Not long before revealing the TCU shirt and the Horned Frogs hat that indicated the next chapter of an inspiring story, Eddie Lampkin broke down.
In a rare circumstance for the Morton Ranch 6-foot-10, 295-pound senior center, Lampkin was vulnerable, tears streaming and head buried in hands as he struggled to talk about what it took to get to Friday, his college announcement ceremony on Sept. 20 at EyeCan Athletics in Katy.
“I was in seventh grade and my brother (Du’Vonta Lampkin, a former college player at Oklahoma and current defensive tackle in the National Arena League) took his official visit to Texas,” Lampkin said. “At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to play football or basketball; I just knew I wanted that. I wanted to do what he was doing. I knew I wanted to go to college.”
It was not easy, and there were plenty of times when things could have ended up badly for Lampkin, which makes his journey all the more incredible.
Lampkin said he attended a different elementary school each year. He attended three different middle schools. His parents, Eddie and Vanessa, tried to find the best possible spot for Lampkin and Du’Vonta to succeed.
The nomadic upbringing was not necessarily a struggle, Lampkin said, but it forced him to adapt to people quickly.
“It helps in building relationships,” he said. “I’m not scared to go up to somebody and talk to different people. You learn how to act around people. You learn how to be a leader.”
But up until that seventh grade year when he tagged along with his older brother to Austin, Lampkin was just there, his head barely above water, per se.
He would get into trouble. He failed classes. An emotional young man, he became agitated with all the naysayers who picked on him and scoffed at him just because of his size. A lot of negativity was spewed his direction, from adults and kids.
“It definitely was a challenge,” Vanessa said. “But the one thing I always told them and instilled in them was they could be anything they wanted to be."
Two people proved particularly crucial for Lampkin: Vanessa, who searched furiously for any type of male mentors for her youngest son, and coach Larry Sowells.
Sowells, Lampkin’s AAU coach and director of the Houston Defenders, met Lampkin in the fourth grade. Since then, Vanessa said, Sowells has been “the biggest help,” not only serving as Lampkin’s coach, but also a father figure off the court and an academic guardian.
“It made a whole lot of difference,” Vanessa said. “They established a bond, and when he got in trouble he could take it to the court and deal with it there. Sports definitely changed him to be a better person. It made him strive to be better.”
Sowells knows what happens to a kid with no guidance.
“My younger brother was really, really good at sports, but nobody was there to direct him, and he went the wrong way,” Sowells said. “So I always make sure I can do what I can for any kid that wants to be helped. Eddie kept fighting, and he is what he is now.”
Lampkin was just a bench player during his late elementary years. He was simply happy playing with friends, and he always figured he was bound for the NFL; football was his No. 1 love. It wasn’t until his eighth grade year that Lampkin got serious about basketball. He liked how he was always improving in the sport.
Over the years, Lampkin expanded his skillset. He has a solid outside shot. He is a nifty passer. He makes good decisions on the court. But his best progress has come as a leader.
“When he first came, he was a big kid still learning how to use his body,” Morton Ranch coach Khris Turner said. “Now that he’s learned to use it, the skill has improved. He now knows his limitations and he knows his ceiling. And as far as leadership, he’s the most vocal person on the court. He’ll talk to teammates even sometimes during the middle of a play, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to set that screen’ or ‘Hey, you were supposed to do this.’”
It’s fitting, Sowells said. When Lampkin was younger, he had to be pushed. Now he’s the one motivating others. Sowells said no one works harder.
“I want to be a better leader,” said Lampkin, who averaged 14.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks last season for Morton Ranch. “That’s the main thing. I want to be the guy that keeps this team focused. Last year, we had bad upsets at the beginning of the season because we thought we’d just smack a team. We weren’t taking it seriously. We have to dominate each team every time we’re on the court.”
Lampkin picked TCU because of its coaching staff, facilities and the strength and conditioning program. Vanessa fell in love with the Horned Frogs because of the care and attention they can afford him.
When Lampkin was younger, Vanessa had a couple of near-death experiences. Lampkin clung to her during those times, and the two have always had a close relationship.
“He’s my caregiver,” Vanessa said.
In turn, Vanessa saw in TCU a staff that would not only concern itself about Lampkin the player, but Lampkin the man. Someone who would pay attention to his bad days as much as his good days, Vanessa said.
Lampkin, an ESPN four-star recruit, chose TCU over Texas A&M, Western Kentucky, Seton Hall and Arkansas. TCU was the first school to offer Lampkin in September 2017. They got him in the end.
Lampkin will be Big 12 rivals with Mavericks teammate and senior guard L.J. Cryer, who verbally committed to Baylor earlier this summer.
“I don’t even know what I’m feeling,” Lampkin said. “I’m just happy.”