So, when Black left as a junior in high school for Montverde Academy, a basketball-centric prep school in Florida, it was a uneasy experience. Mariah had enlisted in the Navy, Jada was off at college and an introverted country boy who was away from home wasn’t about to advocate for himself when he was moved to a new position, playing off the ball.
And when his freshman classmates at North Carolina, Nassir Little and Coby White, jumped to the N.B.A. and he was playing on a bum ankle that would require surgery, he felt every slight on social media. (Black hasn’t posted anything on Twitter in nearly two years.)
At every turn, including when his parents separated when he was in high school or when he was at home, his surgically repaired ankle propped up on a bed while he took online classes during the pandemic, Black was the tough guy — holding it all in.
Carla Black, his mother, said she sees this often in her job as a high school principal.
“I’ve seen so many kids put on this face of, ‘I’ve got to make straight As, got to keep it together,’ and then you get them in the office, talk over some food, and they remove this mask and see this vulnerability,” she said on Sunday.
“We have to remember to give them permission to be human,” she added, noting the recent death by suicide of Katie Meyera Stanford soccer player. “Somewhere along the line this got labeled mollycoddling, but I hope we can remember that we’re not only the resource brokers, but we affirm who you are. Be real about life — yes that was tough, but how are we going to respond?”
Still, it wasn’t until last summer that Leaky Black found somebody who could feel how it was to live in his shoes. His father, Chon, had played college ball, but not at a place like North Carolina. His sisters understood his generation, but what did they know of his basketball life? And his mother might be wise, but she would fire back at criticism on social media.
Then last summer he began conversations with Jackie Manuel.
Manuel, who was hired last summer as North Carolina’s director of player development by its new head coach, Hubert Davis, began as a player on the worst team in school history, ended his run with a national championship and saw a broken foot derail his career.