Like Magic, A New Start

At a Florida junior college, Daryl `Lil' Magic' Dorsey is thriving four years after facing a murder charge

March 02, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COCOA, Fla. - Each night at sunset, when the warm breeze gently rocks the palm trees outside his second-story apartment, Daryl Dorsey, if he chooses, can stand on his front porch, gaze at the purple skyline and soak up the sweetest sound in the whole world.


"It's funny," Dorsey says, "but I was just thinking, in the two years I've lived down here, I haven't heard a single gunshot. Back home, you hear them all the time. You almost get used to it. But here? Never."

About 4 1/2 years ago, "home" was a brick townhouse in Northwood, just a few blocks from Morgan State University, where Dorsey spent countless teenage afternoons with a basketball in his hands. It seemed nobody could take it to the basket the way he could. Dorsey would drive the lane like a tornado, his braids whipping in every direction, his body somehow finding the smallest crease between defenders as he laid the ball softly off the boards with his left hand.

He was so quick on the court and so fluid with a basketball, the older kids dubbed him "Lil' Magic," and the nickname stuck. When he got to Dunbar, where he blossomed into a football and basketball star, he even had "Magic" tattooed on his right arm, and from then on, nobody called him Daryl anymore. Big-time colleges like Florida State and Miami were recruiting him to play football, and the whole neighborhood could see he was destined for something big.

"Everybody always said, `You're the one that's going to make it out, Magic,' " Dorsey says. "The guys selling drugs on the street corner, they never messed with me. They always said, `Magic, if you get to the NBA, make sure you save me a couple tickets. Or get me a jersey or something. Because I know you're going to make it.' "

A 17-year-old high school junior, he was definitely going places. No one figured it would be a jail cell, but that's exactly what happened Oct. 17, 1998, when Daryl Dorsey was arrested and charged with murder.

It all seems like three lifetimes ago now.

These days Daryl Dorsey, 21, is a sophomore at Brevard Community College, and he's also one of the best junior-college basketball players in the country. Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, has become a mentor and a close friend. The two met a year and a half ago through Culpepper's childhood friend, Larry Tucker, a former Morgan State football player who was wowed by Dorsey playing pickup games at Morgan State. Tucker just happened to run into Dorsey with Culpepper at the University of Central Florida, and the three have remained close friends since.

"I would do anything for Daryl," says Culpepper, who grew up in nearby Ocala, Fla., and lives there in the offseason. "When he came down to Florida, he was basically down here by himself. I just kind of took him under my wing and tried to make sure he did something positive with his life. Make sure he goes to class and stays on the right track. He's got so much talent, I just want to see what he does with it."

The last two semesters, Dorsey has done plenty. He made the dean's list at BCC for his fall course work in sports management, and just last week, the skinny 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year in the Florida Community College Athletic Association after averaging 28.3 points a game.

"He's a warrior," says Ajac Tripplet, the basketball coach at BCC. "He's a leader and a complete basketball player. I think he's going to be tremendously successful wherever he goes."

Schools such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Auburn and Nevada-Las Vegas have been recruiting him, and in the next few weeks, Dorsey will decide which program he wants to play for. There are even coaches and scouts who feel that, with a little luck, Dorsey could play in the NBA someday. Once again, he is definitely going places.

"I feel like I've been through so much already in my life, nothing is going to stop me," Dorsey says. "I know I'm going to make it somehow. If I don't play in the NBA, I'll play overseas. But I know I'm going to make it somewhere."

"I look at Daryl and I'll tell you, I think he could play [at any college] in the country right now," says Don Smith, the athletic director at Brevard Community College. "He's that talented. And who knows where he'd be right now if somebody hadn't given him a second chance?"

Not even Dorsey can answer that question. His life has had more twists, turns and heartache than most people see in a lifetime. Dorsey has no memory of his father, after whom he is named, because Daryl Hudson has been in and out of prison since he was born, Dorsey says. He does not know where he is and has little interest in finding out.

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