At 14, he was supporting his family. At 19, he earned a D-1 basketball scholarship

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Nineteen-year-old Jeramiah Israel received a Division-I basketball scholarship to Northern Kentucky University after averaging 21 points his senior year of high school. While his scholarship was earned through his basketball skills, he had to face a number of roadblocks to get there.

When he was younger, 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. 

“I got my first basket when I was 5,” Israel said. “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. 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.”

Over the summer, many neighbors said they would see Israel up at the courts in the morning on the way to work, and he would be back again at the courts after returning from work. 

“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 lives just a few houses down from Israel, and she says 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,” Williams said.

But Israel’s neighbors aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed his 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.”

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Israel sinks a basket. Photo by Emory Davis | Special to LINK nky

Israel was named a Tom Leach, All-Resilient team member earlier this year. The Tom Leach is awarded to several high school athletes in Kentucky who have endured and overcome some level of adversity within the year the award is offered.

Niederman said 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 have that kind of work ethic 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 of cards Neiderman mentioned is certainly not one that anyone wishes for and would typically force most people to crack under pressure according to Nieman.

“I think my sophomore year, I would ride my bike or walk in the cold before school just to try and get some [practice] in. I used to prop the back door open to the weightroom 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 said he 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, said Israel. With these circumstances, Israel said he felt as if he had to adapt to this mentality in order to escape reality. 

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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 by picking up several part time jobs. Israel said he would work two jobs everyday and would head to his second job after getting off from his first job.

“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 dunks at the court. Photo by Emory Davis | Special to LINK nky

In 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.

Israel says the scariest moment of his life was when his younger sibling fell 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; his brother had slipped in the shower and shattered the sliding glass door. Israel and his grandmother escorted him to the ambulance and eventually to the hospital, where his brother spent the next several months.

Despite Israel’s hardships, he is persistent in making the best of his situation. He said it left him with a mentality to push beyond what everyone else thinks or believes he is capable of. He said 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.

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“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.”

Neighbors that Israel grew up around acknowledge this dedication now, but when growing up, Israel said he received some flack from peers and classmates. He said he 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 said 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.

Israel in front of his childhood home. Photo by Emory Davis | Special to LINK nky

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

And while some of those kids may not have believed 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 said 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. She also said 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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