LAFAYETTE -- Everything about former Golden State Warriors center Adonal Foyle stacks up; although he claims in an interview before a June 21 appearance in Lafayette to be "small," he's just wrong.
Sure, many NBA players loom larger on the vertical scale than his 6 feet 10 inches. But his reach -- before, during and after his 12-plus years of pro ball -- is unique among those who have laced 'em up. His humanitarian actions are leaving footprints larger than his size-17 shoes.
Growing up on Canouan, a 3.5-mile-wide Caribbean island in the Grenadines near St. Vincent, Foyle tried to fit in. There were 500 inhabitants and no electricity. At night, making his way home along pitch-dark paths, Foyle was grateful for the guiding light from neighbors' kerosene lamps. His lanky limbs and the oversized hands he says make keyboarding hard were cause for grief in an awkward teen, but they became his ticket to big-time hoops when two professors from Philadelphia spotted him in a summer game in Dominica.
"My stepparents gave me the opportunity to become a man," Foyle says, about Jay and Joan Mandle.
In addition to providing a home in the U.S. and a chance to be the first in his family to graduate from college, the Mandles issued a challenge: Foyle recalls a shoe box full of flash cards and a daily requirement to learn 15 new words.
"Prestidigitation -- I remember thinking, 'Who uses that word?'" he said before a public discussion at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center's inaugural Authors & Athletes event. "I worked so hard to catch up with reading; it transformed my life. Reading was huge. If you can read, you can go anywhere in this world."
From high school, Foyle went to Colgate University in upstate New York and began to dream. With "31" emblazoned on his jersey, he vowed to "make this number mine." Four years later, he was the eighth pick in the NBA's first round. Two years later, while becoming the Warriors' all-time leading shot blocker, he graduated magna cum laude with a history degree.
The lessons of the NBA were hard, Foyle says. He went from college's 32-game season to the grueling 82-game pro schedule. Every January, he "ran into a wall," even though he said basketball was as much mental as it was physical.
"You don't let anybody get in here," he says, pointing to his head. "It has to be impenetrable. And you have to tie your shorts, 'cause they'll pull your pants down, set your alarm early, order 1 a.m. room service."
And those were just his teammates. Foyle said an NBA player has to know his opponents -- all 450 of them -- better than he knows himself. For young kids, just 18 or 19 years old and still trying to figure out who they are, the temptations and distractions "can be disastrous," he says.
During his playing career and after retiring, Foyle landed in far different, safer territory. A return trip to Canouan and a pickup game on a dilapidated court set him on a second career trajectory. He remembers a group of kids watching him shoot hoops. Eventually, he asked if they'd join him.
"They said, 'Yeah!'" he recalls. "That was our first camp. Curious kids, wanting to learn."
Today, Foyle's Kerosene Lamp Foundation provides basketball camps, educational support, health counseling, and refurbishes and builds basketball courts for children in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Democracy Matters, a campus-based organization promoting democracy through paid internships for college students and high school fellowships, extends his influence to young adults.
And now, Foyle extends his reach to the youngest generation with his debut children's picture book, "Too-Tall Foyle Finds His Game." Written with KLF Executive Director Shiyana Valentine and sporting vivid, colorful illustrations by Toni Pawlowsky, the book tells Foyle's unadorned story of overcoming adversity and making a mark in the world.
"As pro ball players, we have the potential to be incredible role models," he says. "The NBA validated my message, but I dove into community and broke that wall with kids at every game. They come up to me now and it's still big in their lives."
Foyle has a home in Orinda, but he spends much of his time in Florida. He says he misses the opera, the symphony and even crossing the Bay Bridge and wondering whether construction will ever be complete. The area's diversity is unbeatable, he said. "You could live here forever and not be bored," he says.
Foyle's "Too-Tall" book series will continue, and his character will eventually travel to America. It remains to be seen if "Too-Tall" will become an author, one of the toughest challenges Foyle has faced since leaving the NBA.
"Writing is laborious!" he exclaims. "I lived the story, so it should be easy, but choosing what to put in and what to leave out is difficult. And my fingers are too big for laptops: I use fat yellow pads."