Tragedy can't define Dion Waiters

March 9, 2016, 12:01 PM

— -- This story appeared in the Greater Philly edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.

The memories are painful to recount. Before trying, Dion Waiters pauses to gather his thoughts, then takes a deep breath and begins speaking in a solemn tone.

"That was the hardest time in my life," Waiters says. "I lost three cousins and a best friend, and they all came at the wrong time. Everyone told me to be strong and that they were in a better place. But I didn't want to hear that. They were gone and I will never see them again."

Waiters thinks back to better times, the days when he and his cousins spent afternoons gazing at a future where Waiters would become a basketball legend, or when he and his friend walked through the rough Philadelphia streets where they lived to go play basketball.

The ball would be Waiters' ticket out of the street, and he wanted his loved ones to be there with him. The ticket is now stamped, but tragedy has marred the voyage. The senior at Life Center Academy (Burlington, N.J.) has led a life filled with heartbreak, hard luck and misfortune. Yet Waiters remains on the path to superstardom.

Waiters is the No. 14 recruit in the ESPNU 100, a two-time Boost Mobile Elite 24 selection and a strong candidate to be a McDonald's All-American in 2010. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard is a street legend in the South Philly neighborhood where he grew up, even though nationally he might not yet be a household name.

"He's one of the elite guards in the country," says Lamont Peterson, Waiters' trainer who also works with NBA players like Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans. "Nationally, I think he's a bit underrated. I don't know if the name Dion Waiters rings bells on the national stage. But in Philadelphia, he's a legend."