When Ricardo Maxwell’s chance arose to single-handily play hero three weeks ago against Seattle Pacific University, the redshirt junior didn’t hesitate.
In front of a regional televised audience and 1,492 fans at Carver Gymnasium, Maxwell in 3.7 seconds navigated the length of the court before laying the ball off the glass at the buzzer to lift Western Washington University to a dramatic 68-66 win.
To most, including the students who stormed the court, Maxwell’s game-winner meant merely a much-needed win for the men’s basketball program.
Mark Hatcher, Maxwell’s surrogate big brother and mentor, witnessed more.
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Sure, he saw the standout athlete he’s grown to enjoy channeling a life worth of skill in one basketball play, but he also saw quintessential Ricardo Maxwell.
“He is a shy kid, but he is not afraid,” said Hatcher, who met Maxwell through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Cincinnati chapter in March 2005. “He is a kid who is going to look you in the eye and tell you what he means, and he means what he says, another good quality. Last thing, he’s comfortable in his own skin, and Ricardo understands who Ricardo is, and he is unapologetically Ricardo all the time. That sense of self makes him who he is.”
Given how much Maxwell craves winning, his determination to will the Vikings to a win makes sense. And for Hatcher, he saw Maxwell’s personality beaming through during the play.
During a season in which the Vikings at the midway point are still trying to figure out how to capitalize on their talent trove, Maxwell has offered a bright spot. The 5-foot-10 guard is averaging 16.6 points and 4.2 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.
He’s supplied Western a reliable scorer and has taken on leadership to a largely young roster.
But beyond wins and losses and personal on-court success, Maxwell simply feels blessed to be living out a basketball dream while getting a strong education.
Much of Maxwell’s ability to “make it out,” as he put it, of inner-city Cincinnati can be attributed to self perseverance, but he also credits a special relationship he forged with Hatcher that began at age 13.
“He was a big part,” Maxwell said. “I met him in the seventh grade, and we’ve kept in contact since.”
Maxwell’s and Hatcher’s relationship didn’t start through basketball. Hatcher, who was transferred to Cincinnati for work in 2005, met Maxwell through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Hatcher, 20 years older than Maxwell when they first met, was a graduate of Morehouse College where Hatcher said you’re challenged to reach back and give others chances.
Hatcher grew up in what he called the “bowels of Detroit,” and wanted to connect with a youth who he felt the system had maybe given up on or had been particularly tough with. Maxwell was in his last year of the program, and when the two matched and first met, Hatcher felt an instant connection.
“Ricardo had a great deal of respect,” Hatcher said. “It was nothing grandiose. It was the fact he was a yes sir, no sir kid.”
The duo’s relationship went beyond the traditional hour trip to get ice cream. Hatcher said he started exposing Maxwell to life skills, and eventually because of their tight bond and how poor Maxwell’s circumstances were, Hatcher said he’d help him out as much as he could.
Soon Hatcher, who moved to Cincinnati from the Pacific Northwest, moved back to work for Microsoft and during the summer between Maxwell’s sophomore and junior year he flew him out to stay for half the summer.
“I had went to North Seattle Junior College, and I was playing open gyms with the University of Washington and Seattle U,” Maxwell said. “When I came out, I went to the community college and they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re coming here next year, right?’ And I was like, ‘I’m a junior,’ and they were like, ‘Well, if it don’t work out come here.’ I was only used to Cincinnati, Ohio. That was the only place I had been in my life until that time my junior year when he flew out here, and that was just an eye-opening experience.”
Hatcher had exposed Maxwell to an improved lifestyle, one away from a crime and drug-infested area. Maxwell never met his father until he was 18, his older brother was in and out of prison and Maxwell lived in a three-bedroom house with his mom, three younger sisters and on occasion other family members.
Maxwell again came out to Seattle the summer between his junior and senior year to stay with Hatcher, and when Big Brother offered Maxwell the chance to live with him after graduating from Withrow High School, where Maxwell averaged 23 points per game and was an all-state pick, Maxwell jumped at the opportunity.
Hatcher helped Maxwell construct recruiting videos, and as a freshman during the 2010-11 season he played at North Seattle Community College. Maxwell missed the next season while nursing a severe ankle sprain, but he returned to the court to play for Edmonds Community College during the 2012-13 season. That year he averaged 20.6 points, 5.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds.
Maxwell said he received an offer to play for Division I Maryland, but even though his grades were good the classes he took didn’t meet the requirements needed to play D-I. Maxwell looked for other options but he didn’t have to search far.
Western coach Tony Dominguez had been watching Maxwell’s success.
“I told coach Dominguez if I couldn’t go Division I that I would come to Western,” Maxwell said. “When (Maryland) released me, I told Dominguez I would come here, and I kept my word.”
Hatcher married in 2013, began his family and hasn’t been able to be keep as close a relationship as he’s had in the past with Maxwell, but the two still talk several times a week, often enough Maxwell recited Hatcher’s cell phone number without looking at his contact information.
“I have given and given, and I think I have probably gained much more than I have ever given just by watching him grow,” Hatcher said. “If I knew what I knew 10 years ago, I would have given 100 times more, but I gave all that I could then.”
In 2010 Hatcher was selected Greater Cincinnati’s Big Brother of the Year for mentoring Maxwell and serving as a strong male role model in his life.
And when Western travels to play Seattle Pacific at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, Maxwell before the game is expected to speak to a group of youth basketball players Hatcher is coaching about what good can come by making the right decisions.
Now in the middle of a great opportunity, Maxwell is making the most of it.
His talent on the court is undeniable, and he brings a certain toughness he developed growing up playing ball in the Midwest.
“Where I’m from it’s a lot more aggressive, so as far as here, if you touch somebody on defense they usually call a foul,” Maxwell said. “Back home, you can really get physical and most of the time they might not call it. It’s just a different environment.”
Maxwell’s toughness has been displayed by his willingness to play through a knee injury he said limits him to playing at 60 percent.
“It’s my desire, and I want to win, like bad,” Maxwell said. “I’m trying everything in my power to do what I can to help us win every night.”
Ultimately, like most collegiate players, Maxwell has aspirations of playing pro ball, but even if that dream evades him he’s studying marketing with the plan of becoming a business major.
For everything Maxwell’s been through and with the help he’s received along the way, he’s thankful being situated where he is.
“I think it’s a blessing,” Maxwell said. “Some people say God makes plans for a reason. I believe it. I wouldn’t be here today if he didn’t to be honest. For all the things I have been through and went through, I’m glad that I’m here playing. I take pride in that every day.”