By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Jonathan Hargett's story is one of unfulfilled promise, a tragedy of sorts in the basketball world.
Hargett, a former prep basketball star from Richmond, seemed destined for greatness. A 5-foot-11 point guard whose skills with the basketball brought about comparisons to former NBA star Allen Iverson, Hargett was dominant on the court, often considered the best player on high school and AAU teams that featured future NBA players such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack.
Hargett's talent drew an invitation to the NBA Top 50 camp as a freshman in high school -- an honor typically reserved for juniors and seniors -- and many NBA scouts thought Hargett could be the first point guard to jump directly from high school into the professional circuit.
But Hargett's story had a dark side. Hargett had begun experimenting with, marijuana at an early age, and Hargett's promising career was derailed by what he now calls a lack of focus.
Hargett spent one season playing basketball at West Virginia University in 2001-02 before he was prevented from further collegiate competition by the NCAA for allegedly taking illegal benefits from a personal financial adviser during his time spent at the university.
Hargett's involvement with drugs and alcohol prevented a chance at the NBA, and in 2008 Hargett was arrested for selling cocaine and was sentenced to a nearly five-year prison term that ended on Jan. 11.
On Friday, Hargett, now 30 years old, visited Massanutten Military Academy and told his story publicly for the first time to a group of nearly 20 MMA student-athletes.
"That was my first speech ... I finally got it off my chest. It felt good, man," Hargett said after speaking for nearly two hours to a group that included MMA's boys post graduate basketball team. "My whole motto about the whole situation is just to reach someone. If I can reach someone and hopefully move him in the right direction, I've felt like I've done my job."
The group listened intently as Hargett recalled his early basketball career, how he played with and against many future NBA players. Hargett described how he flunked off the basketball team at Highland Springs High School in Richmond his sophomore year and eventually transferred to Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C.
Hargett recalled choosing to attend WVU over Arizona -- his dream school -- at his brother Mike's urging, and his eventual downward spiral that led to his arrest in 2008.
Hargett even discussed his family life, recounting the death of his father when Hargett was 6 years old. His father was in prison at the time of his death.
"In all honesty, I love my dad to death, but I hated him because he set the tone," Hargett told his audience. Hargett said his early childhood played a big factor in the struggles that he had off the court. Hargett is the youngest of six children, and of his four older brothers, three are in prison and Mike, who Hargett said was like a father-figure to him, died of complications with a blood clot in November of 2000. He was 30 years old.
"That played a big deal in my life. My early childhood was rough. But all-in-all, it made me who I am," Hargett said. "I wouldn't be Jonathan Hargett if I had a silver spoon. I wouldn't be the person that I am."
Hargett's mother, Nancy, was also in attendance on Friday. She said she hopes that her son's story will help prevent others from traveling down the same path as Hargett.
"I'm glad that he's being honest, because hopefully he can help other youth avoid the things that he fell into," Hargett's mother said as she fought back tears. "I feel that if someone had did that for him -- which I tried to do -- and if he had listened, he would probably be on the other side of that camera by being an NBA player."
Hargett said the opportunity to speak at MMA first arose when he met with Thomas Gadson, president and founder of Elite Showcase Basketball Classic, in Oct. 2012 while Hargett was still incarcerated. Gadson said he wants to expose Hargett's story to players with aspirations of playing basketball at the collegiate and professional levels.
One such player was MMA's Frank Mason, a point guard for the school's post-graduate basketball team that is currently ranked atop the national prep school rankings. Hargett said he has been following Mason's basketball exploits for the last year as Mason, a Petersburg native, prepares to play for Kansas University next season.
"Actually, Frank [Mason], he's always been somebody that I've tried to get in contact with, because I heard his story, how he was supposed to go to school [Towson University] and wound up messing with the wrong crowd," Hargett said. "So he's always been someone that I wanted to talk to. I didn't know it was going to be this type of setting, but I've always wanted to talk to him, in any setting."
Mason acknowledged that there are similarities between he and Hargett, and Friday's session made an impact on Mason.
"I took a lot from it," Mason said. "Our lifestyle is kind of similar. We both grew up in rough neighborhoods and tough environments, so it does mean a lot to me. I learned a lot from him today."
Chad Myers, the head coach of MMA's post-grad basketball program, said he is coaching an all-star team as part of the ESBC, and Gadson approached him about the possibility of Hargett sharing his story with student-athletes at MMA. Myers said the decision to accept the offer was a "no-brainer." Myers was even happier with the decision after hearing Hargett speak on Friday.
"I was really, really pleased because it was kind of what I expected," Myers said. "I just think it was huge for those guys, because we've got a lot of guys that want to get to that level and the place he's been.
"I think [Hargett] realizes the mistakes he's made, but hopefully it will affect some of our guys so that they don't end up in that situation, they don't make those mistakes."
Hargett said he began writing a book while in prison, and he said it is almost complete. All that is missing is the final chapter, which will discuss Friday's speech at MMA, as well as his pursuit to restore his basketball career.
Whether or not Hargett can find his way back onto the court again is yet to be determined, but Hargett is making it his goal to help future basketball stars reach their dreams.
"I still feel like I've still got a lot left in the tank as far as playing basketball, but to help somebody, you don't just have to play basketball," Hargett said. "You can help them through your knowledge. I'm trying to just get my senses into just helping some teams and helping them try to get somewhere that I didn't go."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org