Marvin Holman-Little had two things he could always rely on - the playground and basketball. They were his escape, his sanctuary, his place to dream about a better life. The lithe Holman-Little could always zone out at Piccoli Playground, in the Juniata section of Philadelphia. It didn't matter what time it was. It could be 2 in the afternoon, or 4 in the morning.
There, he could escape.
At the time, he didn't care about anything except street ball and girls. Nothing really mattered.
That life now seems light years away. The 6-6 Penncrest swingman is among the top players in Delaware County - and in the area this season. Holman-Little has literally received a new lease on life, successfully appealing to the PIAA last spring for an extra year of eligibility.
He is surrounded by a lot of good people now, including Penncrest coach Mike Doyle, his teammates and classmates, and most importantly, his mother Darlene Holman, who was a single teenager when she had him.
Penncrest is supposed to be good this year. Holman-Little is the hub. The Lions have started 1-0, beating Radnor, 63-53, Tuesday night in their Central League season-opener behind Marvin's 14 points and 14 rebounds. As a junior, he averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Before transferring to Penncrest in 2006, he had attended two schools, Frankford and Olney, where he missed a total of 160 days in 2 years. He used to hang out with drug dealers and gangbangers. Once, he even joined in with a group that vandalized a school bus.
"What wasn't going on in my life then," Holman-Little said, reflecting on his past. "I wasn't mixing well; I was just looking for a way out. I can honestly say that I didn't care about anything back then. I was looking for anything that could make me happy at that moment."
His days melded into a simple routine. Darlene, who was working two and sometimes three jobs to pay the rent and keep clothes on Marvin's back, would wake him up before leaving for work. Marvin would leave the house, wait until his mother left, then go back home to sleep. In the afternoon, get up and play "Madden" football. Later, he would join his friends on the court or wherever, and stay out late.
"I was driving my mother up a wall; she was having a tough time dealing with me, but some of the things I was doing and how I was acting, it's like 'wow,' I was really immature then," Holman-Little said. "I saw what was happening, and I thought something had to be done. There were a lot of days when I just wished I didn't have to wake up in this life anymore."
He was constantly running from truant officers. Marvin became quite adept at intercepting the letters from school and erasing voicemail. He thought no one cared.
He hadn't played organized basketball prior to coming to Penncrest. Doyle didn't find out about him until Holman-Little sat in his sophomore U.S. history class in the spring of 2007, when Marvin was a sophomore. But a 6-6 kid walking around the Penncrest halls stood out. Marvin soon found himself on the basketball court. Then came the PIAA hearing.
Doyle spoke up for him. Penncrest teachers wrote letters on his behalf. Darlene was there, talking about the transformation her son has undertaken. Marvin found out about something, experiencing an epiphany of sorts: People cared.
Holman-Little has attracted the attention from a variety of schools, from Division I to Division III. Doyle thinks he's good enough to be a scholarship player one day. One thing is certain, he's on a better course than his previous one.
"It was inspirational, knowing that many people care about me; I always thought I was by myself and now all these people stood up for me, 'Wow,' " said Holman-Little, who will turn 19 on Dec. 28. "I have to do this. I have a bigger family. I want to give thanks to God."
Just before transferring to Penncrest, he remembers kneeling and praying, after having a big fight with his girlfriend at the time. He remembers promising to change, that he had to change.
"Someone heard me," Marvin said. *