Wild, lost and curious - the three words Dian Wright-Forde used to describe his past self.
He associated with the wrong crowds and imitated the behavior of individuals he perceived as his friends. He wanted to change his life for the better, but he could not find the guidance he desperately needed.
With adulthood rapidly approaching, Wright-Forde found himself with two options: continue down a road of violence and crime or become the best version of himself.
A Challenging Childhood
Wright-Forde grew up in the streets of New York City.
“They’re tough, competitive guys, and you have to be that because if you’re soft up there in the playgrounds of New York, or in those gyms, you’re not going to make it,” Odessa Head Coach Kris “Bucket” Baumann said.
Wright-Forde lived in The Bronx with his mother until the age of five. He then moved to Long Island with his grandmother, Juanita Forde, accompanied by his older twin brothers, Jason and Tisean, and his younger sister, Ciann.
His mother would visit monthly, but Grandma is his true inspiration. “She’s a warrior, my hero,” Wright-Forde said.
Raising four grandchildren is no easy task; however, Wright-Forde always remembers there being food on the table and clothes, Jason and Tisean’s hand-me-downs, on his back.
Wright-Forde not only shared shirts and shoes with his brothers, but a room as well, which led to instant bonding. Some of the most positive memories growing up included the wrestling matches that they had late at night.
“I would watch and say, ‘Let me get in! Let me get in!’” Wright-Forde said. Being six years younger, he never stood a chance.
The twins also dominated on the basketball court and became stars at Bay Shore High School. “They were so known [and] everybody was expecting me to be this person,” Wright-Forde said. He struggled to find his own path and what made him different.
Wright-Forde learned from his brothers and constantly played pickup games at his neighborhood’s court. He wanted to make a name for himself as a basketball player, and although skilled enough, his grades put an end to that.
A product of his environment, Wright-Forde mirrored the behavior of his friends when they brushed off schoolwork and eventually dropped out. His grandmother and brothers cautioned him against the negative influences of his friends, yet he did not listen.
What started as typical teenage delinquency, became physical altercations and problems with the law. Wright-Forde and his friends often created a nuisance as they would go to the mall and harass people. His actions led to probation and a public arrest. The most embarrassing moment of his life.
Wright-Forde became overcome with shame as he walked past judgmental stares and turned heads. As someone who likes to fly under the radar, this created the ultimate humiliation for him. “That was big for me. That hurt,” Wright-Forde said.
Through all of this, Wright-Forde knew he could do better, but did not know his way out. “There was always a sense of me looking for help that I didn’t have,” he said. “It always felt like I needed help. I just felt like I couldn’t do it.”
Finally, opportunity knocked.
The Wake-Up Call
While playing pickup basketball at Upper Room Christian School, Wright-Forde caught the eye of the school’s Head Coach Joan Sanchez who saw the energy and raw talent that he possessed. Upper Room is a K-12 private Christian school with only 150 students. Sanchez approached Wright-Forde and asked if he would like to reclassify from Bay Shore to Upper Room, which would allow him to retake his sophomore year as a 16-year-old.
Although an extra year of private school would be difficult financially, Wright-Forde had the full support of his grandmother as long as he prioritized academics.
However, he still needed Pastor Ed Dono to approve his enrollment at Upper Room.
Pastor Dono expressed hesitation to meet with Wright-Forde after his trouble-filled past, but Sanchez convinced him otherwise. Sanchez grew close with Wright-Forde and believed he just needed a second chance.
The pastor did not go easy on Wright-Forde. For almost the entirety of the two-hour meeting, Pastor Dono screamed at Wright-Forde.
“Do you want to become a statistic?!”
“Are you going to take care of your grandma?!”
“Are you going to give her a hard time?!”
Then, Pastor Dono scrutinized Wright-Forde’s poor choices, asking him what factors influenced these decisions. Listening to the pastor list all of the irresponsible choices he had made and seeing his grandmother cry during this meeting served as a wake-up call for Wright-Forde.
“He’s reading through all of these and it doesn’t even sound like it’s me that did them,” Wright-Forde said. “He’s telling me the stuff that I did already and I’m looking at it like it’s another person, like, what’s wrong with me?”
At that moment, Wright-Forde felt empowered to change the course of his life. He realized that this is not who he wanted to be. Wright-Forde decided the time had come to get his life back on track, leaving Bay Shore and his old friends behind.
“I’m so grateful for [Pastor Dono], and I don’t know what I would’ve done without him,” said Grandma.
Heading into his sophomore season, Wright-Forde shed 30 pounds and had his braces removed, revealing an infectious smile. With his confidence at an all-time high, Wright-Forde was a different person.
During his first few workouts with the team, Wright-Forde saw talented players quit left and right, but he did not follow the crowd this time. Determined to make it work at Upper Room, he refused to give up.
“I used to wonder why they were quitting. Do they not care?” Wright-Forde said. “But they all had other options; options that I did not have. That’s probably why I worked harder because if I didn’t make this work, then I don’t have anything.”
Upper Room’s varsity team only had seven players. The lack of depth did not help as they would often get blown out by New York City’s premiere basketball programs.
When future Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler left the team mid-season, things got more challenging as Wright-Forde inherited more responsibility. Organized basketball has a learning curve, but he figured it out once his junior season rolled around.
In his second season, Wright-Forde excelled. He led the Royals to a Green Atlantic Conference championship, averaging more than 20 points per game. Upper Room’s most notable win came against St. Patrick’s School and future Golden State Warrior Jonathan Kuminga, defeating them 56-51. After outplaying one of the nations top prospects, Wright-Forde knew he had what it takes to achieve his new dream: playing Division I basketball.
COVID-19 hindered his senior season, but Wright-Forde had big plans in mind. He received Upper Room’s Most Transformed Award and nearly earned valedictorian. Wright-Forde was finally headed down the right path.
With his achievements on and off the court, Wright-Forde expected Division I schools to be lining up at his doorstep, but that did not happen. Sanchez told Wright-Forde that he did not “qualify.” Division I schools examined his tainted past and passed on a supposed risk. They did not understand how a person could change so drastically in three years.
“It was mentally taking a toll [on me],” Wright-Forde said. “It was a setback.”
His dream of playing Division I basketball had died and Wright-Forde’s radiant energy extinguished.
Then, Sanchez advised him to take the junior college route, and Wright-Forde agreed. He committed to Garden City Community College in Kansas, but encountered another obstacle.
Head Coach Cole Dewey accepted a position on Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s staff, leaving Wright-Forde stranded. With a new head coach in place, he had no choice but to go elsewhere.
The Real Dian
Instead of rolling over and giving up, Wright-Forde continued to showcase his talent. He joined the New York Dragons, an Amateur Athletic Union team, and dominated his first tournament.
“When your back’s against the wall, you do your best,” Wright-Forde said.
After the tournament, he got a call from Coach Baumann who said, “You’ve been getting buckets your whole life, I want you to come here and get buckets.” Ecstatic, Wright-Forde instantly accepted and counted the days until Odessa.
“He was more excited about coming to Odessa than he was getting recruited by Division I [schools]. To him this was kind of his Duke,” Baumann said. “A lot of kids that go to junior college are like, ‘Well, coach, I didn’t plan on playing junior college,’ and he was exactly the opposite. He couldn’t wait to get here.”
When Wright-Forde got to Odessa, he witnessed a shocking degree of talent. Expecting to score 20 points per game and be the star of the team, he did not believe what he saw during the first day of scrimmages.
“I’m looking left and right and everybody’s a good player. So, I’m thinking in my head, ‘How am I going to find minutes here?’” Wright-Forde said. With four players at his position, he wondered, “What did I sign up for?”
Refusing to rebel and complain to Coach Baumann, he yet again put his head down and earned a starting spot.
When Division I-transfer Daniss Jenkins showed up, Wright-Forde, being a competitive and confident person, viewed himself as the superior player, but quickly realized otherwise. He took a backseat and learned from Jenkins, knowing this would help him get to the next level.
Odessa got off to a slow start with an 8-5 record. Instead of getting frustrated and deflecting the blame, the Wranglers rallied and won 19 straight games.
“We wouldn’t give up,” Wright-Forde said. “We were like a brotherhood.”
Although they played the same position, Wright-Forde and Darrell Armstrong Jr. formed a close bond. They refused to put each other down to gain an advantage, rather they complemented each other's games.
“I wouldn’t even call him my friend, that’s my brother, honestly, and I’m willing to go to war with my brother any day. We were always on the same page and since day one it seemed like God put both of us in the right place,” Armstrong said. “We are both opposites, he excels at driving to the paint and finishing, while playmaking too, and I excel at knocking down threes.”
However, Wright-Forde scored some clutch threes of his own. In a game against conference-rival New Mexico Military, the Wranglers found themselves down 10 with only 42 seconds remaining. The Broncos called unnecessary timeouts and cheered on the bench, thinking they ruined Odessa’s perfect conference record.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, the Wranglers refused to quit.
With the deficit sliced to six Wright-Forde made his move. He knocked down not one, not two, but three free throws.
Odessa continued to play its game, forcing the Broncos to shoot free throws and conserve as much time as possible.
Now down by five, Wright-Forde collected the inbound pass and raced up the court. With the defense slacking off, Wright-Forde slammed on the brakes right before the three point line.
Wright-Forde just cut the lead to two.
With nine seconds on the clock, guard Anthony Marshall converted on a layup, sending the game to overtime. Odessa took care of business in the extra period, extending its winning streak to 13 games.
Wright-Forde’s 6.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game garnered interest from multiple Division I schools. While thankful for these opportunities, Wright-Forde wants to fulfill his two-year commitment to Odessa. After losing, 68-66, to the No. 1-seeded Salt Lake Bruins in the quarterfinals of the national tournament, Wright-Forde eagerly awaits another shot at a National Championship.
“I think he’s going to be successful in whatever he chooses to do. Just the way he handles himself, you know, he’s got a great smile [and] he’s got a great aura,” Baumann said.
From a lost kid in the streets of New York City, to a successful basketball player at Odessa College. Wright-Forde rolled with the punches and made the most out of his situation.
He now describes himself as determined, focused, and, most importantly, happy.
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