From severe depression to college: How a Henrico athlete turned his life around

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jul 17, 2020

Richmond, VA. -- It can be one of the biggest moments in a teenager's life. The realization of a goal and a dream.

Earlier this summer, J.R. Tucker High School student Kendrick Thomas got word that he had been accepted at Norfolk State University - his dream school - to study to be an architect. It's something he'd wanted to do since the 5th grade.

“I get a message on my phone,” Thomas recalled. “I'm like NSU? It said congratulations. That was one of the happiest days of my life.”

“I'd be a liar if I told you that I didn't cry just because of the amount of stuff that he` has overcome to get into school,” Tucker basketball coach Adam Desgain added. “He was ecstatic. I've never seen him that happy.”

It turns out there were several reasons why his basketball coach had never seen such joy out of Kendrick.

It started when Desgain became the head coach at Tucker during Kendrick's junior year and had to kick him off the team for his attitude.

“At that time, he was not the best student,” Desgain said. “Kinda going down the wrong path. Great player, but as far as a role model, was not very good.”

“I'd have short outbreaks and outbursts,” Thomas said. “My anxiety ran high. I was very timid, so anything and everything would irritate me.”

Kendrick's father had left home and eventually wound up in jail. He was also bullied in middle school and had begun to feel the pressure that no teenager should feel.

“I was scared that I wasn't going to make it. I was scared that I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't trying hard enough. I was afraid to let the people that had put so much effort and support in me down," Thomas said.

“My dad got back out of jail and I was wondering why he didn't want to see me,” Thomas said. “It was a bunch of different emotions building up to that point."

That point in his life nearly ended every dream he ever had.

“I actually tried to hang myself. The belt broke,” Thomas said. “I told my mom about it. I told my counselors at school the next day. They took me to the hospital.”

Kendrick was diagnosed with depression and his mother and counselors put a plan in place that he has stuck to ever since. It helped his mental state, but was not the end of his troubles.

He failed geometry and needed to take summer school.

His mother couldn't afford the course, so Coach Desgain stepped in and paid for it himself, and made sure he got to class.

“I picked him up, brought him to school, and got him into class because I know that playing sports was that important to him but the education piece, I told him, has got to be done first,” Desgain said.

“The fact that coach got me back out on the court, I just put my all into that,” Thomas added. “That was my safe haven. Playing sports was my safe haven. Getting out on the court made me forget it all.”

Kendrick not only got an A in that summer course, he compiled a 3.5 GPA his senior year - crediting sports and his supporters with not only getting him through school, but also saving his life.

“If you saw Kendrick, how he was two years ago to the man he's become now, it's night and day,” Desgain said.

“You get one life, and that`'s it” Thomas added. “I knew I had to make a drastic change to get where I wanted to get."

And Kendrick now believes that if he can get a second chance at his one life, others can do the same thing by using him as an example. Something no one could have predicted just a couple of years ago.

“Think about the people you would hurt” Thomas pleaded. “If you're suicidal or depressed, think about those people first. Think about the people that are actually there for you and care about you. “

“I'm hoping that the kids at school see it,” Desgain said. “If you're struggling, it can be done. You have to have a lot of people in your corner that do want to help you.”

"It's not a video game. You can't come back to life,” Thomas added. “I just say, talk to those people. Get help. Push yourself because you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Kendrick is going to try to walk onto the men’s basketball team at Norfolk State. Desgain believes he has the talent to play at the Division One level if he continues to apply himself as he has over the past year.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or is having suicidal thoughts, please call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255

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