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Every year near Thanksgiving, one of the best high school basketball tournaments in the country takes place in Washington: The Tournament of Champions.

There are teams from all over the country with some of the top prospects there to put their talent on display at the highest level. I remember being a kid going to watch the tournament, seeing guys like Verdell Jones III, Greg Monroe, Jared Bayless and many others who went on to play in the NBA.

I went from watching and being a fan to playing in the tournament myself. I got to experience the excitement of the kids getting to see me play — just how I used to act when I was their age. It brought back good memories and motivated me even more to play hard.

Now, at 27, I have watched everything turn full circle. I went from being a fan to a player to now being a journalist doing stories on the top talent. It’s crazy how life goes, because who would’ve ever thought I’d be in this position?

Not me — and I know that for sure. Just a few years ago, I was lost and didn’t have a clue which direction my life was going to go.

I am thankful for the guidance I got from my loved ones who never wanted to see me fail. I’m even thankful for the hate and envy I got from others because it helped me see you for who you really are.

People thought I was done for when I had to step away from the game. It seemed like nobody had faith in me and that everyone wrote me off.

I learned to accept it and kept pushing no matter what. Now look at me. I’m back around the game I love, doing something I never thought I’d enjoy as much as I do.

I’m thankful for life and how it works. Stay the course and never give up. It gets greater later.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Jay Simpson writes for The News-Gazette. His column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at jsimpson@news-gazette.com.

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