Shock players make final Read to Achieve tour stop

Braxton Speaks From the Heart

Kara Braxton lit up when she heard it. “That was the greatest question you could ever ask!” she said to 50 schoolchildren at the Detroit Public Library’s Redford branch last week.

The question from a teenage girl was about overcoming adversity. The fifth-year Shock center answered it with the best story she knew: her own.

“I got suspended,” Braxton said. “Then, I got pregnant.”

Braxton and teammate Alexis Hornbuckle were at the library, specifically the Teen Resource Center downstairs, for the final visit in the nine-month Pistons and Shock “Read to Achieve” tour. The Shock kicked off the 20-stop tour last October at Alcott Elementary in Pontiac the day after winning the 2008 championship.

The players read from excerpts from the popular motivational book, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill to students ranging from preschool to high school. But the true inspiration came from Braxton’s candid comments.

She recalled leaving the basketball team at Georgia to have her son, Jelani, in January 2005, and the frantic attempt to get in shape for pre-draft tryouts just three months later. Drafted seventh overall by the Shock despite not playing her senior season, Braxton considers herself lucky to have accomplished her goal of playing in the WNBA.

But it’s been a rocky first four seasons for Braxton, who was voted to start the 2007 All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference when she wasn’t even starting for the Shock. Her latest setback is a six-game league suspension, which began shortly after visiting the library.

While the suspension took her off the court, it didn’t take away from her message to follow your passion. For Braxton, that’s her four-year-old Jelani. When asked what she’d do without basketball, she replied, “be a stay-at-home mom,” drawing a soft wave of “awwws” from the audience. But the 6-foot-6 Braxton did express interest in starting a clothing store for tall women. “I can never find clothes that fit,” she said.

Even after a half-hour of questions, the students continued to raise their hands to learn more about their special guests, quizzing them on childhood role models and other favorite sports, which in Hornbuckle’s case were her father and soccer, which she said, “was not my calling.”

Hornbuckle’s said her role model on the court is former Houston Comet Cynthia Cooper, but it was her father, Jerome, a pastor, who encouraged her to prioritize God and grades first. “Friends and basketball were last on the agenda, but I played all the time!” she said, getting a laugh from the students.

Hornbuckle was more sincere when a female high school student asked how she could attend Hornbuckle’s alma mater, Tennessee, on a volleyball scholarship. The former Vols point guard talked about the importance of good grades and good character. “They’ll call your parents and coaches to learn what kind of person you are,” she said.

Second renovation in the works

Detroit Renaissance senior Reginald Freeman earned a $2,500 scholarship after winning the Detroit Free Press Gift of Reading essay contest.
Shock Photo
Renovated with Pistons memorabilia in 2004 in honor of the legendary scout Will Robinson, the Teen Resource Center at the Redford branch library is the oldest renovation still active in the community – so the Pistons and Shock Community Relations department decided they’ll come back again to give the Resource Center yet another upgrade during the 2009 season.

“I told a student I had to go to the main [Detroit Public] Library,” said Todd Kelly, Teen Resource Center coordinator. “He said, ‘I thought this was the main library.’ That just shows how people in the community view this library.”

Until larger renovations can be started, Kelly will have a $2,500 grant for center upkeep and a Young Explorer machine donated by IBM to help pre-school students with reading comprehension. Another $2,500 scholarship went to Detroit Renaissance senior Reginald Freeman, who won the Detroit Free Press Gift of Reading essay contest.

“Detroit Public Library’s suffering a financial crisis,” Kelly said. “[The grants and resources] are very important…if we can get someone like the Pistons to do things for us, it’s well worth it.”