TUSCUMBIA — Harlem Globetrotter Siran "Too Tall" Winston encouraged Deshler High School students to pursue their passion in life with a tenacity that doesn't allow failure.
"Whatever that passion is, set your mind to it and do it," Winston said during an assembly Wednesday at the school.
The 30-year-old Russellville native and basketball phenom was in town this week on a short break before he leaves later this month for a three-month tour in Europe.
"I've been playing basketball for 27 years and I love it," he said. "What I do now for my living, I've never considered work. That's where the pursuit of my passion led me."
Winston is a 2008 Russellville High School graduate with an associate degree from Marion Military Institute and a business degree from Tuskegee University, where he played basketball. He has been a point guard with Globetrotters for three years.
During the assembly he dazzled his young audience with his handling of spinning basketballs including three at a time.
He attributed his ball handling skills to his older brother, who was quick to challenge him in his youth to dribble two balls at a time and then three.
"I worked hard at developing my skills, and I was serious about accomplishing my goals, which included getting my education," Winston said, adding that his goal from his elementary school days was to make A's.
"I wasn't the smartest of students, but I had good study habits and always wanted to make A's on my tests, even if it meant staying up until 2 a.m. studying."
He urged students to begin now managing their time well, saying that in college it would be imperative.
He recalled a particular basketball game his ninth-grade year of high school. His Russellville Tigers were playing Deshler and the game ultimately came down to his final free throw, which he missed.
"I hated losing, so I worked harder," he said. "I didn't ever want a repeat of that situation."
Later in high school he said he had a coach tell him he was too small and not strong enough to play basketball beyond high school.
"I listened to what he said, shook his hand, and went on my way, but never, ever, to this day, have I forgotten what he said and it drove me," he said.
Looking back, his commitment to success has been the backbone of his existence, the very reason he's careful to never "undo all that hard work."
Winston said that beyond his teammates on the court and on the gridiron in high school, he didn't have a lot of friends.
"I had one best friend, and we didn't even get to be friends until my 10th-grade year," he said. "As a Christian, I didn't do the things a lot of kids did. I didn't drink, smoke or use bad language. I didn't turn into somebody else to impress the girls."
Winston said as an asthmatic kid, he knew what it was to just want to breathe. He parlays that, even today, into how he lives his life.
"There's a quote I love, 'You have to want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe,'" he said. "It's digging deep that makes you successful."
Melody Murphy, a Deshler career technical teacher in the Business Department arranged Winston's visit Wednesday. She said his message reiterates what she, and other Deshler teachers, try to convey daily.
"His message really lines up with what we teach our kids every day, that you have to find your passion and develop that," she said.