A Polo G loving, 21st and Pulaski born youngin and an inspiration to thousands…
DJ Steward is his name and basketball is his game (Cheesy right? But my mom loved it)
DJ Steward is a nationally renowned combo guard in the competitive game of high school and soon to be college basketball. A game that according to the NCAA over 540,769 males participate in with dreams of playing in college when only 3.5% of them actually do. It’s not often you hear about an 18-year-old inspiring people all across the country to do what they love. As a senior at Whitney Young High school, so often you’ll catch DJ in the halls and on the basketball, court smiling and dancing but there’s so much more to him then basketball. For example, Last Breath by Future is DJ’s favorite song to listen to before a game. After our interview, I listened to the song and I noticed some powerful lyrics, “I’m a hustle ’til my last breath.” While hip hop gets him motivated for game time, he also shared that he doesn’t sleep on Gospel music either. One of his favorite songs is a classic,” Break Every Chain,” by Tasha Cobb. A song that every Black kid knows, because if they hear it on a Saturday morning it is essentially the cue to get up and start cleaning.
I then asked him about his childhood, a topic that many shy away from but Steward was open and honest. He believes his parents raised him well and the values they taught him he carries into his everyday life, like being humble and staying true to himself. Being an inspiration to thousands doesn’t come easy, so I was interested in hearing about how he handles all the attention. He says, initially it was overwhelming, but he’s gotten used to it and to stay humble he tries to respond to most of the people that reach out to him.
As a former league volleyball player, who was always super nervous before a game, I had to find out if an athlete like DJ Steward ever gets nervous when playing basketball. And to my surprise he said he actually does get nervous right before a game! However, once he’s on the court dancing and jumping up and down it clicks in his head that it’s officially “game time”. He’s in hustle mode.
Staying focused can often be a struggle for most people but DJ manages to balance school, basketball, family, friends and all with a smile on his face. So of course, I asked him how he stays focused on and off the court? He emphasized the importance of managing your time. So often we hear our parents and teachers in their droning voices, “You have to manage your time.” Steward suggests, “That you look at it in a positive way, always put school first and try to get better every day.” It may be hard but it all works out in the end.
Coronavirus really threw a monkey wrench in for the Whitney Young boys basketball team. Everyone had a gut feeling that they were gonna win the state championship. Steward also missed out on several other coveted opportunities. For example, he was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, the tournament where legends like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant all had the opportunity to play. He also missed the opportunity to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and other All-star games around the country. He says, “While they were able to keep the gear, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of being on that court playing a game that you’re so passionate about.” While the Whitney Young Senior was deeply disappointed, he took this as an opportunity to learn. DJ states, “That as an athlete he’s always thinking about ways to improve whether it be outside, going for a run or watching film.” The pandemic has allowed him to not only look at the game physically but mentally as well and to be grateful. He doesn’t take anything for granted, because it can all be gone in a split second.
I also asked him what it takes to be a Duke commit? And he says “To keep pushing.” Keep pushing even through the troubling times. You’ll have moments and days where you want to give up but that’s when you really have to keep working at your craft. The doubters should “fuel your fire”. He emphasizes that people will always doubt you but it’s important to have confidence in yourself first. He faces criticism from so many different people but he usually ignores them. However, when he does get constructive criticism he reflects and asks himself if what people are saying is actually something he needs to work on. Steward stressed that you never want to be around “Yes Men”. People who tell you what to do just to be around you and constantly say that you’re doing everything right when in fact you may be struggling with something.
I also asked DJ, what made him choose Duke? He tells me that Duke University has been his dream school since he was young. Growing up he would watch the team play basketball all the time and dream of being on the team. So of course, it was a magical moment when he got to visit the campus in September. He loves that it’s a place where he can “lock in” educationally and as an athlete. He loves that there is a motive behind everything they do and he’s excited about having a “brotherhood”.
To conclude, DJ answered a few more fun questions to wrap our interview up.
If you could a send a letter to yourself in the year 2030, What would it say? I hope to be playing in the NBA and making sure I am a great person on and off the court and to continue inspiring people across the country.
If he could have lunch with a legend who would it be and where would they go? I would love to have dinner with Michael Jackson because I love dancing and MJ was so influential on the dance scene. Or the late Kobe Bryant, who is my favorite player of all time. I would set myself apart from the fancy places that people always take legends by having a nice sit down at the Waffle House.