CHICAGO — Tevin King never felt relaxed. How could he?
Growing up on the corner of Wilcox and Kostner, King was surrounded by gunfire. Since Jan. 1, 2010, there has been at least one shooting on every block surrounding his home in West Garfield Park. When King was 11, he watched as an older friend walked into a store a block north at Kostner and Monroe to pick up his daily newspaper, and when he strolled out, he was shot in his head.
"You can never get too comfortable with it, because that's when bad things start to happen," said King, who estimated he's been at or near five West Side shootings. "I never felt relaxed. I was always keeping my head up. It's easy and convenient to fall off on the West Side of Chicago."
But King, who starred in basketball at Providence St. Mel and now is a freshman at NCAA tournament-bound South Dakota State, had a plan to escape the West Side. The strategy involved hoops — he was a top public school guard through eighth grade before choosing the private Providence St. Mel — but it also included academics.
"I focused on education because I needed a way out," King said. "I knew basketball would take me far, but education will take me farther and help me be able to take care of generations in the future. I need to help the younger generations."
Shootings at or near the corner of Wilcox and Kostner since Jan. 1, 2010. Red dots reflect fatal shootings. [DNAinfo]
King admitted he had friends and family members doing the wrong things, and many times — even while he was a fifth-grader — they would tell him when to not go outside. When he exited his residence as a youngster, it was almost always in a car with his grandfather to go to the nearby Homan Square YMCA to work out or hone his basketball skills.
"If things were about to happen, I would go to the gym," King said. "My friends would tell me things were going to happen. It wasn't always accurate, but I was always a step ahead of things. I stayed away."
When King enrolled as a PSM freshman, he met coach and trainer Edmond Pryor. One of the first things Pryor said King stressed was "he wanted to get out of the hood."
Providence St. Mel graduate Tevin King celebrates with one of his former high school coaches, Edmond Pryor, after winning the Summit League tournament title. [Edmond Pryor]
Pryor said it became his "mission to help him do just that," not just because of King's obvious basketball ability, but Pryor said he also sensed a kid who "had a wonderful character and disposition." Every day after school of King's freshman year, Pryor visited him at home to help with homework and to make sure "he was on top of things."
"T.K. would even inform his friends when I walked in that they had 'to go because my coach here and we’re about to get to work,'" Pryor said. "Our routine carried on throughout T.K.’s high school career. He deserves the credit for never giving up; I simply provided some guidance and a 'can do' attitude."
Said Providence St. Mel athletic director Teresa Cullen: "I find many young people feel entitled and ungrateful for what they have, but Tevin was always appreciative and grateful for all he received."
King graduated from Providence St. Mel with a 2.8 grade point average, and was a first-team all-state player and conference player of the year as a senior. Wanting to boost his basketball stock with Division I schools, he enrolled at a Wisconsin prep school for a year, where he earned 15 college credits and a 3.5 GPA, and eventually signed with South Dakota State.
With the Summit League champions (26-7), King has played in all 33 games, averaging 3.7 points per game. Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy, whose 12th-seeded team faces 5 seed Maryland in the round of 64, called the 6-foot-2 King a "superior athlete who's going to be a great player for us." His college GPA is 3.3.
After college, King wants to open a restaurant near the UIC campus where people can eat healthy meals without paying a big price. His other goal is to own a clothing line.
For now, he's loving life in Brookings, S.D., where King said "I never have to look over my shoulder."
"It’s just safer," he said. "I’m just comfortable. I can just be myself instead of making sure I go to the right neighborhood or worrying about going to the store, or who you contact or who you’re being around. Where I'm from, you just don’t want to be caught up in the wrong place."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: