basketball player, drafted ninth by Seattle. McKey played 15 NBA seasons, retiring in 2002. Now, he comes back to Meridian whenever he can and hosts a basketball camp at his alma mater every summer. He hopes others will be their own kind of successful — athletic or not.
"They might not necessarily be athletic or basketball related, but things in life that they can compare and use," McKey said. "You can get out of situation you are in and be successful. I came from meridian, I came from the projects, I went to college, I was successful in college and was able to go on and play ball professionally."