As Chris Herren looked out on the crowd that had amassed to hear him speak at the Marano Campus Center Arena on Wednesday, he would like nothing more than to turn back the pages to 1994, his senior year in high school, and to advise himself against what would soon be the biggest mistakes of his life.
A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, Herren already had a slew of accomplishments and achievements by the time he graduated from Durfee High School in 1994. As a senior, Herren was named to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team for basketball, was the player of the year for both Gatorade and The Boston Globe, and would even be featured in the cover story of Sports Illustrated. The pressure for Herren had already begun to amount, and nobody, including Herren himself, had the foresight to see it. Turning down offers from schools like Duke University and University of Kentucky, Herren elected to stay in Massachusetts and play for Boston College. It was there when a simple “one-time” use of cocaine in his dorm room would lead to more than a decade of addiction.
Herren’s developing addiction, and three failed drug tests, would ultimately lead to his expulsion from Boston College, and after a time that saw him transfer to Fresno State and enter rehab at the age of 23, Herren was selected by the Denver Nuggets as the 33 overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft.
Despite a clean rookie year, Herren’s demons would catch up with him, and his cocaine addiction developed into pills and heroin as his basketball career came and went. Playing for the Nuggets, Celtics, and multiple teams overseas, Herren was unable to commit himself to anything but his addiction.
Recalling his early uses of heroin, Herren said, “This heroin was so good, it almost killed me.” And it almost did, as Herren would nearly die while overdosing at the wheel. His first call after being released from the hospital was to his supplier. Herren also had neglected his duties as a husband and as a father. After being found homeless behind a 7-Eleven by his wife, Herren remembers words from his son that will stay with him forever, “How come you don’t want to be my daddy anymore?”
Herren made promises to himself and to his children, none of which would be kept. During the birth of his third child, Herren would “go for a walk,” which he never returned from. Multiple suicide attempts, and another overdose in which Herren laid dead for 30 seconds, would finally lead him toward the path to recovery. In an effort to no longer hurt his family, Herren would receive instructions from a doctor to “call your wife, promise to never see her again, and tell her to tell your kids that you died in a car crash.” On Aug. 1, 2008, in a rehabilitation center, Herren would drop to his knees and pray. Herren has not touched a substance since.
In what has been a complete transformation, Herren now travels the country doing what he can to prevent his story from repeating itself.
“I wish all those years, that I was a pro at being me. Be a pro at being you,” is what Herren echoed to the listeners at the Marano Ice Arena, urging them to have faith in themselves.
He asked the audience, “If you were a kid, would you look up to you?”
The event was coordinated by Sue Witmer, the Academic Coordinator of the Oswego State Athletic Department. Witmer explained that because of two student-athletes (Matt Wagenhauser of the track and field team, and Samantha Schroeter of the softball team) who went to an NCAA leadership conference in Rhode Island. They said after, their favorite part was hearing Chris Herren, and that’s how this event truly came into fruition.
After the event, Witmer talked about how the faculty thought it went.
“It was great. We had 700-750 people there. We had close to 450 athletes there, as well as staff,” Witmer said. “With the feedback I’ve gotten from our staff and student athletes alike, it went well.”
Herren is no stranger to the spotlight. Once considered a top ten basketball player in the country, Herren has had his fair share of struggles in life, and for a long time all he could do was rattle them off the rim. Fortunately, it seems that no matter how many shots you throw away early, what really matters is how you finish the game.
Herren’s game is a long way from being finished, but he’s been on quite a run since August 2008.
Witmer would go onto discuss the perceived mood she received from the students that attended the event.
“They were enthralled, moved and his message will be something they remember,” Witmer said.