There are people in this room who are going to travel the road of drug and alcohol abuse ... become junkies, said Chris Herren, speaking to a room filled with high school and college athletes and their coaches and parents at Youngstown State University.
“Some of you are doing the same thing I did, coming in late and sitting at the back of the room talking and not listening, and some of you will live my story,” said Herren, whose promising professional basketball career, and nearly his family, were destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse.
“Who knew that first marijuana cigarette in the ninth grade ... that first $20 little yellow pill was going to turn into a $25,000-a-month addiction,” said Herren, who has been sober since Aug. 1, 2008.
That was the day a counselor at Herren’s treatment center told him to call his wife and cut all ties with her and his three children. “Tell them their dad died in a car crash,” he told me.
“I hit my knees. I thank God every day for the people who helped me along the way and the bad days that got me here,” said Herren.
He travels the country telling his story of drug abuse and recovery, giving a message of warning and hope to student athletes and others.
He spoke Sunday at YSU’s Kilcawley Center at an event sponsored by the university and Meridian Community Care.
Smoking and drinking are gateway drugs, he said.
“I never met any junkie who started with cocaine or heroin. They begin with weed and alcohol, just like I did,” Herren said.
Herren said if he can reach just one kid, it is worth more to him than any contract he ever signed.”
Herren, who was a McDonald’s All-American and considered one of the top five players in the country, blew scholarships to Boston College and Fresno State University and an NBA career.
He is now dedicated to helping kids avoid the mistakes he made.
In June 2009, Herren launched Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren, a basketball player development company; founded The Herren Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing assistance to families affected by addiction; and launched Project Purple, a national anti-substance-abuse campaign encouraging people of all ages to stand up to drugs and alcohol.
Brett Nemeth, a sophomore on the Struthers High School basketball team, who was at YSU with teammates and coaches, said Herren “expressed a strong message for athletes everywhere.”
“He was inspirational. He showed that if you mess up ... you know you can still turn it into a good thing,” said Nicole Vlad of Boardman, a sophomore jumper and sprinter on the YSU women’s track team.