The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

How one NKY teen overcame adversity and earned a Division I scholarship

May 2, 2023

Most kids who have to support their family at the ripe age of 14 would be considered lucky to graduate high school, but a young Erlanger, Kentucky resident has seen beyond obstacles and aims for the highest level of excellence. 

Jeramiah Israel is a 19-year-old student-athlete finishing up his COVID year at Lloyd Memorial High School. Israel has earned a Division I offer to play basketball at Northern Kentucky University and will be joining the Norse in the fall of 2023. While it is impressive to earn such an offer, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how dedicated Israel is to becoming as successful as he possibly can be.

“I got my first basket when I was five, before that I would watch my older brother play but I couldn’t because I was too young. A year later I was finally able to play and I just fell in love,” said Israel.

Israel used to watch mixtapes and highlights of NBA superstars like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, and he would try to copy their moves in front of his house. After watching his older brother play basketball, he would spend nearly all of his freetime shooting basketball in his front yard or at a local park that was less than 100 feet from his childhood home.

“I remember, I decided I wanted to do something with basketball, it was like sixth grade, and I would come up here [the local park] over the summer at 6 a.m. and prop my phone up and get some shots up,” Israel said.

In fact, the community of Erlanger, including staff at Lloyd Memorial, saw him at the courts almost on a daily basis. Local residents and school officials noted that they would leave for work in the morning and he’d be there, and by the time they got home, he’d still be there.

“He always would either be in his driveway shooting his basketball or up at Capital [the park next to Israel’s house] shooting his basketball from morning to night. There’s not a time where you drove by and didn’t see him,” said neighbor Gwen Williams, whose sons also attended Lloyd and grew up with Israel.

Williams lived just a few houses down from Israel, and she claims she would sometimes look out the window and watch Israel shooting outside. According to Williams, the 19-year-old would often come over just to borrow her air pump when his basketball got low on air.

“I even go watch him play even after my son has graduated. I like to go up and will tell him I’m proud of him because I know that can make a difference,” said Williams.

But Israel’s neighbors aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed this frighteningly impervious work ethic. Faculty at Lloyd have also taken notice, including some of his teachers and administrators.

“His dedication to get better was incredible,” said Kyle Niederman, the assistant principal and head football coach at Lloyd. “I would open up the weight room before school even started.  Jeramiah was always one of the guys that was there at 7 a.m.”

This dedication was also documented when Israel was named a Tom Leach, All-Resilient team member earlier this year.

Niederman says there are not many adults, let alone teenagers, with the kind of work ethic and drive that Israel has. But what exactly pushes a 19-year-old boy to be so driven and committed to success in the classroom and on the court? 

“I got a lot of respect [for Israel]. I really do. He didn’t get dealt the best hand in life and I always tell the kids that you’ve got to play the cards. You can’t fold a bad hand, and he certainly hasn’t,” Niederman said.

That hand that Niederman mentions is certainly not one that anyone wishes for, and would typically force most people to crack under the pressure.

“I think my sophomore year, I would ride my bike or walk in the cold before school just to try and get some work in. I used to prop the door open so that way we could still get in on the weekends,” Israel said.

Israel has had to support his family since he was 14 years old and has been playing basketball as an escape since he was a child. Israel has two younger siblings, who are both diagnosed with autism, and has been living with his grandmother for several years. His grandmother was awarded custody after his parents had struggled financially with their own personal hardships, and had it not been for his grandmother, he would have more than likely ended up in foster care. With these circumstances, Israel felt as if he had to adapt to this mentality in order to escape reality. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic left his grandmother sick and unable to work, he and his older brother would take care of themselves and support each other financially by covering bills and paying for food.

“Everything seems to work out. Sometimes it’s harder than others, whether it’s transportation or just food. Basketball has been my escape from all of that,” Israel said. “I just wanted it bad. Just for freedom, peace, being able to do what I love.”

Israel easily brushes it off, but what he’s escaping is far more daunting than he makes it seem. Since 2018, his grandmother’s house burned down and they had to live in a hotel for six months. After the house had been fixed and he had returned,, his home was the target of a shooting while he and his siblings were present with his baby nephew, and then shortly after that  his uncle passed away.

“That was probably the second scariest time of my life,” said Israel when asked about how he endured the hardships he had faced.

Israel says the scariest moment of his life was when his younger sibling had fallen and split open his back. When going to bed one night, he heard a loud bang from his bathroom where his younger sibling was showering; following the loud bang were cries for help and shrieking from his grandmother. When he went to check what had happened, he found his brother with his back split open. Israel and his grandmother escorted him to the ambulance and eventually to the hospital, where his brother would spend the next several months.

Despite Israel’s financial situation and tragic past, he is persistent in making the best of his situation. He says it left him with a mentality to push beyond what everyone else thinks or believes he is capable of. He wants to do something that has never been done and wants to break the “financial chain” and be the first in his immediate family to graduate college.

“I just see myself hooping at the highest level, it doesn’t matter how I got there or anything like that, I just have to get there. It doesn’t matter what the journey is,” Israel said. “I haven’t done anything much, I’m just getting started, but hopefully I can show these kids around here to stop putting limitations on themselves.”

The community that Israel grew up in acknowledges this dedication now, but growing up he received some flack from peers and classmates. Israel was never on the advanced placement track but was ridiculed by other kids who believed he wasn’t capable of going to a Division I college. Israel claims that one time when he told his friends in middle school that he had dreams of playing Division I basketball, they just laughed at him.

“People say college is gonna be hard. I’m prepared for it,” Israel said.

And while some of those kids may not believe in his academic prowess, some of the teachers at Lloyd have faith that he will still succeed.

“He’s a sweet kid, I like any kid who has a goal and is driven. He hadn’t been on the AP track going into year five but he doesn’t give up, he keeps trying, and he knows that if he wants to be successful in basketball he needs to be successful in the classroom,” said Mary Brady, an English teacher at Lloyd Memorial.

Brady says that Israel keeps to himself mostly in the classroom, especially since most of the kids in the class may not be able to relate to his home life, but that doesn’t stop him from actively engaging in the class and still striving for success.

Unlike most teenagers, Israel has responsibilities that far exceed what some adults may struggle to take on, yet remarkably still pushes on a daily basis to be a better version of himself.

“Every time I work out I think about being the underdog… I tell myself: as long as someone takes a chance, it’s gonna be great,” Israel said.

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