TWIN FALLS — When you ask College of Southern Idaho point guard Kareem Storey about the accuracy of the HBO drama The Wire, the Baltimore native will tell you it’s just like it, but in “some places it was worse.”
But don’t reduce Storey to a convenient stereotype about inner-city childhood and basketball stardom.
Watch the intensity with which he goes through a screen to smother an opposing point guard one weekend. See the tattoo on his arm representing his good friend and former teammate now deceased, one of the nation’s top prospects who was murdered in high school.
Talk to him. Listen to his Baltimorese accent, his solemn tone and his hopeful message. Storey, the transfer from Utah coming on strong for the Golden Eagles, is the product of his experiences, those that may be far too common across the basketball landscape, but real as life and death.
“Coming from Baltimore, it’s kind of a rough city,” Storey said. “My dad was murdered before I was born. It was Christmas eve, just the wrong place and wrong time. He was doing what he had to do to support his family.”
Fatherless families are commonplace in Baltimore, but Storey’s mother was set on making sure that trend in the genetic line ended with him.
First, she made enough money as a pharmaceutical technician that she was able to move Storey and his two sisters outside one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, albeit by only a block.
“I’m blessed that my mother worked hard enough that my mother got us far enough away from all of that, even though the grind was right there,” Storey said. “It’s not safe in Baltimore, but at least it was a little bit safer where I was. I could at least walk outside.”
When Storey was 4 years old, she rolled out a Fisher Price mini-basketball hoop. He hasn’t stopped ball-ing since. In high school, it was hours in the gym after practice, year-round. But he didn’t just play for the fun of it. There was a bigger purpose, an intention, behind it.
“My mom always used to tell me to break the vicious cycle, because my dad’s dad died at very early age, 23 or 24, and my dad died at 21,” Storey said. “She just always wanted me to stay focused and break that cycle. I think I’m doing a great job right now.”
Storey was an honor roll student his senior year at Princeton Day Academy, near Washington D.C. He averaged 12.5 points and a team-leading 9.0 assists for the Storm his senior year, leading them to a fifth-place finish in the National Prep Championship standings. Storey transferred from Towson Catholic, the same school NBA star Carmelo Anthony attended as an underclassman.
Many call Anthony’s style of play “bully-ball.” Storey knows what that’s all about.
“If you don’t come hard in Baltimore, you don’t come at all,” Storey said. “It is definitely a pride thing. If you don’t show somebody up, they will show you up.”
Storey brought his bulldog mentality and defensive grit to the University of Utah, where he became the starting point guard 17 games into season after senior point guard Josh Watkins was kicked off the team. According to an April 12 story in the Salt Lake Tribune, while Storey only averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 as-sists in just over 23 minutes per game, “he was adept at getting to the basket and became a fan favorite due to his hard-nosed style of play.”
But the Utes struggled mightily, and their coach Larry Krystkowiak decided it was time to rebuild, leaving Storey out of the mix for a scholarship.
But despite the surprising setback, of which perhaps as a matter of pride Storey is hesitant to get into, he relied on the daily lessons provided to him by his mother — he bounced right back up.
“We struggled by, but my mom, that is where I get my grind from because no matter how hard things got she found a way to get us out of a situation and raised us all by herself,” Storey said. “She is a strong woman. I learned that there are temptations everywhere, especially when things go wrong. If you aren’t smart enough or mentally strong enough, you will fall right into it.”
The same mental toughness and smart decision-making that allowed Storey to beat the streets, unlike his prep-star friend John Crowder, was what he relied on to stay the course and find the Golden Eagles, with whom he was connected by the staff at Utah.
CSI coach Steve Gosar remembers that first impression Storey made late in the spring.
“When he came up here, he and Fabyon (Harris) went at it,” Gosar said. “And he guarded Fabyon as good as anybody ever has from what I’ve seen, and he made it very difficult for Fabyon to do what he does best. And Fabyon tried to get into Kareem, and Kareem went by him. I think Kareem has been through a lot, a few schools, (NCAA Division I) experience — a lot of that at point guard. He brings toughness to the table that you can never have enough of.”
Storey set a tone early in the season, where his daily one-on-one battles with point guard Montigo Al-ford sometimes verged on altercations.
“We both wanted to embarrass each other,” Alford said. “He is tough and scrappy. We both wanted the starting position.”
But that’s where Storey’s smarts and mental toughness came through once again.
“(Kareem) wanted to do what was best for the team,” Alford said. “We wanted to make sure we were go-ing to get better together, to make each other better.”
Storey, who is averaging just over seven points and three assists per game, understood that while Alford may have won the starting position for now, it wouldn’t do he or his team any good if he let it get to him. Even if Storey was the guy who played Division I ball.
“I would run through a wall for coach Gosar,” Storey said. “Coach and I have an understanding of what is going on. I’m just trying to get better as an individual and team player. Every day I wake up trying to help this team out. Last year at Utah was last year. I love this team.”
And as Gosar is quick to point out, it’s getting harder and harder to keep Storey off the court. CSI may start playing he and Alford together more, much as they did in the second half against Chemeketa Com-munity College when CSI put up 67 second-half points.
“Two point guards really allow us to play faster, we were getting some great looks in transition from those guys as opposed to when those guys were on the bench,” Gosar said. “Defensively and offensively it makes us so much better.”