Rodney Ross wants more out of life than what he has seen in his own family, and the 5-foot-10 junior guard for Mastery North hopes basketball will help.
His 18 points Wednesday led Mastery North to a second-round victory and extended the Pumas' first trip to the PIAA Class AA tournament.
"It's big, it's big," Ross said. "I've been playing since freshman year and we've come a long way. Freshman year we only won three games. Sophomore year we lost in the [Public League] playoffs. But we're taking big steps this year."
With the help of head coach Terrence "Nip" Cook, Ross has also made giant strides.
The West Philadelphia resident said he has eight siblings who have been incarcerated, and that turmoil soured his attitude on and off the court. Ross said his father, Rodney Sr., was also once incarcerated.
"There were a lot of times when I came into practice [messing around] and coach kicked me out," Ross said. "He's sat me for games, and I lost my starting spot last year as a sophomore. He's really hard on me because he sees a lot of potential in me, more than I see in myself. I just have to trust him. Just have to hope that he guides me the right way, and so far, he has."
Cook, who grew up in North Philadelphia, played at Delaware State after starring at Dobbins (1998) under longtime coach Rich Yankowitz.
"I knew [Ross] could play," Cook said, "but he was a little hotheaded at times and his listening skills weren't there. I knew he was young and would be a work in progress. I've been there before, so I knew what he was capable of. I mean, he's a good kid, so I was never going to turn my back on him."
Against District 3 Trinity on Wednesday, Ross continued to repay his coach's patience.
His hesitation dribble followed by a crossover along the baseline led to an up-and-under layup in the fourth quarter that drew oohs and ahhs from Mastery North fans who trekked to Garden Spot in New Holland.
"Rodney has definitely always loved to play basketball," said his mother, Nadine Valentine, who also credited Mastery North's teachers for her son's turnaround. "My front yard is messed up because when he was younger he used the trash can to play ball by himself."
Now, Ross plays for his teammates, his coach, and two younger siblings, Vashti and Victor.
"I'm just trying to make it a better life for them because I don't want them to follow the same steps [the others] went," Ross said. "I just set the example for them that there's other ways to do positive things than what they did.
"They made mistakes. I still love them, but they're facing the repercussions right now."
Ross said frequent workouts last summer with Cook and the Pumas coaching staff developed a level of trust.
"I started to realize that they had my best interests at heart," he said. "So, I stopped being hardheaded and I just had to listen and get the job done."
"This season, I just came in with the mind-set that, 'All right, it's time to turn this thing around before things get way worse.' So, I had to get myself together."
Ross has another chance to show how far he has come when Mastery North meets District 4's Loyalsock Township at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals at Central Dauphin East.
"My attitude has changed from freshman year to now because of my coach," he said. "He stuck with me through it all and we're here now so we can't stop. We have to keep going."