AS HE GETS older and concerns over social imagery takes less status in his life, Darrun Hilliard will find out "mother's boy" isn't the derisive term a lot of people make it out to be.

I know.

I am a proud, card-carrying-member of the "I Always Love My Mama, She's My Favorite Girl" society.

I see it as a term of endearment.

Dads are great. I'm one. Still, there is something special about the bond between mother and child - probably because she carried us around in her womb for around 9 months.

Hilliard's relationship with his mother - Charlene Jenkins - isn't particularly unique. A lot of men have the type of bond that the Villanova junior swingman has with his mother.

We could have found any number of local athletes to highlight as a column in recognition of Mother's Day.

That doesn't detract from Hilliard's story. It enhances it.

But as nations around the world will use tomorrow to honor mothers, we can say that while Hilliard and Jenkins are not unique, they also are not universal.

Last week, we were treated to the news that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant basically called his mother Pam Bryant a liar in public to prevent her from auctioning off pieces of his memorabilia, including items from his days at Lower Merion High School.

How sad is it that a mother and son are filing legal motions over the ownership of family mementos that should bring both of them joy?

So, yes, when Hilliard speaks of Jenkins and pridefully says, "She's my best friend. Everything I do is to try and make her proud," it shouldn't be pushed aside as just another story.

"You know, Mother's Day is kind of different for me," said Hilliard, who is from Bethlehem and still lives there. "A lot of people look at Mother's Day as the one day that we celebrate mothers. I feel like every day that we are with our mother, we should cherish it, have fun, goof around and just enjoy each other's company.

"Mother's Day is a great thing, but we should cherish each day with our moms, because without them, none of us would be here."

Jenkins said her father taught her to cultivate the relationship between parent and child, and she made a point of connecting with her son, to keep the lines of communication open and be more than just a parent figure. Even still, Jenkins was caught a little off-guard when told of how her son had described their relationship.

"Wow," Jenkins said. "I've got tears in my eyes. How do you put that in words?

"As a mother, you want to be a major factor in your child's life. It's a friendship. It's as confidants. We talk, and we're able to do that on and off the level of being mother and son, which is great.

"I always wanted to have closeness with Darrun, to stay connected. I want to know what's going on, no secrets, and no surprises. If you keep that communication open and that respect open on both sides, they understand each other. My son knows what I expect of him, and, in return, he knows how I am going to carry myself to represent him."

Hilliard's father, also named Darrun, has always been active in his son's life, but Jenkins, a representative at an insurance company, was the constant steadying and driving influence.

"My dad was there," Hilliard said, "but my mom and I have always had that special bond. She may make me mad. I may make her mad. We don't always see eye to eye.

"But that bond is always there, where we can call each other any time of the day and talk about anything.

"She worked hard and showed me that hard work is the steppingstone for everything you want to achieve in life."

As Hilliard grew into an two-time Associated Press first-team selection at Liberty High School, Jenkins was there for all of her son's exploits, but she didn't necessarily know how good he had become.

Hilliard said that when accepted his scholarship to Villanova, his mother was happy he was going to college, but did not fully comprehend the nature of the achievement.

"I didn't," Jenkins recalled. "I am academically founded. I am not sports founded at all. When [Darrun] said he was getting a full ride to Villanova, I didn't know what a full ride meant.

"I was trying to figure out what I was going to have to pay. I don't believe that someone gives something without a price. I don't expect anything for free. You have to work to get whatever you can."

But as he explained what his basketball skills had afforded him, she understood that his scholarship was due exclusively to his hard work.

"When it hit her that I was getting a full ride to go to college, she started to really realize that basketball could be used as a tool to help me get to where I want to go in life," he said.

"I can't remember if she cried, because she doesn't like to cry in front of me. But I knew how happy she was. She's happy I'm going in the right direction."

A "tool" is what Jenkins told Hilliard his basketball scholarship was. Two years later, she is proud he still holds that perspective.

"I tell my son, or any athlete, that you have to have the brains first to get to the next level," she said. "I told him the scholarship was just part of the pie. You've got to keep your grades. You got to, and he said, 'I've got this mom. You've already set the path. You already set the direction in the way that priorities have to go.'

"I was, like, wow. He blew my mind when he said that. I am very proud of my son and the accomplishments that he has made, and I'm looking forward to even bigger strides in life.

"My work has just begun. I'm not done yet as a mother. As a mother, you're work is never done."

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL