The Road Out

Forward Bambale Osby didn't take a direct route to Maryland, but basketball helped him escape his troubled neighborhood

February 23, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

Richmond, Va. — Richmond, Va.-- --The things he saw as a child - appalling things - have numbed Maryland forward Bambale Osby as a young adult.

He talks about the drugs he carted around in a wagon when he was a kid as if he traded baseball cards instead. He discusses murders from his neighborhood, and gangs he dodged, as routinely as couples discuss their workdays over dinner. Some of his stories are horrendous - nauseating even - but he tells them without flinching.

Osby - a fan favorite more for his wild hair and enthusiasm than for his 5.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 12.7 minutes per game - didn't always avoid trouble. But he did use basketball to pull himself out of it.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption was omitted from the first page of some editions of the Sports section yesterday. The main photo showed an abandoned home located a few blocks from where University of Maryland basketball player Bambale Osby grew up in Richmond, Va. The accompanying photos were of Osby; his mother, Komba Basosila Osby; and their home.
The Sun regrets the error.

"If you were an athlete or a coach, and [gang members] know who you are, as long as you don't take sides you're cool," said Kent Greenway, Osby's father figure and skill development coach. "Everybody knew who Bambale was."

Now, most everyone at Comcast Center knows who he is, too.

Maryland is the third and final stop of Osby's college career - an improbable ending for a young man whose path began with the troubling transition from a gang-infested neighborhood to the rich, white world of private school. It was a move as odd and as significant as his leap from a no-name college athlete to a recognizable face at a storied program in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Osby's statistics at New Mexico and his junior college were unimpressive, but the Maryland coaching staff saw something in his game it felt worthy of giving an opportunity.

It was all he needed.

Saving his mom

His mother, Komba Basosila Osby, said her son saved her life.

"Somebody was ready to kill me," she said.

She was on her porch, ready to unlock the door after a day of work. A man grabbed her from behind, said he had a gun and demanded her purse. She screamed. Osby, who was in high school at the time and inside watching TV, heard her and chased the man on foot. He got the license-plate number and called the police.

"That was nothing," Osby said. "One time she was leaving to go to work, and somebody shot out her back window."

Osby spent his earliest years in Jefferson Village, the projects on the south side of Richmond, where walking out for the morning paper was once interrupted by a drive-by shooting. Climbing into trash containers was something the neighborhood kids considered fun, until one day Osby stumbled into one already occupied with a lifeless body. The first thing he saw was the arm.

"I poked him and tugged on him, but he didn't move," Osby said. "I'm like, is he asleep? I'm like 4 or 5. I go back home and said, `Mom, some kid is knocked out in the trash can.' She called the police. Next thing you know the yellow tape is up. He was dead."

So was "Wolf," a boy Osby knew down the street. Wolf's hands were tied behind his back while his throat was slit, Osby said.

Around 1994, when Osby was 8, his family moved to the north side of town, into its current home on Garland Avenue. It's a cozy, two-story Colonial, filled with Bible verses his mother wrote on pieces of cardboard. Before he died, Osby's father put an adjustable basketball goal in the yard. Were it not on the dividing line between the Washington Park and Brooklyn Park gangs, it might be easy to sell.

According to Richmond police, there were 11 homicides, 61 aggravated assaults and 52 robberies in the Washington Park and Brooklyn Park neighborhoods in the three years before Osby's departure for the University of New Mexico in 2004.

"When you grow up around it," Osby said, "it just doesn't bother you."

Instead, he became a part of it.

Osby and his crew, a group that called itself the "Boulevard Knights," stole bikes and got into fights, he said. It escalated. They broke into houses, and "stealing a car," Osby said, "that wasn't too bad because you weren't going away for that. ... And you could usually outrun the police."

Osby said he was paid a few bucks to move $200 to $300 worth of drugs in a little wagon. On his walk to school, which went between North Avenue and Brooklyn Park Boulevard, there was an unnerving corner he passed where drugs were sold, and grown-ups were always "strung out."

The first time he was threatened while making a delivery was also the last drop-off he ever made.

One of the tragedies that finally hit home was the murder of his friend, Matthew Wallace, who lived right behind the Osbys, and across the alley. Osby, a senior in high school at the time, was standing on his front porch when he heard a shot. He jumped into his Crown Victoria and found Wallace on the sidewalk - a hole in his head the size of a golf ball.

"This neighborhood ain't no joke," said Greenway, who said he rushed to the crime scene to find Osby waiting in a detective's car. "He was pretty shaken."

According to Greenway, there were six shootings during the month before Osby left for New Mexico.

"How many times did we try to tell you to move after that happened?" Greenway asked Osby's mother.

"Just buy me a house and I will go," she said.

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