Family tragedy inspires former hoop star Duffy Samuels to press on with Duffy's Hope
Violence doesn’t discriminate.
Sometimes it delivers despair to those who’ve made every effort to thwart it, especially in urban cauldrons such as Wilmington.
Duffy Samuels and his family learned that in the most painful way possible.
Samuels was the second first-team All-State basketball player in Glasgow High history as a senior point guard in 1992. He sparked the Dragons to their first Flight A and Blue Hen Conference titles ever and a 22-2 record.
He then, with the help of a former teammate, convinced a junior-college coach to take him as a pay-his-own-way walk-on. He promptly earned a starting position and a scholarship after a few games.
That led to a scholarship to Old Dominion, where Samuels helped the Monarchs beat Villanova in a triple-overtime 1995 NCAA Tournament upset. He earned his degree in human services and counseling.
Back home in Wilmington between stints playing professionally overseas, Samuels heeded the advice of his mother, Karen.
Remembering the many coaches who had helped pave his path to success, he felt the urge to “give back” to his community. Samuels created a foundation that aided programs geared toward at-risk Wilmington kids.
When he stopped playing in 2002, that foundation became “Duffy’s Hope,” his full-time occupation. The mentoring program has had nearly 5,000 sixth- through-12th-graders in bi-weekly classes. They’ve learned everything from how to balance a checkbook to how to avoid drug and alcohol dependence and the lure of gangs.
It includes a 10-week summer basketball league in which educational workshop attendance is required and concludes with a celebrity game that has become a big draw.
But that game didn’t happen last summer.
“I was ready to give up,” Samuels told me a few weeks ago.
On Dec. 16, 2017, a Saturday night, Samuels’ nephew, Keanan Samuels, was shot and killed on the 800 block of Vandever Avenue.
The 20-year-old was home on Christmas break from Benedict College in South Carolina. He had just attended a vigil for a friend killed by gunfire several months earlier.
Keanan was among those who had benefited from his uncle’s program. It helped him overcome some early struggles and get on the right track to graduate from Brandywine High and attend college, his uncle said.
No arrests have been made in his slaying.
His death jolted Duffy Samuels.
“I had to really regroup because this kid came home from college, wasn’t into anything, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Samuels said. “I took a year off to get myself together and, what else can I do in this city to save our young people?
“I felt like I did all that I could. My nephew always brought people together.”
In 2017, Samuels had been honored during the Jefferson Foundation’s fifth annual Salute to Service in Delaware awards at the Chase Center on the Riverfront for Outstanding Service by an Entrepreneur.
On Monday of this week, Samuels was presented with the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association Herm Reitzes Award for community service at its 70th annual banquet. It was the DSBA, along with the state’s coaches, that had voted Samuels first-team All-State 27 years ago.
Samuels told the gathering at the Sheraton Wilmington South that his mission was to help “the hopeless become hopeful,” which he has done hundreds of times.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Samuels said.
There is still much more to accomplish, and he tearfully described what happened to his nephew as a reminder to all.
Samuels, his heart heavier than before, will continue to make the effort.
He’ll take kids on trips to places they might never have visited. He’ll give them the tools to get their first job or be admitted to college. He’ll put them in position to react properly to a difficult situation.
And he’ll put a basketball in their hands, which may work wonders for someone the way it did for him.
There will be a celebrity basketball game again in 2019, possibly at the new 76ers Fieldhouse, on Aug. 3.
That Duffy’s Hope presses on, even in the wake of tragedy, is wonderful news for Wilmington.
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.