Queens University freshman Todd Withers hasn’t had the easiest of lives. However, through basketball and the help of a few mentors, he was able to overcome the challenges he faced.
Growing up in Greensboro, N.C., his neighborhood was what most people would consider “the hood.”
“I kind of used sports to stay away from gangs and stuff I shouldn’t really be involved with,” he said.
But for Withers, the violence of his neighborhood was the least of his worries.
Born with a small tumor on the right side of his brain, Withers lived in fear growing up, as the tumor continued to grow with his 6’8” stature. That worry continues today, as he completes a dreaded MRI once a year to ensure the tumor has not become cancerous or simply too big.
Starting at age four, he also suffered physical abuse from his mother and sometimes from the men she dated throughout the years.
“No matter what she did to me, if they put their hand on her, I would always try to fight,” he said. “They were much bigger than me, so of course I would get beat up.”
Once again, he turned to sports to escape.
When Withers began his freshman year at Northeast Guilford High School, he came across a man named Curtis Hunter. He was the basketball coach there, and he began telling Withers about the team. After thinking about it, he came to a surprising realization. “I am tall,” he thought to himself.
He decided to join the team.
Soon after, the game became a way for him to stay away from the negativity of his neighborhood—gangs and drugs.
“I didn’t want to fall through the cracks,” he said.
Hunter became a mentor for him and guided him through his difficult times, not only at home, but on the court as well.
During his 9th grade year, he fractured his ankle in four spots during an attempt at his famous lay-up.
“When you break a bone, you get somewhat depressed because you think you might not ever be able to play that sport again,” he said. “So I cried a lot.”
But luckily for Withers, a quick recovery led him back to the court by his sophomore year.
Along with Curtis Hunter, Withers’ grandfather, Keith High, also serves as a mentor for him, everyday.
“He has pretty much been my rock,” he said. “When I had no one else to talk to, he was always there for me.”
After graduation, there were many schools recruiting Withers for both academics and basketball. But none like Queens University. After visiting the campus, he saw the environment as “welcoming” and a “new home.” The Royal community displayed more interest in him than other schools, and he decided to attend.
Queens basketball coach, Frank Mitchell, describes him as “the whole package,” adding that the challenges Withers has faced have changed him only for the better.
“Todd loves basketball,” he said. “He’s passionate.”
Fellow teammate, Jedarian Jackson, was also very open to talking about his new best friend.
“I met Todd during open gym at team bonding. We were telling stories about our life and him and I connected because I can relate to his story,” he said. “He is someone who is looked up to because of the way he carries himself. Knowing what he’s been through, I’d say he handles his situation very well.”
Both Jackson and Withers mentioned the team becoming a “brotherhood” for them, a group of people that they could rely on during their time here at Queens.
“This is a small school and with that comes a lot of gossip, which I hate,” said Withers. “But I have a brotherhood with my teammates, and I can’t leave them.”
When asked about this special bond, Mitchell stated that the boys “instantly gelled” as soon as they met.
“We have very close-knit locker rooms,” he said. “Making it easier for them to bond on the court.”
“If you don’t like the people you play with outside of basketball, how are you going to play well with one another on the court?” Withers asked.
Without this bond, this experience wouldn’t be the same for him. Much like his high school years, basketball continues to guide Withers through his college years as well.