STILLWATER — Samatha Nash locked the sliding door behind her, swears she bolted it shut before briefly heading to an adjoining room.
Her three nephews, between the ages of 3 and 5, were at play in the vacated area of her sister's second-story apartment. Her 18-month-old son, Le'Bryan, was with them.
But soon after exiting the room, Samatha heard the transitional noise that triggers fear in so many babysitting parents: Loud children one moment, stunned silence the next.
“We rushed out looking, and all I saw was my nephew running to us,” Samatha recalled. “And he just said, ‘Le'Bryan fell.'”
“He was face down and all I saw was blood. I honestly thought my son was dead.”
For nearly two years running, Le'Bryan Nash has been a puzzling on-court case for Oklahoma State fans.
He was billed as the Marcus Smart before there ever was a Marcus Smart. A can't-miss one-and-done with the potential to win Big 12 Freshman and Player of the Year, at the same time.
But today, Nash sits in Smart's shadow, a talented but enigmatic role player who's trying to develop a skilled but flawed game and shoot back up the NBA Draft boards he once appeared regularly on.
But to understand the mystery that is Le'Bryan Nash, you must first go back. Back before his perceived stock took a plummet. Back to another fall, a nearly crippling fall, that defined his early childhood.
And back to the two reliable forces — his hard-working mother and the game of basketball — that helped in the initial recovery process and have since pushed him forward, toward Oklahoma State, to become the first member of his family to attend college.
The nearly one-inch scar on the left side of Le'Bryan Nash's head is hardly visible. His hair covers it. And his memory of the accident is vague. How could it not be?
Nash wasn't even age 2 when he fell from that two-story balcony, dropping to the pavement and cracking the left side of his skull.
He's far removed from it now. Even the line of questioning seems to surprise him a bit. It's a subject he rarely, if ever, thinks about these days.
But in a way, the accident still shapes him, still remains with him, even though doctors have assured Nash that he's fully healed from the nearly crippling fall.
That's because, in the immediate aftermath, those two dependable figures first emerged. Basketball to help nurse him back to health and his mother to help pave the way.
Samatha Nash put Le'Bryan in physical therapy right after the injury. Paid for medical bills that would put her in financial debt. Incessantly worried about her only child. Did anything the doctors said.
At the age of 5, Le'Bryan started to show signs of recovery. But he was still clumsy, falling more than normal boys. So they told Samatha to put him in basketball. The game could help him establish a better equilibrium, which is controlled by the left side of the brain.
“When he played games at 5-years-old, he would fall,” Samatha said. “I would want to pull him. And he'd say, ‘No, mommy, I can do this, I can do this.' He was so strong.”
Didn't take long for Le'Bryan to catch on. He was a natural for the game, consistently scoring 20-plus points on older competition. And his size didn't hurt. He was well over 6-feet tall by age 12 and dunking in the sixth grade.
“After that head injury, (basketball) helped me progress faster, helped my reaction time,” he says. “And off the court, it helped me realize to be grateful that I'm on this Earth.”
There's plenty of reasons why Le'Bryan Nash is here, playing high-level Division I basketball — genetics, natural talent, hard work — but chief among them, lightyears more important than the rest, is his mother.
From AAU through his first two seasons in college, Samatha has tried to make every game. It was a top priority. “Because I knew there wasn't nobody but me,” she explains.
Le'Bryan's father was rarely around. Their relationship, which doesn't exist today, was nearly nonexistent by age 10.
Former OSU guard Byron Eaton is Le'Bryan's half-brother, from their father's side. But the two never lived together. Just occasionally interacted through basketball.
So it was just the two of them. Le'Bryan, Samatha's only child. Samatha, Le'Bryan's only provider.
They lived in a one-bedroom apartment before he reached high school. Le'Bryan slept on the couch. Says he enjoyed it.
Samatha would get up every morning at 4. She had to be at work by 5. Her shift at the Zale Corporation warehouse, a jewelry outlet where she did data entry and other processing, didn't end until around 6 p.m.
And if there was a basketball game to catch, those 14-hour days would often be stretched to 17.
“When I was younger, I cried when she got home from work, told her, ‘It's gonna get better,'” Le'Bryan said. “She'd come back, her feet are hurting. She'd be so tired.”
Because of that hard work, Le'Bryan never lived in poverty. The bills were paid and the essentials were provided.
But he couldn't live in excess. Couldn't get some of the material things so many kids desperately crave. “(But) he was very understanding of our situation,” Samatha says.