If he wanted to find somewhere that he could belong, Travis Releford has always had the opportunity to take the easy way out. He’s never lived in the nicest neighborhood, hasn’t always been afforded the best opportunities for education, and the temptation to go the wrong way like so many in his Kansas City, Mo. neighborhood -- including his own father -- have done has always been a just few steps away from his front door or around the nearest corner.
While so many others in his position have used the environment around them as an excuse to get caught up in the street life while searching for a sense of belonging, Releford has managed to stay out of trouble and on the road to success. Thanks to his hard work the six-foot-five inch guard emerged as one of the most highly regarded high school basketball prospects in the country.
It’s that ability on the basketball court that has enabled the six-foot-five inch senior guard from Bishop Miege to earn a full scholarship to play basketball for Bill Self next season at Kansas. Maybe even more important is the fact that basketball has been the key to open educational doors that have remained locked to so many other young men in his situation.
To understand where Releford is heading in life, it’s important to understand where he’s been and how the people he’s kept closest to him and the events of his first 17 and a half years have not only shaped him as a basketball player, but as a person.
“I wouldn’t say I was in the projects, but there was a lot stuff that went on that was drug related,” Releford says about his Kansas City neighborhood. “There was always some violence and people getting shot or whatever.”
As a youngster, Releford didn’t even have to look outside of his own home to understand the impact of neighborhood violence. It was neighborhood violence that stripped him of the benefit of growing up around his father. Tracy Releford, you see, has been serving a life sentence in a Missouri prison for a second degree murder conviction since his son was an infant.
“I think I found out what he was in prison for when I was in like fourth or fifth grade,” says Releford of his father. “I never knew what he was there for. When he went in I was just going on one, so I just knew him from being in there.”
Luckily, incarceration didn’t prevent father and son from developing a relationship and it’s also served as a grave warning of how poor decisions could potentially impact Travis’s development.
“He calls me every now and then and I go to see him every three or four months. We’re cool, I don’t dislike him,” the younger Releford says of the father/son relationship.“ He just tells me not to make the mistakes he did and to stay out of the streets and to take care of my mom.”
At a young age, the best way to stay out of trouble was to keep himself busy. Releford’s favorite way to do that was through playing sports and just like other kids all over the country, he dreamed of one day playing in college or even the pros.
Early on, those dreams didn’t include a basketball.
“Basketball wasn’t my first love, it wasn’t what I dreamed of going to college for,” says Releford. “Football was my first love and I dreamed of playing that and going to the NFL one day, then I broke my collarbone in like sixth grade.
I started getting taller and getting better at basketball and broke my other collarbone so I just left football behind in like seventh grade. From then it’s been all basketball.”
After leaving the football pads behind, Releford’s basketball ability improved enough that he entered his freshman season at Central High School as something of a known quantity even though the school -- located in his neighborhood -- wasn’t his first choice.
“I really didn’t wan to go there my freshman year, I wanted to go to Lincoln Prep,” recalls Releford. “I didn’t take the test to get in, though, and Central was like right down the street so I had no choice but to go there.”
Just like he’d already learned to do in other areas of his life, Releford made the most of his situation and flourished on the basketball court where he exploded for a 43 point and 12 rebound outburst during the first week of his high school basketball career.
“I was kind of surprised that I did so well because I was on a team full of seniors. I was just like I’m a freshman, I’ve got nothing to lose so I’m going out here to play and have fun,” he says of his freshman season. “When I hit 43, I didn’t even realize it. I was at the free throw line and I looked into the crowd and Rahmon Fletcher told me I had 35 and there was like five minutes left.”
Word quickly spread around the neighborhood and nationally that there was a big time freshman in Kansas City.
Editor's note: This is the part one of a three part story. To be continued...