A bittersweet day is looming for Daniel Orton. A lifelong dream will come true when the former Bishop McGuinness standout hears his name called during the NBA Draft on June 24 in New York City.
But the obstacles along his road to the NBA have been plentiful. Orton missed the majority of his senior year of high school after having knee surgery, then watched as the Billy Gillispie-led Kentucky program he signed with in November 2008 transformed into the John Calipari-led Wildcats in 2009. He spent his freshman season as a role player coming off the bench behind fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins.
"I had a pretty good life until I got hurt, then everything started changing,” Orton said. "It's taught me a lot about life and more so about patience. Anything can happen in life, so you have to be ready for what life throws at you. It's clichÃ©, but it's true.”
All those trials pale in comparison to the death of his mother, Carolyn Orton, in February 2009. Carolyn died after a nine-year battle with lupus, an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system can't tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues.
"It was the toughest thing I've ever dealt with,” he said. "She was my best friend, the only one in the world who really understood me. I lost a friend, my mother and someone I looked up to.”
Said Terrence Crawford, Orton's brother: "They were best friends. In high school, he'd rather sit at home and hang out with his mom rather than go to parties.”
Yet, it was Daniel who was the driving force behind the family's decision to take Carolyn off life support when her condition continued to worsen. When Orton, his father Larry Orton and Crawford, the former Oklahoma State forward, sat down with the doctors to decide whether to keep her on life support or not, Daniel Orton made a difficult decision.
He told the group it was best to let her pass.
"It was the toughest decision of my life,” he said. "She had said if it's her time to go she didn't want machines keeping her alive, she wanted God to take her. So I told them that, it was really hard to do, but I know she would have wanted that.
"I didn't want to be selfish about it and just think of me in the situation. I thought about what she wanted to do, she suffered for so long. I understood she probably didn't want to suffer anymore.”
Carolyn Orton died at 52, but she lives on through Daniel Orton's actions. He honored her by wearing jersey No. 52 in the Jordan All-American game shortly after her death. He honored her by his non-reaction to a Kentucky fan calling her an "escape goat” on his Facebook page after he declared for the draft. Undoubtedly, he'll honor her with his actions throughout his NBA career.
"That's his driving force,” Crawford said. "It gives him incentive to be successful, do the right thing and carry on his mom's legacy in the right way. She was a fighter and that's instilled in Daniel, being a fighter and not quitting.”
Daniel Orton's challenging road to the NBA will end on June 24th, which will mark the beginning of a whole new journey. And while Carolyn Orton won't be there in body, she will be there in the form of her 6-foot-10, 270-pound son and the growth he's shown in the past 18 months.
"It's going to be a tough day for me,” Orton said of draft night. "It's something I'll think about that day and the night before.”
Said Crawford: "Being 18 years old and sitting in a hospital room and watching your mom take her last breath, that would be hard for anybody. It's been a roller coaster. To see him go through so much adversity (and still become an NBA prospect) is a testament to his character, a testament to how he was raised.”