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Basketball: Grass to grace, despair to hope, the story of Jeremiah Armstead

Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Bas   -  
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Jeremiah Armstead moved around so much he wasn’t even eligible to play high school basketball until his senior year. He never lost faith through all the nights his family slept in their car when they couldn’t get a hotel room or into a shelter.

Armstead not only has survived, he has flourished.

On Monday, the Fisk forward made history as the first player from a historically Black college or university or NAIA school to receive the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association at their awards luncheon hours before the national championship game.

Armstead recalled how his family slept in their car at the beach the first night they moved from Philadelphia to California.

A police officer came by their car that night with no parking allowed after midnight and saw a family of four sleeping. “He just let us go. He let us stay there,” Armstead said. "So just encounters like that, with like everyday good people it just helped me to not, like, be mad at the world."

They stayed in a hotel for a couple weeks, then wound up in a shelter in Santa Monica. His mother drove him to school, a 40-minute trip one way so she waited in a parking lot for classes to wrap up to save gas and money.

Shelter time limits also forced them to move around, making even practicing basketball a challenge too much for a family focused first on surviving. They finally got some stability for his senior year, living in an apartment during his first semester and into the second.

All throughout his high school career, Jeremiah and his family had to sacrifice so he could go to practice.

"I had to take care, well be a father figure to my brother and sister, you know," said Armstead. "So. Basketball was like my safe haven. I played basketball, that's where I got to have fun. Be a kid again."

He has a mentor in his coach Kenny Anderson, who himself understands what is it like to not have a stable home. "This young man, his life being being homeless and things of that nature really sat sat on me because I was evicted as a junior," said Anderson. "I just was talking about that, the story this morning."

Armstead that going to the Final Four to receive his award has given his family something to look forward to.

"I called my mama right after. She was so excited for me," Armstead said. "So.I just love putting a smile on my family's face and getting more news like that really helps out, because now she got something to smile about, you know? Now she got something to be proud for. My son is the first HBCU, NAIA player in history to receive that award. So that's something, that's something I'm proud of."