“I didn't really need nothing,” Le'Bryan said. “I just needed a momma that cared and food in my belly. I didn't get the flashy car or all that, but I didn't need it.”
His 1996 Bonneville, handed down from Samatha, still sits in her driveway.
“It broke down just about every month, but I could still drive it today if I needed to,” Le'Bryan said. “I got a lot of memories with that car and she worked hard for it.”
To this day, Le'Bryan remains proud of his neighborhood. Speaks highly of South Dallas and wears dedicated tattoos to prove it.
He lived about a mile from Lincoln High School, the tradition-rich basketball school for which he starred.
And until he got his permit, Le'Bryan walked home every day. He ran from stray dogs and got in plenty of fights, especially in his younger years. That's just how it was.
“But I liked it,” he says. “I grew from that. It taught me a lot. To me, it was fun.”
But as he grew older, and the temptation grew thicker, Le'Bryan managed to stay out of trouble. Much of that, once again, can be attributed to his mother, who kept a sharp eye and strict curfew on him, and basketball, an extra curricular activity that earned him local respect and took up most of his spare time.
“This young man probably had every excuse to get in trouble and be a bad kid,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Probably had the opportunity, had the free time. But not Le'Bryan, I never heard a negative word, from the teachers we talked to, to the guidance counselors, to everybody you get to know from the recruiting process.”
The pitfalls were plentiful.
Drugs and violence riddle the area, but there's gambling, too. He even recalls hearing about bets on his high school games. People he knew, sternly letting him know that money had been placed. “But I knew I had to stay away from that type stuff. That's an NCAA violation,” he says.
There was even a time — when he and a friend were playing basketball in a neighboring area late one night — Le'Bryan had a gun pulled on him. He'd seen guns his entire life, but never a loaded one pointed directly at him.
It was during his senior year, with his already captured college dreams suddenly flashing before his eyes. Eventually the dispute was settled when the guy recognized him as a local basketball star but, as he says, “it could have gone in a different direction.”
“Lot of violence going on,” he said. “It's a crazy place to live. But it could also be the best place to live. It taught me a lot, taught me to keep fighting. When things going wrong, keep fighting. And it's a blessing that I got out.”
Le'Bryan Nash scored 13.9 points per game in 2012 and won Big 12 Co-Freshman of the Year. He's averaging 14.2 per game this season, including dominant performances of 24, 26 and 28 in the past month.
If he came out of high school named George Smith, the 92nd ranked prospect out of Texas, we'd be talking about a hidden gem the Cowboys swooped up.
But he's not. And that's fair. There were lofty expectations attached to his name and commitment, some self-induced, and he's still trying to meet them.
Like many others, Travis Ford is well aware of the inconsistencies and flaws in Nash's developing game. He deals with them, tries to correct them every day.
But it's the misconception of Nash as a person that bothers Ford, calling him the most misperceived player he's ever coached.
“What a caring person he is,” Ford said. “He's just a wonderful kid. Wonderful young man with a great heart.”
Ford would know. Since bringing Nash to Stillwater two seasons ago, the emotional sideline coach has been tough on his coveted recruit. Defensive errors are followed with death glares. Off-balance fadeaways are followed with a verbal berating.
But each time, Nash has replied with a ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.' mentality, absorbing the criticism and hitting the film room. He's willfully accepted a lesser role in the offense this season and happily yielded the spotlight to Smart.
“I've seen more than one McDonald's All-American, top-10 player cave in after a (freshman) year like that,” Ford said. “Start blaming everybody and not blame themselves. He wasn't like that.”
That, like almost anything else in his life, can be traced back to Samatha and the way she raised her only son. He's been through plenty and survived plenty. Absorbed blows and continued on.
Nash's basketball future remains in limbo. His name has disappeared from the top section of NBA mock drafts. He's aware of it (“If it's three or four years, then it's three or four years,” he says about his future at OSU.)
But make no mistake, he thinks about that first professional paycheck. He thinks about handing it to her, seeing her cry tears of joy just like she did the day he signed his college scholarship.
“I owe a lot of it to her,” Le'Bryan said of his mother. “I play for her first and worry about myself second. Because that's what she did. She worried about me first and herself second my entire life.”