CHICAGO — Willie Conner has a good excuse for possibly missing his mother's wedding day.
The Near West Side native and Crane graduate might be playing in the NCAA tournament with his 14th-seeded Buffalo squad (20-14).
"If I'm not there, I think she'll understand," Conner said. "But I'll have to make it up to her by getting her a really good wedding gift."
Conner's mom, Lakisha Hunter, is getting married March 25 at Michelle's Ballroom in Avondale. When her son's team made the NCAA tournament by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament last week, she tried to postpone the ceremony, but the banquet hall didn't have any more dates.
"I'm OK if he misses it because this is his dream," Hunter said.
To skip next week's wedding, Conner's team would have to put on Cinderella slippers by beating 3 seed Miami on Thursday and then winning a second-round game Saturday.
Conner has always wanted to play on college basketball's biggest stage since he first put on a pair of sneakers. And he's traveled quite a journey to get there, spending a season at Division I Florida A&M and then one year at Odessa (Texas) Community College before arriving in western New York.
"Going from place to place, it definitely hasn't been easy, but one thing I learned is to stay true to yourself, believe in yourself and never look back," Conner said.
He said that mentality comes from his mom, a nurse's aide who cried at length when asked how proud she was of her son's path to the NCAA tourney.
"You don't know how it feels to see your child accomplish something he's wanted to do his whole life," she said.
With the Bulls, the 6-foot-5 junior averages 12.1 points per game and is shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range. He also was the first Buffalo player to embrace teammate Blake Hamilton after Hamilton's 3-pointer with 2 seconds left beat Akron in the MAC tourney final.
"I was excited for him," Conner said. "I said some stuff I don't think I can say during an interview."
Conner eventually wants to return to Chicago and open a nonprofit center that helps kids on the West Side. He said it should be a place "that teaches them the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and a place where they can get their homework done."
"Back in Chicago on my side of town, we don't have many places where kids can hang out, so they don't do anything but turn to the streets," Conner said.
Hunter isn't surprised with her son's goal. She said when Conner wasn't playing basketball, he was almost always with her.
"He's basically like a mama's boy," she said. "He always wanted to be home with his mama."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: