NBA / Aug 14, 2012 / 11:00 am

A Rose That Grew From Concrete

Dion Waiters

“You know, you can’t believe everything you read,” Waiters said, answering a question I hadn’t asked.

We sat on a landing that stretched out over the Delaware River separating Philly from New Jersey and beyond. He looked over at Maalik, Chris and the rest of his crew, joking around and messing with their phones as we talked.

“People see me sometimes and maybe I’m not smiling, and they form ideas. But they don’t know what I’m thinking about, whether there’s something I’m working through.”

It was well publicized that Dion had issues during his freshman year at Syracuse, and with that came unfounded reports he would transfer. People developed opinions without taking into consideration the personal tragedies still weighing heavily on a teenager’s mind. And virtually nobody knew, except those closest to him, that one of his best friends had come on hard times and lost his home, and that Waiters was doing what he could to help him get back on his feet.

“When he gets quiet or stays to himself, Dion could be thinking about one of his friends who got murdered. He could be thinking about his friend having to live on the street and where he’s going to sleep that night,” Clayton said later. “I honestly think he plays so hard and so passionately because that’s when he has clarity, on the court.”

Waiters’ mom bolstered his confidence during that first difficult year with frequent calls to tell him to stay strong, to “never let anybody win.” His relationship with his father, a strict disciplinarian, grew stronger than ever. The summer after his freshman year, Waiters worked out like a demon, returning in the fall with a completely overhauled body and mentality.

One thing hadn’t changed: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim insisted on using Waiters as the sixth man, despite being arguably the Orange’s best player. As a freshman, coming off the bench had been difficult to accept. Waiters grew up accustomed to handling his own business, and he never wants to come out of games. But as a sophomore, Dion says, he stopped questioning his coach and let the game come to him. The two bonded. And after the season-ending loss to Ohio St. in the Elite 8, Boeheim personally told Waiters he thought he was ready to go pro.

“It’s just a great feeling, getting ready like this for things you’ve lived your whole life for,” Dion said. “But it doesn’t stop here. This is just the beginning, just another chapter in life. I’m going to continue to work extremely hard at the next level. Because I know sometimes, there are times you have to wait your turn.”

He knows there are people who still don’t know the real Dion, but he’s come to learn to always stay true to himself, both on and off the court, and things will work themselves out.

“I have a really nice smile. I just need to use it more,” Waiters says with a grin.

He pauses for a moment.

“I want to show people you can’t judge a book by its cover until you open it up and read it.”

Does Waiters have a shot at Rookie of the Year?

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