- Tom Archdeacon columnist
She said her Wright State professors were amazed.
“A lot of them thought I was crazy,” Amanda Mayle said. “I was a single mom with a little boy in tow. And I was the youngest person in class. I had graduated early (from Ohio University) and then gone straight into Wright State’s doctorate program without a master’s. They couldn’t believe it.”
Initially, Amanda had graduated from Zanesville High School and gone to Nova University in South Florida to study marine biology. She switched to psychology and soon after everything changed.
“I got pregnant with Dwight and had to come back home,” she said. “I was just 18.”
She returned to Zanesville five months pregnant, but the Jamaican man who fathered her son didn’t take part in the pregnancy and has had almost nothing to do with his boy since.
From the onset, though, the tough circumstances didn’t deter Amanda.
“I didn’t stop with school,” she said “When I got back home, I went to summer school (at Ohio University-Zanesville) and thought I had it planned. I was going to take my finals and the next week was my due date.
“But he came early. My blood pressure had shot up — he was just too big — so they had to induce me. And while I was in the hospital, I kept studying for my finals the whole time.
“He was born on a Saturday — he weighed 10 pounds — and they didn’t let us out until Monday. Tuesday morning I took that first final. The professors said, ‘What are YOU doing here?’
“I said, ‘I’m taking my finals like I planned.’ ”
Eventually Amanda would transfer to the main OU campus in Athens and get her degree a year early. Although her parents were supportive, she said along with going to school, she worked at the Sears in the mall so she could provide for her son.
“I’d made up my mind I wasn’t going to be a statistic,” she said. “I wasn’t going to end up being one of those welfare moms.”
And she was not.
Today she’s Dr. Amanda Mayle.
She’s a psychologist at the Veterans Administration in Fort Wayne, and also has a private practice doing clinical and forensic work for several different counties in Indiana. She said she deals with custody battles and divorce cases and kids who have been abused.
She also teaches at Indiana Tech.
“My mom was very driven,“ said Dwight Richards Jr., once that little boy who accompanied his mom to classes at Wright State. “She said she never used me as an excuse. I was her motivation. Her idea was, ‘I got to do more, not less.’
“In a way, my mom is a beast. A real beast!”
So that would make him the Son of Beast.
That’s also the name of that old, famed Kings Island roller coaster — once known as the tallest and faster wooden roller coaster in the world.
And Dwight — now a 6-foot-4, 225-pound power forward at Central State — has had a basketball life that often mirrors the high rises and sudden dips of a roller-coaster ride.
Because of a variety of circumstances, he played at three different Fort Wayne high schools — Concordia Lutheran, Bishop Luers and North Side — then honed his game at Orangeville Prep outside Toronto in Canada.
After that came two seasons at junior colleges — Cowley Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas, south of Wichita, and then at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Illinois, an hour east of St. Louis — before finally landing at CSU last season.
Some of the address changes have had to do with trying to better his lot despite his “tweener” status when it comes to his size and speed for college ball at the NCAA Division I level.
But he’s also had to work on some issues of growing up with a father who he said never came to one of his games, never sent a Christmas card or a birthday gift and rarely acknowledged him at all.
“Often with kids who have really difficult relationships with their fathers, it’s hard for them to trust men in general,” said CSU coach Joseph Price. “And especially when that man is a coach who is not agreeing with them and telling them what they need to do differently.”
Price — a schoolboy hoops star in Marion, Indiana, who played point guard at Notre Dame, was drafted by the NBA Washington Bullets and then played 13 years professionally in Europe — has hammered out a bond with Richards.
In the process, Dwight has become a beast himself.
Last season, even though he started 11 of the Marauders’ 29 games, he had five games where he scored 30 points or more, a feat no CSU player had done in a season in 34 years.
And on Feb. 14, he launched his own Valentine’s Day Massacre, riddling next-door rival Wilberforce with 13-for-22 shooting from the floor and 12-for-12 from the free-throw line for 42 points, the most in a game by a CSU player in a decade.
Richards was named a first-team All Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) pick at season’s end and was invited to the National Basketball Players’ Association’s HBCU Top 50 Camp in Atlanta over the summer.
He’s been hampered by injuries this season — to his wrist, thumb, toe and now his knee — and has missed all but two games for the 2-3 Marauders.
He’s one of the captains of the team, and when he’s healthy, Price said, ‘’He’s the best player we have.”
Dad ‘a little crazy’
Getting pregnant when she did with Dwight was “a godsend,” Amanda said:
“I wasn’t making the best decisions at the time. And when I got pregnant with him it became all about him.”
And for Dwight’s sake, it had to be.
“I never had a father in my life,” he said the other day. “My dad just gave me his name…that’s it.
“He reached out to me once — when I was in eighth grade — but we only talked for 10 minutes. I had a lot to say, but I didn’t know how to say it.”
Amanda said it’s better that way: “His dad’s a little crazy. He’s had a long history of (issues).
“When Dwight was younger and asked me about his dad, I wouldn’t bad-mouth him. And when he got older and asked, I told him his dad has an anger-management problem.
“Dwight was always afraid that that would carry over to him and he’d act like that, too. I said, ‘No! You’re your own person.’ ”
Growing up, Dwight had the influence of his grandparents — Larry and Diana Mayle — and especially of his mom.
“His mom is awesome,” said Mitch Sturm, who has been Dwight’s mentor and coach since he was in grade school in Fort Wayne. “She was one of those parents who was like, ‘If you have any problem, let me know.’ We never had to, but she was hands-on. And you can tell now that he has a lot of respect for his mom.”
While his mom gave him guidance, Dwight’s focus was on basketball from the start.
“I’ve got deep basketball bloodlines,” he said. “Kevin Martin is my first cousin and I always wanted to play like him.”
A product of Zanesville High, Martin was a Western Carolina University star, a first round draft pick of the Sacramento Kings, played 12 seasons in the NBA and remains a hero in Zanesville.
“Dwight went to his first basketball game (at Zanesville High) when he was three months old,” Amanda said. “His cousin was on the team and they were making their second run to the state tournament.
“I remember my aunt bought him one of those Fisher Price basketball hoops when he was all of three months old. That started it.
“We have pictures of him in diapers shooting a basketball … and he was making his shots.”
After living four years in Fairborn while his mom got her PhD, Dwight moved with her to Fort Wayne in the first grade and soon was making a name for himself on grade school and AAU basketball teams.
That’s where he met Sturm, who had relocated to Fort Wayne from Marion, Indiana and, along with coaching and officiating, ran the much-touted MVP Basketball Program for kids.
“Dwight’s just a great kid,” Sturm said. “He’s very loyal. And he wanted to do whatever he could to get better in basketball.”
The sport wasn’t just his passion, it provided protection, Dwight said:
“The gym became my safe haven. There was a lot of violence in Fort Wayne and I had a lot of friends get shot. Maybe six altogether.”
“These were kids who had come to our home or kids who lived nearby or went to school with Dwight,” Amanda said.
Dwight played at Concordia High as a freshman, then transferred to Bishop Luers, where Sturm was an assistant coach. After two seasons, Sturm moved on to North Side High and Dwight followed.
To help him further develop, Sturm guided him to Orangeville Prep, which is part of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy and attracts top young hoops talent to play an intense schedule across the United States and Canada. Two of his teammates were Jamal Murray, now with the Denver Nuggets, and Thon Maker with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Following a season of prep school, Dwight played his two years of junior college basketball and then got a few offers from mid- and low-major Division I schools.
Sturm — who thought Dwight should find a place where he would get to play a lot and could have fun — said he had one of those light-come-on moments one day while driving to a Cincinnati Reds game from Fort Wayne.
Sturm and Joseph Price are the same age and grew up together in Marion.
“He’s been one of my best friends since fifth grade,” Sturm said.
He said Dwight’s problem as a tweener was one Price had to face:
“When it comes to his height and body, Joseph was from the same mold. He was thick and strong, a good shooter, but not quick quick. He made a great career for himself and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be a perfect match.
“So I called Joseph and told him about Dwight.”
Almost immediately Price was in contact with Amanda.
She said he told her he really didn’t have an opening for the coming season and was about to leave on a recruiting trip to Las Vegas, but he agreed to meet with her son if it could happen right away:
“He said, ‘How soon can you be here?’ I said, ‘Three hours!’ And right away I got Dwight out of work early and we were on the way.”
Price remembers their rush to Ohio:
“She surprised him. She got him here for a tryout and she knew right away what he needed. A mom always knows what’s best for her son. She thought Central State and the whole HBCU experience would be good for him and that I would be the right coach for him.”
Relates to coach
Dwight can connect to Price not only because he had some similar skills as a player, but because he’s been where he one day wants to go. He hopes to play professionally in Europe and Price played 13 seasons in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy Germany and Belgium.
But the real bond between the two has shown in their off-the-court conversations.
“His mother says I’m the first coach he’s opened up to,” Price said. “We’ve talked about the issues he’s had with his dad and I tell him he needs to move on from that.
“He needs to get it out of his system. Get it out of his heart.
“If he could do that he’d be an even better athlete and person.”
He’s already pretty good and he was never better than in that game against Wilberforce last season.
“I think I was making a name for myself here before that, but I really stamped it with that game,” he said. “I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I came to school the next day and a lot of people made a fuss. I even got a hug from a teacher!”
He’s also doing well in the classroom, Price said, and he’s following in Mom’s footsteps by majoring in psychology.
Amanda said in recent summers her son has worked with troubled teens at a pair of group homes back in Fort Wayne:
“He says one day he wants to be a sports psychologist, but he’s also shown he’s got a social worker’s heart, for sure.
“I know his dream is to play basketball overseas and I hope that comes true. But I also think he would be a good psychologist and one day I’d like to see him put his shingle up beside mine and be a psychologist, too.”
And that seems only fitting.
After all, they began their study of psychology side by side back in college.