When it comes to sports movies, Hollywood sure churns out tear-jerkers, don’t they?
I cannot think of a single sports-related film (beside the comedies like Bull Durham, The Longest Yard, Major League, North Dallas Forty and their ilk) that has ever come out that wasn’t a human interest story.
Brian’s Song. Coach Carter. Field of Dreams. Hoosiers. The Natural. Radio. Remember the Titans. Rudy.
However, I have the script for the best, most unbelievable basketball movie ever shot.
Ladies and gentlemen of Bleacher Report, please pull up a chair. I’m about to tell you a tale about Lester “the Molester” Hudson, a basketball playground legend of the highest order here in Memphis, Tennessee.
A young man who never graduated from junior high, high school, or even his junior college.
A fellow who went to tiny University of Tennessee-Martin, straddling the border of the Bluegrass State and the Volunteer State. You know, up there in that roundball Nirvana (not).
An absolute basketball machine who is, to my eye, the best value in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Lester Hudson grew up in a hardscrabble area of South Memphis known as Glenview. Once upon a time—as recently as the 1970s—it abutted one of the most affluent and exclusive neighborhoods in the entire city. Though Glenview was a bit more modest, it was nonetheless a most desirable neighborhood to live in.
The area has fallen upon hard times since suburban flight took full effect. Once-manicured lawns are now overgrown and strewn with debris. Homes that I admired as a kid for their beauty and upkeep are mere eyesores.
This is where Hudson grew up.
On nearly every street, it would seem, you could find little boys shooting baskets at a goal tacked up beside a house, a garage, or affixed to a telephone pole.
It’s where legends are born.
Hudson showed great proficiency as a baller at an early age. By the time he was 11 or 12 years old, he was playing with men much older—and more than holding his own.
He was skinny, but had fantastic handles and hops—meaning he could dribble and jump, for the uninitiated—and his instincts on the court were uncanny. He could find ways to score that were virtually unimaginable.
That’s where the nickname “the Molester” came from—he would take your dignity away on the court so completely, it was if he were committing some savage crime.
(I once had the chance to play against Lester. I’m not going to lie to you; I begged off!)
There was one little problem:
Young Mr. Hudson wasn’t particularly fond of going to school.
And, really, who at that age is eager to go to class? Especially a playground legend who uses a basketball as an extension of his own body?
He never graduated from junior high school.
“I needed to take a summer school class (that was never taken),” he told Geoff Calkins of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
Coach Andre Applewhite stumbled on Hudson quite by accident one day during Lester’s sophomore year at Central High School. While other kids were gushing over Hudson’s ability, coach Applewhite wondered why the young gunner hadn’t tried out for the team.
When he began to notice that Hudson only came to school two or three days a week, Coach began to figure it out: All Lester wanted to do was play basketball.
“I made him a proposal,” Applewhite said in an interview. “Come to school every day, and I’ll let you play basketball.”
This worked out fine during his junior year. However, Lester didn’t hold up his end of the bargain well enough to be eligible to play during his senior campaign.
He subsequently failed to graduate from Central High School.
Applewhite refused to give up on Hudson, though. The coach thought the young man played basketball well enough to at least get a college education out of the deal. Lester was incredulous.
“I’d talk to him about (getting a college degree),” said Applewhite. “He’d be like, ‘Graduate from college? That's impossible.’”
Hudson was like thousands of young Black males in the city of Memphis: A victim of domestic discord, socioeconomic disadvantages, and a general lack of solid parenting. Left to his own devices, he escaped the problems at home by taking out his aggression on the basketball court.
It was all he knew.
Applewhite, though, saw more in the young man than perhaps Hudson even saw in himself. The coach took Hudson to the campus of Southwest Tennessee Community College to meet the legendary Verties Sails, one of the most beloved, longest-tenured, and successful junior college basketball coaches in America.
Sails, who has seen more insanely talented basketball players come out of Memphis than most people have hairs on their head (no exaggeration), decided to take a chance on the troubled baller.
“We had to work hard with him and try to get his academics squared away,” Sails said to the CA’s Scott Masilak. “It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work. He just had never settled down to do anything. Once we got him settled in, and it took a while, everything settled into place.”
Well, sort of fell in place.
Though "the Molester" was able to remain eligible for both years at Southwest, and despite the fact that he was the Tennessee Junior College Player of the Year after averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game as a sophomore, his transcript was so lacking in core requirements that no major college in the country would gamble on him.
By then, however, UT-Martin assistant coach Jason James had developed a strong rapport with Hudson, who had begun to thrive under the tutelage of male figures such as Applewhite and then Sails.
James was concerned about more than just what Hudson could do on a basketball court, much as his last two coaches had been. He promised Lester that UT-Martin would see to it that the young man would graduate from college.
“They promised me they would help me get a degree, and that was a key for me,” Lester said. “Everyone else was talking to me about the NBA. I didn’t even see the campus. I didn’t care how it looked. When they told me that, I believed them.”
Hudson was nowhere close to being eligible. He paid his own way to Martin for one year, and got his academics in order. He then had two years of eligibility and immediately set about turning the college basketball world on its ear.
Now, keep in mind that, by then, Hudson had a grand total of three years in organized basketball under his belt: His junior year in high school and then two years at a juco.
His numbers as a junior at UTM were cartoonish. He scored 35 points in 29 minutes against nationally-ranked Memphis in his maiden voyage, adding 10 rebounds and seven three-pointers, showing the range he had developed during his season off from the game.
Memphis players were no strangers to Hudson, even though the nation at large was shocked by the stunning outburst.
“I know all those guys. We played together in the summertime at the Finch Center,” Hudson said after the game. “They were saying, ‘Why are you doing us like this?’”
His next outing resulted in 31 points, and the third game back in the saddle set NCAA Division I history.
Hudson netted the first quadruple-double ever recorded: 25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals in 31 minutes in a rout over Central Baptist.
The walking video game scored 30 or more points 12 times, 25-29 points nine times, and failed to crack double figures only once in a nine-point showing on Valentine’s Day against Tenenssee Tech.
He finished the year averaging 25.7 points per game, one of the top figures in the nation, to complement 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per outing. He tested the NBA Draft waters, but was not a guaranteed draft choice and returned to school.
He scorched the landscape again, ringing up a scintillating 27.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and 4.2 apg. He cracked 30 points another 11 times, and his season-low was 15 points against Murray State.
And on May 16, 2009, he got the first, and most important, degree in his life, graduating with a degree in university studies.
He was then chosen in the second round of the draft, No. 58, by the Boston Celtics.
So we now have a young man with only five years of organized basketball under his belt about to land in the NBA, at the age of 24, and you know what I think?
The Celtics got a steal.
Hudson is a true combo guard, with a scorer’s mentality yet good ability as a distributor. He also has a pro body: 6’2”, 190 chiseled pounds, and a freakish 6’9” wingspan.
He’s not the fastest, nor most athletic, guard in this draft, and his three-point stroke is average at best, but that’s never been the reason to have him around.
Hudson is just relentless. His deceptive strength allows him to overpower smaller guards, his quickness is overwhelming to larger guards, and his tenacity allows him to crash into the interior of the opposing defense, where it’s “pick your poison” time.
Collapse on Hudson, and he will find an open teammate. Leave him one-on-one, and it’s “and-one” time. Foul him, and he converts the free throws (86 percent in his UTM career).
Because of his determination, Hudson has become the exception that proves the rule: He is the pick-up king who overcame his own academic indifference to become a college graduate. He’s already overcome more in his life than most of us can imagine.
And I, for one, foresee a long, productive NBA career. He is with a team that needs precisely what he can offer: Prodigious offense from the guard position. Not saying he will start, but I am saying he can contribute right away.
Lester is still a Molester after all these years.
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