Below, South Carolina senior forward Chris Silva reflects on his life and basketball journey through a letter to his 15-year-old self on the first leg of his travels to the United States in 2012.
(circa 2012, 15-years-old)
Leaving Gabon was crazy hard, wasn’t it? Especially when you glanced back over your shoulder one more time and saw everyone at the airport there to support you and give you one more look of encouragement and yell of good luck. Mom, Dad, your uncles, friends, everyone. But, it’s happening man. You’re going to the United States to chase your dream.
Let me back up.
Remember that one friend of yours, the one who started working when he was real young and had enough money to buy the NBA games on TV? He used to invite you to his house and you got to watch Kobe, and all the greats of that time. Remember when he said to you, ‘what do you want to do?’ and you said ‘I’m going to the league,’ and he gave you that statistic about all the people who actually live in the United States and play ball their whole lives but never make it to the NBA? You were so sad, like, near panic … for about five seconds, and then you said again, ‘nah, I’m gonna make it, I don’t know why, but I’m gonna make it to the league.’ It wasn’t too long after that, your basketball journey really began.
I remember that feeling, and I see you, sitting on the plane right now heading for America. I’m laughing because I know you aren’t even sure if you’re in the right seat. You’ll do everything you can when you get to the U.S. to learn English, but today, sitting on the plane, you don’t speak a word of it. You’ll think about it often â€” I still do – you could get lost, wind up in any number of different places, but there is this kid sitting close to you, he’s going to Dallas, and he’ll make sure you make it. He’s on your first flight, he speaks a little English, but he has a family member waiting for him in D.C. and he’ll ask that guy to make sure you get to your gate to catch your flight to New York. He’s the first of so many who will help you throughout your journey.
That coach that recruited you to the National Team training camp in Gabon is also the one that helps you get to the U.S. So, when you get to Jersey, you speak no English and you’ve never played organized basketball, but you’re here to go to the league. Don’t tell too many people that man, they may think you are crazy. I’m just kidding, but be ready, there will be so much work along the way. But, don’t worry, you’re on the right path.
English. You’ll do whatever you can to learn the language. Teachers and friends will definitely help you, but teaching yourself will be important, too. Because, obviously, the basketball coaching and plays will be in English, too, and knowing the plays means court time. You’ll learn, catch a word here and there, repeat it. At first, the easiest thing to do is to translate your homework from English to French, and then back to English. An extra step, but it’ll help you learn.
Basketball. Back in Gabon you didn’t play organized basketball. Remember being 12 and 13, you were going up against guys twice your size and age? They didn’t take it easy on you, but, you held your own, were aggressive and scrappy. That is going to translate to the U.S., too, except it’s called fouls.
Rules in America are different. Back home you played FIBA rules, so goal tending, get ready, that is going to be a challenge. But your height, aggressiveness and athletic ability are going to put you in the limelight at Roselle. Lots of colleges will come calling, but Frank Martin is what you need.
I’m going to tell you, Frank will mean so much to you â€” to me. Your relationship with him will grow over the years, and don’t get me wrong, he’ll be tough on you. People will ask you a million times if it’s “tough love,” but things that are hard build character; and it’s good to struggle before you enjoy the fruits of your labor. Through struggles and happiness, good times and bad, he will be one person that you’ll trust the most. You don’t have your family here, but he is family. Frank is family.
South Carolina will feel like home from the start. You know this is the place that you’ll be pushed to be the best basketball player and the best man you can be. Your mindset out of high school will be ‘I’m going to work so hard I’ll make everyone better,’ but it’s your teammates who will make you better. You’ll watch, learn and accept your role.
Your first year of college will be fun, tiring and stressing. That first time checking into the game, all you want to do is make something happen. Rebound, block a shot, something. That’ll be your mindset for year one. Older players will teach you â€” you’ll watch Mike, Minde and Laimo do everything they can to have the best year of their career as seniors. The next year, you’ll watch Sin, Duane and Justin do the same, and you guys are going all the way to the Final Four, but more on that later.
Fouls are going to plague you early on. Frank is going to put you in the game to give relief to Mike or Minde because they have fouls, and boom, you foul. Then another. You think to yourself, ‘what are YOU DOING!,’ but just keep learning and practicing. Bring technique and be finessed. It will come, but be ready, you’re going to be asked about it a lot.
Frank wants everyone to play hard and give everything they have. You can do that. That second year in school, you and your brothers will mold into an unbelievable unit. The Final Four, that whole year will just be something special from the beginning. It is going to be all about everyone playing his role. You’ll just need to rebound, play defense, back up your guards. Sin will be clutch, Duane will defend so hard. It’ll be the ride of your life.
You’re doing well in school, you’re working every day on your basketball career, your shot is coming around. Then, before your junior year, you’ll get the chance to go home. HOME. You left Gabon a boy, and you’re becoming a man, and you are going to see your family for the first time in five years.
Surprising everyone back home will be crazy. You didn’t realize how bad you missed Grandma’s food until you had it again. The city will be abuzz about your return. The coolest part, you don’t know it until you get back, but you’re impacting people there, Chris. Kids are going to know you. The president of the basketball federation said he would have invited the media to the airport to greet you. When we were kids, nobody had a shred of hope to make it to the league or be great basketball players. Now, they look up to you. Let that drive you, it drives me now to work even harder for the dream.
You’ll see it when you are in Gabon. You playing basketball in America means a lot to your family. You know all of our family played ball. On the court back home â€” all those times Grandma said she was going to shut the door on you late at night because you just wouldn’t stop playing ball. Those moments matter. Even then you knew that hard work would be the path you’d have to take.
Junior season will be a little up and down. You’ll keep growing into a leader, your game will continue to strengthen and you will earn some individual accolades. You’ll talk with Frank, the coaches, family, and you’ll declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, but leave open the ability to come back to South Carolina. No agents, just go do workouts, get information and keep learning. In five years, you go from speaking no English, having a seemingly impossible dream to make it to the league and here you are declaring for the THE DRAFT. People don’t think you’re crazy anymore by the way.
You’ll get lots of good info; have some great workouts and meet a lot of great basketball minds, but you’ll come back to Carolina, keep working, be with your brothers and your Gamecock family and work on that degree. You want to keep molding into a leader and be part of getting the team back to the Final Four.
A degree. You’ll go for information technology as a major. It could make such a difference back home. If more people have Internet access just think about how it would grow the media, sports, and the country. Maybe you can go back to Gabon some day and do that. Keep making an impact.
Chris, life is a bumpy road, every day matters. You must give the best you can every day, because each is important. Always work hard for tomorrow and when tomorrow comes be ready for it.
I’m proud of you, today and tomorrow. We are going to keep working and next year I’m going to write you another letter. It will let you know which team picks us in the Draft. Stay humble, learn and listen. Dream big, Chris.