Lester Hudson, the former Celtic, has received a training camp invite from the Washington Wizards. (Washington Post)
The Wizards have 12 players under contract heading into training camp, and that likely will not change much over the next few weeks. They have extended training camp invites to Lester Hudson and Cartier Martin, but the team has not decided whether it will enter the year with 13, 14 or 15 players.
Hudson never made a profound impact on the court when he was in Boston, but he’s somebody to root for. He was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and has overcome setbacks at almost every level.
He went to Central High School in Memphis, where he failed his ninth-grade year. After staying back, he was not allowed to play basketball during his senior year. In Memphis, students aren’t allowed to play high school sports for more than four years after they are enrolled at a school. With basketball gone from his life, Hudson still lacked the maturity of a grown man and stopped putting forth effort in school. “Without basketball, I didn’t do my work,” Hudson explained. He failed to graduate.
But the story doesn’t end there, obviously. Hudson worked to get his GED while his high school coach, whose faith never waivered in Hudson, worked the phones in an attempt to find Hudson a junior college to attend. “He never lost faith in me,” Hudson said, clearly thankful for his coach’s persistence, “never stopped thinking I could play college ball.”
The coach found a good fit at Southwest Tennessee Community College, where Hudson received a try out against the players on the team. “I did really well,” Hudson said, “and I was offered a spot on the team.” And, more importantly, a spot in the school.
After two highly productive years that saw Hudson climb the junior college player rankings (“I think I was rated one of the top twenty junior college players in the country,” he said”), Hudson failed to graduate from STCC. This time, he partially blamed it on the school. “Because I was behind,” he told me in September, “I had to take beginner courses to get into the real courses, and I failed to meet all the graduation requirements.” There was too much catching up to do and Hudson didn’t have enough time to complete it. Maybe he would have if he had stayed an extra year, but that would have meant giving up basketball and Hudson wasn’t about to do that.
Not even a failure to graduate from junior college could stop college coaches from recruiting Hudson, a virtuoso scorer and true physical specimen, and he enrolled at the University of Tennessee-Martin. As usual, things weren’t as easy for Hudson as they seem to be for everybody else. Because he didn’t graduate from junior college, Hudson could not receive a scholarship during his freshman year. He also wouldn’t be allowed to play basketball.
“I red-shirted,” Hudson said, and this time not even the inability to play his favorite sport could keep Hudson down. Maybe it was the allure of playing as a red-shirt freshmen that was enough to drive him. Maybe it was the prospect of graduating from school. Whatever the reason, Hudson received financial aid and took out loans to cover the rest of the money. He proceeded to graduate from UT-Martin, despite failing to receive a diploma from junior high school, high school or junior college. Hard work pays off, they say, and Lester Hudson was no exception. “I had to change things around,” he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Job well done.
Now comes the hard part, sticking around in the NBA. Last year, when I asked him about the possibility of playing overseas, Hudson was adamant that the NBA was the place for him. He believes in his talent and refuses to give an inch to anybody, even those who are more skilled. “I think the veterans like me,” he told me, “because they know I want to get better and that I’ll never back down from anybody. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing, I’ll never back down. I could be playing against Kobe Bryant, but I’m going to go after him. It doesn’t matter who it is.”
He won’t be competing against Kobe Bryant, at least not yet, but John Wall and the Wizards’ other guards. Hudson will be fighting for a roster spot on a Wizards team that isn’t sure it wants to add more players. Still, “It’s up to nobody but me,” he told me last year, and the sentiment still echoes today. “I’m not worried about it, I’m just out here trying to impress whoever I can… the coaching staff, [the GM], the owners, the weight trainers, the equipment managers, everybody.”
Just keep doing your thing, I said. Say no more.