Why Warriors forward Kevin Durant is sending these kids to college

Credit: ANDA CHU

Credit: ANDA CHU

Kevin Durant, during a visit to this after-school hangout, began asking students what they want to do in life. Alysia Demery, 18, told the Warriors superstar that she wanted to go into the music industry, with the ultimate goal of living in New York.

Durant could have told her good luck. He could have told her to chase her dreams. Instead, he simply nodded along as if her plan were already in motion.

"Yeah, I can see you there," Durant told her.

It was the best thing he could have said.

"Because nobody has ever told me my idea was actually good before," Alysia said.

And this is the best thing he could have done: Durant will help pick up tuition costs when Alysia and three other regulars from this Boys & Girls Club of Redwood City, Calif., head off to college next fall.

Durant visited here in December, judged a "Youth of the Year" award ceremony in February, and wound up enamored with the kids. The exact amount of his scholarships is to be determined, but officials from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in Menlo Park, Calif., called the pledge "substantial."

"I had no idea how I was going to pay for college," said Magali Pineda, 18, who is heading to UC Riverside after a life of financial hardship. "But I'll be able to step onto a college campus this fall, and feel fine, because I know that Kevin Durant has me covered."

Durant feels at home here. Raised by his mother and grandmother, he was an awkward kid — self-conscious about his height — until he started playing basketball at a local Boys & Girls Club. Now he's a nine-time All-Star who has the Warriors up 2-1 in their Western Conference playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans heading into Game 4 on Sunday.

As a subplot, Durant is also one of 10 finalists for the NBA Community Assist Award by virtue of the $13 million he's committed to various charities, most of them education causes. Online voting concluded Sunday, with the results announced June 25 on TNT.

The winner gets $25,000 for the charity of his choice, and for Durant that means the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, which includes this Redwood City, Calif., location, where about 160 students a day visit for tutoring, recreation or meals.

"I'm close to the people there and the kids there," Durant said when I asked him after Warriors practice last week. "I feel comfortable with their situation. Win or lose, I'm sure I will continue to pour back into that community."

This is where the 7-foot basketball star somehow fits right in, even if he has to duck under a few doorways.

"When I met him, I went in for a handshake. He said, 'No, I don't do handshakes. I do hugs,' " Magali said. "And so just like that, I was like, 'Wow, he's really cool.' "

Durant spoke to students in formal settings, such as on-stage interviews. But there was also time for genuine conversations. And they weren't about basketball.

"He just talks to me about how he was always doubted when he was younger," Alysia said. "And I talked to him about everything that had gone on in my life."

She laughed.

"I accidentally made him cry," she admitted. "I didn't mean to make him cry."

Alysia sustained near-fatal injuries in 2016. She was standing on the sidewalk outside the Boys & Girls Club clubhouse in East Palo Alto, Calif., when a woman lost control of her car and hopped the curb. The vehicle slammed into Alysia's legs and pinned her against a fence. A pole smashed into her face.

With her last bit of strength, Alysia pushed the pole away and staggered to a staff member. "I collapsed in his arms," she recalled. "He carried me inside — breathing, fighting for my life and bleeding on the floor."

James Harris, the site director, brought her into the office where paramedics told her not to close her eyes. If she did, they told her, she might not wake up.

Alysia recovered, but spent her sophomore and junior years dealing with concussion symptoms. Durant choked up while hearing the story and fell silent for a bit.

"So the Boys & Girls Club literally saved your life?" he finally said.

"Yeah," Alysia replied. "And I need to do something for them now. It's my turn."

She plans to attend Loyola University in New Orleans next fall.

Durant will also help foot the college bill for Joselin Quinteros, 18, who spent her childhood weekends accompanying her housekeeper mom on duty in Palo Alto, Calif., and Atherton, Calif. (Joselin's role was to take out the trash and make beds.) Now, she's heading off to UC Riverside with the dream of owning a house as big as the ones she once cleaned.

Magali, a senior, fell in love with photography when she first held a Canon T5i camera at this Boys & Girls Club. She became intrigued by narrative film-making and wound up with summer apprenticeships at Google and Facebook.

And then there is Dez Frazier, who was forced at a young age to sleep in a car at night and fake a smile on his face during the day. "To hide my pain," he said. Now, he has his career path all mapped out: civic leader to mayor to congressman to governor to President of the United States.

Dez, an affable ambassador for now, took me on a tour of the Boys & Girls Club of Redwood City, Calif., when I came to see the place for myself. He shook hands firmly and introduced me to anyone who walked within a 20-foot radius. He would have kissed babies, too, had any been available.

I ask Dez if he's already calculated what year he'd be eligible to run for —

"In 2036," he said. "Dez for Prez."

For an example of the kind of impression he leaves, consider what happened after a Boys & Girls supporter donated her floor seats to a Warriors game. Theresia Gouw, the co-founder of Aspect Ventures, arranged for Dez and fellow student Yaritza Rodriguez to use her seats for the Dec. 22 contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.

They got there early to watch Durant warm up. That's when they remembered a little tidbit from their time with the former MVP: Durant said that lots of people call him "K.D." but only his true friends call him "Slim."

"Hey, Slim!" they yelled.

Durant turned toward the crowd, spotted Dez and Yaritza, and waved them toward the court. Their interaction left more than one wealthy season-ticket holder wondering how in the world these kids were pals with Kevin Durant.

"He was extremely happy to see us," Yaritza said. "And we did get into trouble for going on the court. ... But he always says that he's very happy with the talent and the dedication that all the students here bring. That's something that says a lot about who he is."

It helps that Durant is something of a student himself. Upon arriving with the Warriors in 2016, he began seeking out Silicon Valley tech leaders. Durant wanted to make business investments but wanted to actually know something first.

"When I got to Silicon Valley, I wanted to get in to see more people that knew more about tech than I did," Durant told The Washington Post earlier this year. "There was not a thing I knew about tech. I could have just walked into a room full of people if I wanted to invest in tech and they'd say, 'OK, you are Kevin Durant,' and they would do it.

"Instead, I was going in there with a humble mind and curious spirit and just intending to learn and begin relationships. That goes back to people skills and life skills that I learned from basketball."

It was while attending one such Silicon Valley event, his own star-studded birthday party, that he met Hema Sareen Mohan, a board member for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.

Sareen Mohan encouraged Durant to come check out the Redwood City, Calif., club. He wound up building a court.

"Kevin grew up in a community center, and he understands the importance of the mentors," said Michael Jones, the senior unit director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. "Those mentors gave him hope and said, 'Hey, you can be a basketball player' or whatever his dreams were."

In all, the 29-year-old Warriors forward has pledged $13.1 million to causes such as Hurricane Harvey relief, Northern California wildfire recovery and the basketball program at the University of Texas, his alma mater.

Mostly, though, he gives toward education. He has committed $10 million and partnered with the Prince George's public schools on a program called College Track, which was created more than 20 years ago by Laurene Powell Jobs, a businesswoman and widow of Steve Jobs.

The College Track program helps disadvantaged kids attend college and get a leg up in life. I asked Durant last week why he chose education as his main charitable mission.

"So many kids need a good teacher so they can excel in life," Durant said. "There are so many obstacles you have to climb over, especially in the communities where I come from. But you have to climb over."

He's happy to provide an assist.

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