Givens' Athletic Skills Are Only Half His Story
Under the bright lights of television cameras and a flurry of flashes from photographers, omm'A Givens stands in front of his locker at the Tacoma Dome surrounded by reporters.
He is not new to this, so he takes his time. His voice is soft and raspy at the same time.
He talks for 15 minutes, intertwining a childhood filled with kidnappings, a father who died from AIDS, racial pressures from growing up in a small town and basketball.
The words come in torrents. Yet his answers are clear and precise.
It takes only 10 seconds to realize the Aberdeen High School senior is not a simple-minded cliche or over-sold jock. His charm quickly melts away any misconceptions.
"I'm used to it (the media) by now. It comes with the territory," said Givens, the only player at last week's Class AA state boys basketball tournament who had press conferences after each game. "I had to deal with it after my sophomore year."
He is an 18-year-old who handles himself better than some NBA veterans do during interviews.
Givens has had to mature under the microscope of the media.
He is only the second Washington player to be selected to the McDonald's All-America team, a two-time Parade All-American, the all-time state boys career scoring leader and a future UCLA Bruin.
Now he has been named The Seattle Times boys State Star of the Year, edging Federal Way forward Michael Dickerson.
"He's the best player I've ever seen," Joe Fesit, West Valley (Yakima) coach, said of Givens. Fesit described his team's game against Given-led Aberdeen "like going into a nuclear war with a BB gun."
The name omm'A is well known around Aberdeen. Pronounced "O-mah," its origin is Hindu. The "A" was added by his father for uniqueness.
Anyone who missed Givens at the Tacoma Dome last week should check local cable television listings for the "Life and times of omm'A Givens." A two-man camera crew from ESPN trailed the Aberdeen team for the past three weeks, documenting the Bobcats' quest for their first state title.
The idea began as a one-minute feature on Givens, but after an initial interview and Aberdeen's progress through the state tournament, ESPN expanded the concept.
"It might be a mini-movie by now," Aberdeen Coach Brad Fuhrer joked.
A telling of the omm'A Givens story, an athletic marvel and fast-growing local folk hero, must first begin with a short story.
Givens' father, Roger Givens, took omm'A and his brother, Maori, away from his mother, Janice Lead, on three occasions when he was an infant. The last resulted in a two-year trek across the country.
They traveled to Colorado, South Dakota, Utah and Nevada. Roger Givens worked odd jobs and kept omm'A and his brother out of school. He missed the fourth and fifth grades.
The mother hired a private investigator and tracked down Roger Givens in Houston.
With his father in jail, Givens was returned to his mother and they lived in Raymond, a town about 20 miles south of Aberdeen. He led Raymond to the Class B state tournament, but racial incidents forced the family to move after Givens' sophomore year.
"It got too crazy. I mean name-calling, taunting, everything," Givens said of the mostly white community. "I didn't need that. We didn't need that."
The family moved to Aberdeen, where Givens became the first African-American player for the Bobcats. He is the only black person in the coastal city's high school.
Another blow came when his father died two years ago from complications of AIDS.
Givens is open on many topics, but when the subject switches to his father, he is silent except to say they became friends before Roger Givens' death.
"Considering everything he has had to deal with, he is awfully tough," Fuhrer said.
Givens has prospered at Aberdeen, leading the Bobcats to two Class AA state tournament appearances and a second-place finish to Seattle's Franklin last weekend.
Next up is the McDonald's high-school All-America game at St. John's University in New York on April 3. And afterward, UCLA.
"After that, he could play in the pros," Fuhrer said. "What separates those guys is what you have inside, and I know he's tough."
----------------- OMM'A GIVENS FILE -----------------
College choice: UCLA.
Interest/hobbies: Collecting comic books, woodworking, drawing and hanging out with friends. Givens has a Spiderman comic worth over $175, and his collection is estimated over $1,000.
Quote: "He's the best player I've ever seen." - Joe Feist, coach of West Valley of Yakima.
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