Florida Atlantic University will be featuring stories of African Americans with connections to FAU athletic programs throughout Black History Month. These stories will feature former FAU athletes of color who talked with us about their playing experience, reflected back at their time at FAU, as well as discussed the significance of black history in sports and the month of February. This series will feature four stories of former FAU athletes. First up: Gary Durrant, men’s basketball (1997-99).

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Gary Durrant started playing basketball at a later age than most. At 15 and shortly after moving to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, he picked up the game and hasn’t quite stayed away from it since.
 
Durrant has been involved with basketball on several levels, whether that be as a player, coach or certified NBA agent, as he is today. Not only does Durrant have a sense of gratitude for everything basketball has given him throughout his life, but he also owes a lot of appreciation to sports in general.
 
A quote that speaks to Durrant when reflecting on sports and the power it has on people comes from Nelson Mandela.

 “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to the youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” – Nelson Mandela 

“I feel like sports is definitely important when we talk about Black History Month,” said Durrant. “Of course, there are many accomplishments in all fields we can talk about, but I think sports draws all people together more than anything.”
 
Black History Month can be used as a time to reflect on how far the country, or the world for that matter, has progressed. Sports has played a big role in that progression.
 
“Sports has been very important in breaking down some barriers or at least drawing attention to them,” said Durrant. “Think back on Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, for example. We have some history that I’m sure we aren’t necessarily proud of, but I think sports has done a lot in bringing people together and showing that we have more similarities than differences.”

When Durrant spent a large part of his childhood growing up in Manchester, Jamaica, he dabbled into soccer, cricket and running track. When he moved to Canada at 13, everyone in his community of a basketball city like Toronto played ball. Having already the coordination, Durrant needed to pick up the important basketball-specific skills, such as dribbling and shooting.

Having grown up in a single-family home, Durrant’s mother, Herbeline Green played the biggest role in developing him into the man he is today, because of her emphasis on academics, character and church. Howard Pichosky, Durrant’s stepfather, also played a big role in his life down the road. As long as Durrant took care of business academically, he was allowed to play basketball.

Durrant credits his role model Leon Johnson for teaching him all he knows about the game. Johnson worked at the recreation center Durrant would frequent, and by having a key, Johnson would stay at the gym sometimes past midnight with Durrant, who had the appetite to learn anything and everything about basketball.

From age 15 on, basketball was the sport Durrant dedicated himself to. Even a year after he started playing basketball, he would work and volunteer at the same recreation center where he learned to play, always wanting to make an impact on the youth. The sport also probably helped him stay out of a lot of trouble along the way.

“Basketball has been a savior for me, in a sense,” said Durrant. “The game has always been an opportunity for me to not only receive, but also to give.”

Durrant played at Milford Academy in Connecticut and then decided to attend Towson University to continue his education and basketball career. After realizing Towson wasn’t the best situation for him at the time, he transferred to a junior college in Texas before making his way to Boca Raton to play two seasons for the Owls.

FAU was a no-brainer when it came to Durrant’s decision on where to play next. With the coach’s interest, location of the school and great academics, FAU was the best move for Durrant.

“I wish I would have known about FAU from the beginning and was there all four years,” said Durrant. “But as a team, we had some great moments, despite our record or the tragedies we had to deal with.”

At the first practice of the 1997-98 season, Walter Turner, who had been Durrant’s roommate, collapsed and lost consciousness during stretching exercises at the beginning of practice. Turner was later pronounced dead at the Boca Raton Community Hospital 45 minutes after the collapse. As can be expected, his sudden death was tough on the whole men’s basketball team and community.

“He was a great player and kid, and for anyone who has to deal with a loss of a teammate, roommate or friend, it’s pretty traumatizing, especially for younger people who haven’t necessarily dealt with loss before,” said Durrant.

Turner’s death was linked to a genetic heart disease, which has led to all FAU student-athletes being tested with an echocardiogram before the first practice with their team.

Despite the roadblocks, there were still many memories Durrant made during his time at FAU, with the first being FAU’s upset over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were ranked by many as the No. 6 team in the country and were led by future professionals such as Desmond Mason and Doug Gottlieb. The 83-81 victory for FAU was something the world did not see coming, especially since it broke Oklahoma State’s 80-home winning streak against non-conference opponents. Durrant was the game’s leading scorer with 31 points and added 10 rebounds.

Many people remember Durrant for winning the 1999 NCAA Slam Dunk Competition. Durrant was originally not invited to the contest, but that didn’t stop him from driving over, knocking on the door and delivering a dunk over Dick Vitale who was sitting in a chair. This goes down in the memory books for Durrant, especially since he was representing FAU at the contest.

After Durrant graduated with a sociology degree from FAU, he spent some time playing in the USBL, NBA summer league and overseas. Once he was done playing, he helped start the National League of Canada and was the general manager of a team for a while. After working in the public schools in Toronto shortly after that, specifically as a guidance counselor, he became a certified agent and works with NBA players, such as Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings), Troy Caupain (Orlando Magic), Wenyen Gabriel (Sacremento Kings) and Andrew White III (Maine Red Claws).

“I think basketball has always been something I’ve wanted to work in and provide value to when it comes to other players,” said Durrant. “I feel like everything I’ve done has helped me prepare for what I do now, which is take care of players who play professionally.”

Durrant has always had an affinity for teaching and helping others, whether that be on the court, in the classroom or throughout the community. He regularly reflects on how far we have come in society, but still have work to go.

“I think once you are an educator, you never stop being one,” added Durrant. “I think every day is Black History Month to me and shouldn’t just be one month. I remind myself every day that I’m standing on the shoulders of others who have helped me to be here by sacrificing their life or breaking down barriers that once existed.”