Back from the bench
After his mentor went ‘Coach Carter’ on him, Sacramento’s Kevin Galloway is back in the game
This wasn’t where Kevin Galloway was supposed to be. Not here, riding the bench while his Sac High teammates battled Campolindo-Moraga to a heartbreaking 59-54 loss in the March 10 section semifinal, a game they had led early only to fritter it away in the final minutes.
But the star point guard for the Dragons—told that he wouldn’t be playing just minutes before the game, by coach Derek Swafford—had little choice. In a scenario that’s earning Swafford a reputation as the city’s “Coach Carter,” the Sacramento High School coach benched Galloway for “falling off” in his schoolwork.
A junior who carries a 2.7 grade-point average, Galloway is considered a lock for a Division I scholarship when he graduates next year. Making Swafford’s decision that much more difficult was the fact that Galloway had moved in with the coach during the season to be closer to Sac High. Previously, he had lived with his mother, Catherine Terrell, in South Sacramento on Mack Road, a half-hour bus ride from school. Concerned that his star player was failing to turn in assignments on time in recent weeks, Swafford decided to draw a line in the sand.
But when you’re a 6-foot-6 high-school point guard, feted by major colleges and considered one of the best prospects in the state, the bench is the last place you expect to end up in a critical game.
“I was disappointed,” said the soft-spoken Galloway, who moved back in with his mom a week after the season-ending loss. In fact, during a March 22 interview with SN&R, Galloway expressed his desire to change schools. “Valley [High School] is close to my mom,” he said. “Kennedy is there. Kennedy was where I was gonna go. All my friends were there. But then I went to Sac High.”
“To tell you the truth, the kid was heartbroken by it,” said a member of the coaching staff on the Sacramento Classics, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team Galloway will be playing with this summer. “Personally, I don’t think it was right to bring it out in the open. They could’ve said it was a coach’s decision and leave it at that.”
Swafford says he faced his own doubts prior to making the controversial decision: “I thought, ‘OK, what do I do? Do I be like every other coach and look the other way?’ I decided I wouldn’t be happy with that. And understand, I’ve sat out all of my top players at least once this year,” Swafford explained. “But it was a tough call. I contemplated it and prayed on it, went home and cried. I think he just didn’t believe I would do it.”
Swafford, 52, has had his own experience with slipping between the cracks. He dropped out of Centennial High School in Compton while growing up “mad at the world”—and didn’t go back to school until he was 28. He ended up going to Ventura College and a Santa Barbara community college before obtaining his degree at California State University, Sacramento.
“We’re letting people know that Sac High has changed,” said Swafford. “We’re about education here. My basketball team is held to a higher standard. You have to have a B average to play, or be close to it. A 2.0, that’s not high enough. That’s just getting by.”
The Dragons went 29-3 and had won both league and section titles, but Swafford said that “it’s time to teach lessons.”
“Could we have won state? I think we would have gotten there,” he mused. “Then let the chips fall where they may. But if he doesn’t get lessons now, he’s not going to get them. The program will benefit tremendously from this lesson.”
Now that the Sac High season has ended, Galloway has begun practicing with the Sacramento Classics, whose season began last weekend. The Classics will compete in as many as 70 games throughout the summer, showcasing their skills in high-profile tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where a who’s who of Division I coaches will be in attendance to take notes. Galloway has played on the team since he was 9 years old. For a player blessed with quickness and an unselfish demeanor—Galloway averaged 10.4 assists and 11 points this year at Sac High—it’s the kind of venue where he could raise his stock dramatically.
Mark Tennis, editor of CalHiSports.com, said that this summer’s AAU season will be a chance for Galloway to boost his profile as he matches up against the best players in the nation. Known for unselfish play and a preference for passing instead of taking shots, Galloway still needs a breakout performance to show college coaches he can score when the chips are down, Tennis said.
“He needs to showcase himself more,” added Tennis. “When you watch him, he can drive you crazy, because he’d rather dish the ball off than shoot.”
Led by head coach Kevin Johnson, the Classics held their first practice last week. Assistant coach Fred Wilson ran the team through its paces, organizing games of three-on-three where the losers had to jog laps.
“He can be as good as anybody out there,” said Wilson of Galloway.
While running through a game of three-on-three, with assistant coach Wilson barking out directions, Galloway took the ball into the key with a wide-open layup, only to dish off to a teammate for the basket. He makes his teammates better because of this mentality, noted Ed Dyer, who has played with Galloway at Sac High and on the Classics.
“He’s a big man, and he can handle the ball,” explained Dyer, a junior at Sac High. “You really can’t find that nowhere else. It’s kinda rare.”
Like Galloway, Dyer, a 6-foot swingman, had problems academically while attending high school in Georgia. He was a star player but was benched for academic shortcomings. But he’s carried a 3.0 GPA since transferring to Sac High.
“I had to learn my lesson the hard way. I did a lot of moving, getting caught up, didn’t have a good environment, didn’t have my head in my books,” Dyer said. “But I’m back into it. I think that’s what was going through Kev’s mind. It’s hard to sit there and watch everyone else play.”
After practice, head coach Johnson reiterated the need for good grades. Team members must carry a 3.0 GPA or close to it, depending on their circumstances. The team rested on the bleachers while he drove that point home with little ambiguity.
“Don’t let our grades fall down. We’re running the last mile,” Johnson said. “Those grades are what colleges will start looking at next month.”
Assistant coach Troy Graves keeps each player’s school records in a binder and proudly produces it on cue when asked about the team’s academic standards.
“I have everything right here, going back years,” he said.
Galloway strolled out of practice, a smile on his face now that he’s back in the game. He said he’s decided to stay at Sac High for his senior year, forgoing the transfer option, and make one last run for the top.
“I want to go out with a state championship,” he said.