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Published on November 15, 2018 at 12:59 am Contact Matt: [email protected] The basketball hoop hanging on the living room door could barely take any more damage. Dunk after dunk rattled the backboard against the top of the door. Still, each night, Jamal, Sharif and Kadeem Custis rocked the rim, leaping across the living room furniture to avoid the imaginary defenders lurking.Outside Custis’ home on 31st and Napa St., gunshots rang through the air. But the three brothers played on.“We were used to it,” Sharif said. “We heard it every day. After a while it didn’t really phase us. We knew how our neighborhood was. The best thing to do was stay out of the way. Stay off the streets. When the sun goes down, go in the house.”In one of Philadelphia’s poorest and most violent districts, Jamal Custis’ family, struck by tragedy, turned to their household and sport for a foundation. Custis, now 23, is having a career year in the midst of No. 12 Syracuse’s (8-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast) best season since 2001. After battling injuries early in his career, he leads SU in receiving yards and has become one of the best special teams players in the country, Babers said.But Custis dreams of being more than a great player, he said. He dreams of fulfilling his promise to his mother, to rid her of the impoverished lifestyle she has been trapped in her whole life and to give back to the family that made his career possible.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAt about four or five, Custis waved to his mother, Jeanette, from her hospital bed before she went into lung surgery. Months after their father died of bone cancer, Custis and his two older brothers had to temporarily live across the city as Jeanette underwent the surgery due to chronic bronchitis.Jeanette promised her son she would be okay, but Custis wanted to be there for his mother, the same way she sat beside his beds for months on end when he suffered from whooping cough as an infant. Custis, a self-declared “mama’s boy,” always clung to Jeanette. When his brothers used to go play outside, Custis stayed in the house, attached to Jeanette by the hip. Seeing her in the hospital was the toughest moment of his life, Custis said.“I just always felt some type of attachment to her,” Custis said.After months of recovery, Jeanette was back on her feet, working to support her children as a single mother and protect them from the neighborhood destroying the lives of other kids in the area. As a student at Temple, Jeanette was forced to drop out when her parents died. After enlisting in the Army, she and her future husband, also an Army veteran, institutionalized a regimented lifestyle in her house to combat the gangs and violence in the neighborhood.Jeanette enrolled her sons in nearly every summer program she could find, making sure that they were constantly active and not hanging around the streets of Grays Ferry in Philadelphia.At seven years old, while Jeanette was working, Custis learned cartwheels and back handsprings in summer gymnastics classes. When she was off from work, she took the three hiking and rock climbing, despite her lung condition.“They have to follow some type of regiment,” Jeanette said, “some type of exercise to build their minds and their bodies. I wasn’t going to let (gangs) be an option.”When Custis and Sharif developed a love for basketball, Jeanette bought a mini hoop to place over the door in their living room so the two could continue to play basketball at night, when it was dangerous for children to be outside.Custis’ oldest brother Kadeem also helped fill a father-like void for Custis and Sharif in their early years. When Jeanette couldn’t pick her kids up from school or practices, Kadeem walked them home. Every day Jeanette would stand on the front porch, looking for her three sons to turn the street corner. When they were finally in sight, she knew they were safe.“I feel like now in older age, me and my brothers are developing the brother relationship,” Kadeem said. “For awhile my role in their lives was their dad along with their brother.”Kadeem was also the first of the three to develop a passion for sports. When Sharif and Custis saw what their brother could do on a football field, they wanted to join.By 12, Custis became the star of a local AAU basketball team, the Philly BallHawks, and was coached by Charles Martin, who began coaching Custis and Sharif two years earlier in a neighborhood league he created to help kids avoid violence.When the team came together in 2007, no one had any idea how exactly to handle it, Martin said. He was new to coaching and never wanted to get into it. The BallHawks had been a great team in the area a few years prior when former Syracuse star and current Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters led the team, but hadn’t had a player even close to Waiters. Custis became that player.The BallHawks soon began traveling to local tournaments in the area, and subsequently the region. Within a few months, Custis’ name began generating buzz in the area and coaches from different high schools in the Philadelphia Catholic League began recruiting the young seventh-grader.“We didn’t understand how good he was until high schools started calling his mom,” Martin said.Custis and Martin went through his options: Martin picked Roman Catholic because of its premier basketball and football team. Custis could play both. But Custis chose Neumann-Goretti instead because both his brothers went there. He wanted to follow.At the same time, other AAU teams in the area tried to poach Custis to come play for their teams, selling more exposure, better competition and new basketball gear. But Custis never considered it. His brother, Sharif, was on the team and the rest of the players became like family. Custis would never abandon family.“They were with him before he became Jamal Custis,” Neumann-Goretti head basketball coach Carl Arrigale said. “He wasn’t going to leave them after he became Jamal Custis.”As Custis progressed through high school, he became a two-sport star and earned national attention in basketball and football, which he began playing because of Kadeem. In college, Custis decided to pursue football, as it provided a better opportunity for a career, Kadeem said.During his senior season, Custis committed to play wide receiver for then-SU head coach Scott Shafer, who’s wide receiver coach at the time was former All-Pro Rob Moore.“He wanted to be coached by that type of caliber coach,” Martin said. “Somebody that played and understood that nuances of the NFL. He felt like that would enhance his chances to get there.”But when Custis visited to sign his letter of intent, Moore informed him that he would be leaving Syracuse to take the same position for the Bills. Martin wanted Custis to attend SMU from the beginning, where he was offered a spot in both basketball and football. Despite his frustration with Moore’s departure, Martin said, Custis signed his letter with Syracuse, and refused to transfer.“What he was really concerned about was if his mom was going to be able to get to the games and see him play,” Martin said.During Custis’ first four years at Syracuse, he faced many setbacks on the football field. Within his first two years he changed positions twice. SU’s offensive coordinator left after his first year and Shafer was fired after his second.When Dino Babers took over the program in 2016, Custis suffered near-season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons: a severe high ankle sprain in 2016 and a separated shoulder in 2017.Still, Custis persevered. While his brothers failed to reach the NFL due to their hotheaded nature on the football field, Kadeem said, Custis channeled that frustration and used it for motivation with their help.“I was scaring him away from that direction of frustration, because that’s what kind of hindered me in my career,” Kadeem said.For senior night against Louisville, family and friends came to visit and watch the game. Custis and Jeanette celebrated their birthdays — Jeanette’s is Nov. 5 and Custis’ falls on the 6th. They shared a chocolate Carvel ice cream cake and she proudly watched from the stands as her son played his final game in the Carrier Dome.“That’s the ultimate reward,” Jeanette said. “To watch my son live out his dream, that’s the ultimate reward.”But Custis’ dream isn’t done yet. His dream is creating a better life for Jeanette. He promises to do for her what she did for him.“That’s why we play,” Kadeem said. “To make a better life for us and our mom. To never need or want for anything. He’s able to fulfill the mission. Whether the NFL works or not. He’ll be able to put a smile on my mom’s face.”— Senior Staff Writer Matthew Gutierrez contributed reporting. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+
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Published on May 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm Contact Sam: [email protected] | @Sam4TR Former Syracuse center Chinonso Obokoh committed to St. Bonaventure on Saturday afternoon. CBS Sports first reported the news. Obokoh’s coach at Bishop Kearney (New York) High School, Jon Boon, confirmed Obokoh’s decision to The Daily Orange.The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Obokoh visited St. Bonaventure one week ago and visited Rutgers on Tuesday.When looking at schools to transfer, a source with knowledge of the situation said it was important to Obokoh to start right away.On April 6, Syracuse.com reported the center’s intent to transfer. The Rochester, New York native will have one year left of eligibility after graduating from SU in May, one year ahead of his class.As a graduate transfer, Obokoh will not have to sit out a year. He played sparingly over the past two seasons, scoring 91.7 percent of his total points this season in one game, on Dec. 22 against Montana State. That game was the best of his career as he scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in 12 minutes of play.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textObokoh, who arrived at Bishop Kearney from Nigeria, lost a year of eligibility despite redshirting his freshman season because the NCAA ruled Bishop Kearney incorrectly classified Obokoh on his arrival in the United States. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+