Even in a little country, Kennedy alum’s got big hoop dreams

on October 26, 2009

Two things about Devin Peal’s life in basketball have been constant: His play has always stood out, and he’s never been noticed.

“I’ve always been an underdog,” the Richmond native says. “I’ve always had to prove I belong on the court.”

Many Richmond-born basketball players have gone on to college or pro careers. Each of the icons here represents one such player.

Many Richmond-born basketball players have gone on to college or pro careers. Each of the icons here represents one such player.

As he says this, Peal is getting ready for another year on the grind, playing in one of the minor-est minor professional leagues on the globe. The team is called BBC Avanti Mondorf, in Luxembourg. He played for them last year, too. The team asked him back last week, and Peal said since his 2-week-old career in sales and marketing was already getting stale, he agreed to return.

“It’s like, if you can’t chase your dream now, when can you do it?” he says. “So I’ve got to go. I’ve got to do it now – get it out of my system.”

Peal will almost definitely never attain his childhood dream of playing in the NBA. At 24, he’s too old to get an honest try-out, and at 6-foot-4, he’s probably too short.

It would be easy for Peal, who graduated from Kennedy High in 2003, to lose heart. Despite being the best player on just about every team he’s ever played for, he’s never gotten a real shot at the big leagues.

Peal shoots hoops at his aunt's home in suburban Pinole.

Peal shoots hoops at his aunt's home in suburban Pinole.

At best, his return to Luxembourg will serve as a five-month job interview for clubs in neighboring France, Belgium and Germany, where the pay is better. At worst, it’ll be another year in a third-rate league, in a profession where youth counts as much as skill.

Yet he perseveres. In fact for Peal, the indignities he’s suffered as a player may be the very motivating forces that make him so good.

Peal can recite, with astonishing detail, the statistics that make up his career in hoops: He once put 28 points and 12 rebounds on Oakland Tech’s Leon Powe, who now plays in the NBA. He averaged 27 points-per-game in high school, best in the Bay Area. He was the Alameda-Contra Costa MVP his junior and senior years. He’s fifth on Humboldt State’s all-time scoring list, despite playing only two-and-a-half seasons there. The list goes on.

And yet things like a big-time college scholarship or a hefty pro contract never materialized. Peal says part of it was political: Richmond kids don’t tend to generate much buzz from colleges, because so many of them pull poor grades. But it was also personal: As a college freshman, Peal clashed with his coach over playing time. There were also injuries – a torn ACL, a broken right hand.

A lot went against him. Some of it was deserved, some wasn’t. Still, he’s been a three-time team MVP, a collegiate All-Star, and last year in Europe, a 30-point-per-game scorer. But it hasn’t seemed to matter.

“I never really understood that,” he says.

Peal, center of back row, poses with his teammates in Luxembourg during the 2008 season. Photo courtesy of Devin Peal.

Peal, center of back row, poses with his teammates in Luxembourg during the 2008 season. Photo courtesy of Devin Peal.

Peal is hopeful that Year 2 abroad will go smoother than his first try. His team, which will pay him about $10,000 for the season, put him up in an apartment and lend him a car, seems to be playing better. His girlfriend, whom he met in college, is coming with him this year, which should help with the loneliness that can’t help but creep in from time to time. And Peal has made a promise to himself to “shake as many hands as possible” while he’s there – agents, managers, players. You never know when those contacts may pay off.

Peal says he wants to play for 10 years. “I want to get somewhere where a team wants me back,” he says. “But I also want to get paid – get compensated for what I’m worth. So this isn’t perfect, but that’s what I’m willing to do to get to where I want to be.”

It’s another chance to prove he can play. Maybe this time, someone will notice.

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