On Saturday, a barrage of honks, beeps and cheers carried down into Cane Garden Bay as a train of cars, some with passengers waving laminated photos of a special basketball player, welcomed home D’Moi Hodge.
Mr. Hodge made history as the first Virgin Islander to make it to the NBA when he signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers a month ago. He returned to his hometown of Cane Garden Bay for the first time in two and a half years, and residents took the opportunity to celebrate his journey.
While youngsters waited for the ceremony at Ivan Dawson Primary School to begin, they took turns shooting hoops on the school’s court.
Family, friends and other supporters — many sporting gold-and-purple shirts for the new Laker — took turns sharing stories of when Mr. Hodge was a kid just getting into the sport of basketball.
Mr. Hodge got his start with the Sea Cows Bay Basketball Club. Cousin Halstead “JR” Chiverton stood in Mr. Hodge’s corner from early on, becoming a tough coach focused on accuracy and conditioning.
If the young athlete couldn’t hit his three jump shots in a row, he would have to walk a mile home. While Mr. Hodge admits to some fuming on the way home, he tempered his emotions by the time he arrived.
“I saw all of that,” Mr. Chiverton said. “The next day, we’re in the gym again. You could ask D’Moi how many times he had to walk home from the gym.”
He turned to the guest of honour.
“How many times you have to walk home?” he asked.
Mr. Hodge grinned.
“More than one time,” he replied.
Dogged determination and a respectful attitude played key elements in Mr. Hodge’s ascension through the ranks, Mr. Chiverton said. After years of pleading and dreaming of playing Division One college basketball in the United States, Mr. Hodge made his way there with the support of his coach.
The CGB star eventually caught the attention of the State College of Florida, then Cleveland State University, and then the University of Missouri. In college, he worked with talented coaches, including a close friend of Lebron James. He maintained his work ethic and claimed titles and records throughout his collegiate career, ranking fourth in the entire country with his ability to steal, totalling 91 and averaging 2.6 per game.
His success opened new doors, and Mr. Hodge said he was eager to enter the draft after graduation.
On the court
Initially, he narrowly missed out on a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But other teams were waiting in the wings, and on July 3 he signed to play guard under a two-way contract that allows him to play either for the LA Lakers or for the team’s minor league affiliate in the NBA’s G League, the South Bay Lakers.
“I asked them when I signed why they recruited me so hard, and they said even when I was missing my shots, I was still laughing the whole time,” Mr. Hodge said.
Mr. Chiverton noted what a small percentage of college players make it to the NBA.
“I still, and he still, don’t believe what’s happened,” he said. “I was in Vegas, watching, and I still don’t believe it, because this is impossible. It is supposed to be impossible.”
The Lakers secured a 3-2 record in the summer league, a regular off-season competition where teams often test new recruits and G League players.
Mr. Hodge became a starter. Taking an early opportunity to make a name for himself, he put up 23 points on July 17, when the team eked out a one-point win over the LA Clippers. He also maintained his legacy for steals, getting the game high of five.
His mother, Cleopatria King Defreitas, commended his defensive work.
“He is now one of the most talked about players of this draft class at the conclusion of the summer league,” she said. “We all love and appreciate D’Moi for stepping up and stepping out to make history.”
Mr. Hodge told the Beacon how meaningful he found it to see such an outpouring of support for his NBA launch. Now, he said, his immediate goal is to have a positive impact for the team.
“I want to keep doing what I do: just showing up every day and doing the job I know I can do,” he said.
He plans to continue working toward his long-term goals of playing among the all-stars and pursuing championships, but he said he hopes to also have a positive impact on the development of basketball in the community.
The celebration of Mr. Hodge goes beyond this week. Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced at the ceremony that the basketball court located at the hurricane-damaged CGB community centre will be dedicated to Mr. Hodge.
Dr. Wheatley pledged his support to the purple and gold as a newfound Lakers fan, and he thanked all Mr. Hodge’s supporters for their part in making VI history.
“D’Moi has a whole nation behind of him,” he said.
Mr. Hodge made time to give back to the community this week, holding two youth training sessions.
The premier and opposition member Mitch Turnbull (R-D2) presented Mr. Hodge with a cheque for $20,000 to support his athletic ambitions and granted him the title of the first “VI-bassador.” The National Bank of the Virgin Islands also presented a $5,000 cheque.
Some of the other tokens Mr. Hodge received that day came with a personal touch. His siblings presented him with a wristwatch, and other family gifted him a personalised plaque.
“We, your family, are extremely proud of your extraordinary accomplishment,” read the award.
Mr. Hodge credited his mother and grandmother in particular for their unwavering support of his athletic career.
Genevieve Myers-Henry, his grandmother, told the Beacon she is incredibly proud to see how far he has developed from the 9-year-old boy she would take to play on the courts.
“Every time I think about it, the tears come,” she said. “When I saw him on the boat [from St. Thomas] today, I couldn’t hold it in.”
She plans to continue supporting young basketball players in the community, hoping to facilitate the dreams of the next budding professional.
After all, she said, it takes a village to raise an NBA player.