When Ra’Shad Weekly-McDaniels dropped 38 points in an AAU Nationals game as a sixth grader, he became a star.
At least, that’s how he was treated.
He remembers his coach showing him articles about his performance while riding the hotel elevator that night.
“It was like everybody writing about you, every saying how good you did,” he said. “After that day, it kept coming. Everybody started talking to me, everybody started writing about me, getting invited to the top camps. It happened over night. That’s what it felt like.”
At 12 years old, Weekly-McDaniels let the praise get the best of him. He bought the hype, and assumed he was anointed next.
“That attention they were giving him, he had a big head at one point like he had it all figured out,” said Shante McDaniels, his mother. “Everybody was giving it to him, because he was a great kid who knew how to play and score so many points. He is a really great kid, but they didn’t make him work for his position. They were just giving it to him.”
At first, the attention was weird. But as it continued, Weekly-McDaniels adjusted and went through middle school holding this mindset, with occasionally obnoxious behavior and an expectation that basketball would be easy for him.
“I started walking around like nobody could mess with me, and that’s what I had to get out of,” he said. “I didn’t know, because nobody ever taught me what to do when it did happen.”
Then he got to high school, and the bench checked him.
“Coming out of my eighth-grade year, I thought I was one of those kids who was supposed to do this and that as a varsity player, but my coach humbled me,” Weekly-McDaniels explained. “I didn’t start coming into high school. I sat the bench. I played five to seven minutes a game coming off the bench, playing behind seniors and juniors. I had to humble myself, bring myself back down to earth and realize it’s bigger than having a big head and stop being Hollywood.”
Now roughly two years removed from that learning experience, Weekly-McDaniels is soon to finish his junior year at Trinity Catholic High School in St. Louis and has received two Division-I offers – Western Illinois and SIU-Edwardsville – and has been in talks with several other schools, including Princeton, Milwaukee and Alabama A&M.
The guard was instrumental in Trinity Catholic’s run to the state quarterfinals and a district championship last season, both firsts in program history, and it wouldn’t have been possible without his transformation.
“He has changed a lot. He has grown in a lot of areas,” his mother said. “He is mature for his age. He is very respectable and mindful of others. He helps out a lot with his younger siblings. He’s a kid, he’s growing, but he’s changed a whole lot.”
Weekly-McDaniels has become a reliable aide in the home. It’s a single-parent household with five kids and a grandmother to nurture. His mom works two jobs is make sure food is on the table, and sometimes that means responsibilities for her son.
“If they’re out of school, I can depend on him to be here, or to meet them at the school bus,” she said. “When he gets up in the morning, he wakes up everybody. Ra’Shad will come home, do his chores, make sure everybody ate and in their rightful places. My house is together when I come home. I can pretty much leave him in control if I’m not home or if I have to work. I can depend on Ra’Shad.”
But afternoons when Weekly-McDaniels and his siblings get scooped from school, though, he serves a different role. His 5-year-old little sister, Journie Hatten, insists her big brother accompanies her in the backseat.
“They have a special type of bond,” their mother explained. “When I pick her up from school, she’s looking to Ra’Shad. Her first response is always, ‘Is Ra’Shad home? Has Ra’Shad made it home?’ When it’s basketball season, she wants to be at all the games. She doesn’t want me to leave her at home. She wants to make sure we go.”
There’s nothing Weekly-McDaniels wouldn’t do for his sister, like the rest of his family.
“I’d go to war for her,” he said. “Anything she wants, she’s got it. Pretty much, I’d put my life on the line for her.”
Familial sacrifices are commonplace in their clan, and it’s become second nature to Weekly-McDaniels to put others before himself. In basketball, he said he likes to get his teammates looks at the basket ahead of his own. In life, he is the same way.
“I make sure people are right before I check on myself,” he said. “I check up on other people, make sure they’re straight.”
He attributes his empathy to his creator.
“My mom sacrifices herself for us,” he said. “She breaks her back to live better than she did when she was a kid. She wants us to have a better life than she did. She gets us where we need to get, she takes us where we need to go. She makes sure we’re okay before she’s okay, and that’s where I get that from.”
His mother has also stressed education to her children and is proud that her eldest son, Dashawn Weekly, will leave home to attend Arkansas Baptist in the fall, becoming the first member of the family to go to college. Weekly-McDaniels has taken his mother’s advice to heart and works hard on his studies. He sports a 3.5 GPA, said he focuses on his schooling more than anything else and is excited to become the second family rep in the collegiate ranks.
History and literature are his favorite subjects, and when his freshman English class entered the poetry unit, Weekly-McDaniels discovered a new interest.
“The pen is like a basketball: when I’m writing, everything floats out of my head onto the paper,” Weekly-McDaniels explained. “When I need to get something off my mind, I get a notebook and just write it down. It relieves everything. I relieves all my problems. Instead of me getting mad or taking my anger out, it releases everything.”
His other love is music, and the two are related. Weekly-McDaniels listens largely to old school hip hop, citing Tupac, Nas, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Biggie as some of his commonly played artists. The beautiful wordplay and poetic lyrics are engrossing, and the opportunity to learn the similarities and differences from life then to now are enthralling.
And when he needs a reprieve from the world, he combines his greatest loves and gets lost.
“Man, music puts me in a better place,” Weekly-McDaniels said. “If I’m in a bad mood, the first thing I’m going to do is get my headphones and a basketball. Those are the two things that make me a better person and make me forget about anything.”