Former Viking gets chance with NBA’s Sacramento Kings

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 9, 2004

Anthony Lumpkin goes up for a dunk.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[8/8/04]Earlier this summer, Anthony Lumpkin almost gave up on basketball.

He’d spent his whole life hitting the courts, driving the lane and draining shots. Lumpkin lived and breathed hoops, but he was ready to put it all behind him.

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When Lumpkin’s playing career appeared to be fading into the twilight, Lady Luck smiled upon him in the Golden State of California. After years of toiling through numerous leagues and teams, he was going to get his shot, a chance to achieve his lifetime dream playing in the NBA.

Lumpkin’s basketball career took off during his sophomore year of high school at Warren Central in 1993.

Coach John Duett needed some fire off his bench and called upon his short, scrawny backup guard. Despite measuring 5 feet, 6 inches and 110 pounds, Lumpkin provided exactly what the Vikings needed and more.

“I put him in and he never sat again,” said Duett, who retired from coaching in 2001 after 16 years with Warren Central.

“When I look back on it, he’s matured into the best player that I’ve coached,” Duett said. “He wasn’t when you first saw him. He didn’t really impress me. He was just one of those kids where he woke up one night and that light bulb came on, and it got brighter and brighter and brighter.”

In what has been a theme for Lumpkin, he was taken lightly on the court because of his size. By his senior year, he was nearing 6 feet and was honing his skills, but it didn’t matter. Division I basketball programs tend to look past short shooting guards.

“I always heard about, You need to grow some. You need to add some size.’ But I never really could,” said Lumpkin, who is now 5-11.

“If he was 6-2, he would already be (in the NBA),” Duett said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s just a few inches shy of being a super talent. He can shoot it straight-up. He can take you off the dribble. He can go over you.”

After high school, Lumpkin went to South Florida Community College for two years, hoping to sign with a major program when he was done.

“The only thing that kept him from being a D-I player coming out of high school was his ball-handling skills,” said Duett, who now runs the Sport Center, a sporting goods store. “He was a two-guard. He can score. All you’ve got to do is give him the ball on the wing and wait, he’s going to put it in the hole.”

Although Lumpkin improved his dribbling and shooting, the Division I schools never came calling. Lumpkin settled for Division II Southwestern Oklahoma State. He played for the Bulldogs for two years from 1997-99 in front of crowds that often were counted in the hundreds instead of thousands.

Plenty of basketball careers have ended after college, but not Lumpkin’s. His was just warming up.

After college, Lumpkin bounced around semi-pro leagues waiting for his opportunity.

He played in the Continental Basketball Association and the United States Basketball League. He had an opportunity to play in Europe but declined.

He then spent two years as a Vicksburg firefighter, while still training for a basketball career. He stayed focused and always kept his faith that he’d get his chance.

“The thing that sticks out that I remember about him is the confidence he had in himself, and that grew as he had more success,” Duett said.

Lumpkin’s biggest break came last summer when the And1 Mix Tape Tour made a stop in Jackson.

The Tour can best be described as a modern-day Harlem Globetrotters. And1, a maker of athletic apparel, sponsors a group of street basketball players who travel around the country and put on entertaining displays. In each city the Tour travels to, some local players are brought out as the competition.

It was the offseason for the Tour, but Phillip “Hot Sauce” Champion had put together his own team to hit some spots around the country.

In Jackson, Lumpkin and others were rounded up to face the And1 team. It was his chance, and he shined.

Champion’s manager immediately made some phone calls to get Lumpkin signed up on the Tour. Champion asked for his phone number, but Lumpkin was hesitant at first. He’d been led on before.

“I blew him off and didn’t really believe him,” Lumpkin said. “So maybe like two or three days later, this guy from And1 called me and was like, Your contract’s in the mail.’ I was like, What?’ That’s exactly what he said, Your contract’s in the mail.’ It’s been history since then.”

Lumpkin was signed to play on the team that And1 faces each night a sort of Washington Generals to And1’s Globetrotters.