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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Shillingford

Prouder and Prouder of Polk State's George Pridgett, Jr.



Brenda Pridgett went into labor, and laughed.


“George Sr. was taking forever to come out of our bedroom . . . when he did come out, he was fully dressed in a suit. I giggled a little and asked him why he was wearing a suit," she said.


From the moment George Jr. entered the world, his dad wanted to be the best version of himself for his mini-me.


It didn't take long for George Jr. to similarly want to be the best version of himself for his dad. And just as George’s dad suited up at his son’s birth, at the biggest moment of George Jr.'s basketball career, he suited up for his dad. Before he hit the court, he texted George Sr. to wish him a happy birthday.


Later that day he walked into his coach's office. And then George's life completely changed.



Baby Baller

At 4 George Pridgett Jr.’s parents gave him a Fisher Price basketball hoop, the certified basketball hoop of all baby ballers. By the age of 6, George’s father would sit on the couch and pass the ball to him so he could perfect his skill set. George Jr. specifically recalled “that quality time" with his father.


The father-son pair eventually took their living room practice to a nearby park. One day during their one-on-one practice, George Sr. had his 6-year old son complete 25 straight Mikans - layups on the left and right side continuously. With his dad watching, George Jr. tried tirelessly to make it to 25 baskets in-a-row. While his dad's penchant for tough love motivated George, it also made completing the drill 10 times harder.


He knew that if he completed this drill, he would come closer to being the next KG or Paul Pierce - his Boston Celtics idols. Nonetheless, it began to get darker outside, and George still could not seem to make it to the goal of 25.

Agitated and upset, George Jr. kicked the ball far away and began to give up on practicing. But his dad had something to say before his son walked away. “I do vividly remember my father being like, you just got to focus. Don’t worry about the extra stuff. Just focus on hitting it off the top of the square and bouncing it in.”


After hearing this, George Jr. decided to try yet again.


And again.


And again.


And . . .success.


What started as a simple Mikan drill turned into a lesson of perseverance. As a reward for staying on the course, George Sr. gave his son a gift: a trip to The Boston Garden.


George Sr. got himself and his son tickets to Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the matchup between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons. Whether it was a dagger three, clutch shot, or hard block - George rose in the stands and cheered at the top of lungs for his Celtics.


“The environment and electricity throughout the building it’s just something I’ll never forget.”


He became awed by the ferocity of Kevin Garnett, the play of Paul Pierce, and the shooting of Ray Allen. “Just to see that atmosphere and playoff intensity - it definitely inspired me to strive and reach that level and see if I can take it that far.” The entire Celtics roster ignited something in George Jr. He wanted to be like them – be one of them. He just had to.

After that life-altering game, George attended a basketball camp hosted by Paul Pierce.


As 7-year-old George Jr. competed throughout the week, he impressed his fellow camp-goers with his ball handling, defense, and shot-making. When the week ended, Paul Pierce rewarded a camper with a leadership award.


All the participants gathered around and started clapping for the recipient - George Jr.


“I just remember him [Paul Pierce], you know signing my shoes with my father . . .being so proud of me.” He also recalled thinking, “My life is amazing.”


Not Boston


Young George believed he could really make it in the Boston basketball world.


With his family in Boston, his friends in Boston, and his roots in Boston, George Jr. felt invincible.


But shortly thereafter he felt something very non-Boston.


To find better basketball opportunities for his son and better career opportunities for his entire family, George Pridgett Sr. moved his family to Atlanta.


Everything that George once knew had now changed and he had to try to adjust .


Around the third grade George Jr. joined the AAU team, Atlanta Select. Everyone on the team played at a caliber that George Jr. had not reached yet.


"I went from being one of the best players in Boston to being a nobody in Atlanta.”


It was difficult being the new kid on the block while trying to become a better athlete. George Jr. heard his dad say, “You know you’re getting splinters from sitting down so long.”


All George Jr. wanted was to make his dad proud by becoming the best basketball player possible. So hearing that hurt more than a bit.


He also heard his dad speaking about his new job say, "I can’t. I can’t do that type of work anymore.”


What? Why?


Lupus.


His dad had been diagnosed with Lupus - an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue and organs.


George Sr. had always been there for his son. So, how could George Jr.'s hero have lupus? How could his hero be sick? He just had to get better.


And George Jr. knew he had to get better too.


The following year George Jr. ended up switching teams and began playing for the Georgia Hawks. And he excelled. His leadership and skillset allowed him to be a necessary asset to the team. George led his team to the Youth Basketball of America National Championship.


Hoping to reach the semi-final, the Hawks found themselves trailing their opponents. The game clock began to expire. George began to dribble the ball down the court.


He pulled up, extended himself on his toes, and released the ball.


Game winner.


On to the final four.

Unfortunately, they lost before the championship game. But just like his dad taught him, George Jr. stayed the course and tried to get better.


While George Jr. continued to work on his craft, George Sr.’s health continued to decline. George Sr. had been put on dialysis and the kidney transplant list. George Sr. even began receiving treatment at home in a dialysis chair.

George Jr. did everything to help with his dad's comfort and treatment. While other kids worried about understanding algebra and physical science, George Jr. had a completely different worry: how to insert the needle that would help his father get better.


George’s mom says, “My greatest memory that I have of Jr. is when he took a dialysis class to learn treatments for his father. Jr. was a high school student going to his own classes, then to practice, and then he would come home to help his father."


She added, "The love . . . has engraved a lifetime memory in me.”


High School


As his high school journey started, George Jr. suited up with the Roswell Hornets. Things were going great for George Jr. as he led his team in scoring and even tallied 1,000 career points in his Hornet uniform. Two great seasons helped keep alive the dream of making his dad proud .


But his junior year came with battles.


They had a regular season record of a mere 13-14. Despite this, George made the All Region First Team for the third year in a row. Yet he felt like he could have offered more and believed his leadership declined. He knew that to keep excelling, he needed a change in scenery. So, he decided to go to Valor Christian Academy.


At Valor, George Jr. could dedicate more time to basketball than he could at Roswell.


So he did.


And his team did well.


Very well.


A state championship - in Valor's inaugural basketball season


As his school year ended George Jr. and the rest of his graduating class went to Bonavista, Colorado, to participate in a senior fellowship. George Jr. and his classmates began the construciton of a building.


Although he had his hands full, he could only think about one thing - his dad. George Jr.’s silent thoughts about his father were like silent prayers for his dad to get better.


Toward the end of his mission trip George Jr. received a call from home.


News about Dad.


Good news or bad news?


Dad received approval for a kidney transplant surgery in April 2021.


Good news. Very good news. All the dialysis and kidney issues he endured were over.


George Sr.’s health had improved, and everything was going right for George Jr.


From A Boy To A Man

Prior to the 2019 - 2020 season Vince Martin became an assistant coach at D1 Jacksonville University. As Martin prepared for the upcoming seasons, he remembered a player he previously coached on a middle school team who would be a great asset to the Jacksonville Dolphins - George Pridgett Jr.


Coach Martin contacted George Jr. to offer him a position on the team and after graduation George Jr. packed his belongings and made the move to Jacksonville, Fl.

September 28, 2021 - a big day.


It was the birthday of George Sr., who had received his new kidney and had been steadily improving for 5 months. It was also the first day of college practice for George Jr.


A lot to celebrate.


So after George Jr texted that happy birthday wish, his dad responded.


“He just told me that he loved me, and he was so proud of me.”


He did it - he made his dad proud.



Then he walked into an office, sat down and found himself surrounded by Jacksonville’s coaching staff.


His coach handed him a phone with his mother’s voice on the other side. Without her saying a word, George already knew what had happened.

George Pridgett Sr. suffered a heart attack and passed away.


Every part of George Jr. wanted to break down. He had just finished wishing his dad a happy birthday - now his dad was gone. George Jr. selflessly composed himself and stayed strong for his mother. He knew that she needed him and now he had to be the new man of the house.

George’s head coach flew back with him to Atlanta so he could be with his family. As he walked through the door his family members, past coaches, and whole support system were waiting.


“I'm super grateful that they were there to, you know, support myself and my family.” George says that day he felt, “like I exited like my childhood, and I entered like my adult life.”


George Jr. and his brother Mason made a promise to each other to support one another and always make sure to take care of their mother. So, with that promise, after his dad's funeral, George Jr. went back to school ready to have a successful freshman year.

Jacksonville had two scrimmages against Florida Atlantic University and Charleston University before their official season took off. George Jr. got to play in the reserves game and played extremely well. Especially well against Florida Atlantic - he hit the game-winning shot.


That performance secured George a spot in the rotation when the Dolphin’s regular season opened against Trinity Baptist. An efficient shooting night by George led to ten points.


George says, “I'm putting what I'm feeling about you know myself and my situation to the side and I'm focusing on performing for my team, performing for myself, performing for my family.”


As George Jr. continued to push away his father's death, he became a starter in Jacksonville’s next game against North Carolina A&T. George Jr. knew that this matchup could help prove that he could really play at the D1 level.


Though the team won, he only had 6 points.


Then came two straight losses.


Then just 5 points, then 6 points, then 3 points.


Then the bench.


George gracefully accepted his diminished role and supported his team. Eventually, the conference tournament came and the Dolphins won their first two games. One more win and on to the NCAA Tournament.


They lost. And George’s freshman year was over.

Throughout the entire season, George Jr. had put grieving, resting, and healing all on the back burner to commit to basketball. But upon returning from spring break his emotions caught up with him.


“I just was not myself. I just dreaded basketball and that is not me, and I am not a depressed person at all. I just really was not myself like I felt like I was in hell, and I was living in a hell on Earth like a life with no peace, just straight chaos.”


After losing his father and committing fully to basketball, George Jr. became burnt out. That reflected in the way he performed and led to Jacksonville’s coaching staff suggesting that he should leave their program. George Jr. entered the transfer portal on April 21, 2022.


George Jr. says, “I remember just calling my mother, and you know, telling her this unfortunate news and just packing up my apartment. I do remember that, and I remember feeling like I just failed essentially.”


His enjoyment for life and basketball - gone.


So he leaned on someone who he knew would be there no matter what - his dad.


“When I pray at night I pray to my father. I just feel like I have a connection. I know I have a connection with my father to where you know he hears me, and you know he does not talk to me physically, but spiritually like he blesses me, and I am so thankful for that.”

Falling In Love with Basketball Again

George Jr. commends his brother for being so strong through this grieving period. George knew, with his dad’s passing, certain moments that he received with his dad Mason would unfortunately never get. George Jr. therefore decided to help coach his brother Mason’s AAU team while away from school.


And by helping Mason, George also helped himself.


He began to fall in love with basketball again while taking the time he needed to heal.

A couple of months passed and George made a decision - it was time to play again. George Jr. prayed to his father and asked him to give him another chance.


George then made another important decision - to buy some groceries.


While loading his shopping cart he received a call from Brandon Giles and Josh Jackson, the head and assistant basketball coaches at Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida.


“I'm having a conversation with [Coach Giles] and you know one of the things he talked about was that I have an opportunity to lead this team.” Leadership enticed George and Polk State sounded like the right school.


Coach Giles said he wanted to give George Jr, “an opportunity to play Division 1 basketball and play in the NCAA tournament. I know that kid really wants that, and I want that for him. To see his time spent, commitment, and just overall what he has been through on this team as well as in life and yet can still go out and perform at the level he has. He deserves that.”


On May 20, 2022, George Jr. announced that he was a new member of Polk State’s men's basketball team.



Exactly Where I Need to Be

Supportive coaches surrounded George. And he had an immeasurable connection with his teammates. Whether a funny locker room conversation or a secret hand signal with his roommate/teammate Alex Vertus, George Jr. knew that Polk State was the right place.


“Then Coach Giles calls me in his office, and he tells me that he wants me to be captain of the team.”


George Jr. could not have been more excited.


And his dad couldn't have been prouder.


According to Coach Giles, "It is one thing to talk about being a leader, but to see and feel his interaction over the summer with teammates, people, kids during camp, and his peers, I knew he'd be a good leader.”


Fast forward to February 4, 2023. The Eagles are down by one to Santa Fe College. No time left. Ball ends up in George Jr's hands - just about 55 feet from the hoop.


Count it. Eagles win.


Another prayer answered.


And that was just one great moment in an incredible season for George. His impressive 19.6 points per game included a career high 32 in win against State College of Florida Manatee.


At the end of the season he was named to the All-Florida College System Activities Association team and to the first team All-Suncoast Conference.


What does the future have in store for George? Who knows for sure. Maybe he'll end up wearing that Celtic green.


One thing is certain: George Sr will keep getting prouder and prouder of George Jr.

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