FAIRBORN — Vernard Hollins remembers basketball fans in Hungary heating up coins with a lighter so that when they threw them at opposing players they would stick to skin.
In Macedonia, fans threw rocks and pebbles at the former Wright State star. In Mexico, he experienced an eight-hour bus trip to a game on perilous mountain roads without ledges or railings. In Turkey, the first time he got paid he met team officials in a park and was handed an envelope with $15,000 in cash.
Those stories are just a taste of life overseas for a professional basketball player, and they are one reason Hollins, whose Wright State career ended in 2004, felt compelled to write a book about his life in basketball. He also wanted to honor his late father, Tharnell Hollins, and that’s why the book — available on Amazon.com — is titled, “The Disease Didn’t Kill the Dream.”
Tharnell, a well-known coach in Vernard’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., died of diabetes in 1997 before Vernard’s junior year at North Side High School. Tharnell had always dreamed of Vernard playing professional basketball.
“My dad used to tell me,” Hollins wrote in the book, “ ‘Son, in order to make it to the NBA or overseas, you must work harder than everybody else. Even when no one else is looking, you can’t ease up off the gas. If you do, you are only cheating yourself.’ ”
Hollins’ basketball career continues. He has also played in Switzerland, France, Germany and, last season, in Austria. He’s weighing his options for next season as he runs basketball camps in Fort Wayne this summer. He’s now playing the role his dad used to play as a mentor to youngsters.
“I never pictured myself doing that, to be honest,” he said. “After playing overseas, when I got back home, I saw a lot of talent going to waste and a lot of kids lacking the fundamentals and a knowledge of the game. I started an academy here to teach kids life lessons and basketball.”
Of course, Hollins’ time at Wright State figures prominently in the book. He devotes a chapter to his five failed attempts to pass the SAT and how that cost him his freshman season at Wright State. It also served as a valuable lesson as class work became more important to him at WSU.
“The administrators and coaches at Wright State were serious about me graduating,” he wrote. “They made sure I was on top of all my work and checked my progress periodically. I had a lot of great people in my corner that truly cared more about what I did in the classroom than what I did on the court.”
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