Talladega guard Generra Varmall was scoreless Saturday night, missing all three of his shot attempts in the 17 minutes he played against Dillard.
He gets another chance Monday night against Xavier, and then another chance Wednesday against SUNO.
If there’s anybody who can appreciate getting another chance, it’s Varmall, who grew up in New Orleans before moving to White Castle after Hurricane Katrina.
It’s why 30 friends and family members made their way to the campus of Dillard on Saturday evening to watch Vermall play a basketball game in his hometown for the first time in four years.
“We never thought we’d see this again,” said Mia Varmall, his older sister.
They came from White Castle, Port Allen and as far as Arkansas, which is where Varmall’s mother made the six-hour drive from.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Niccqueta Payton said. “This is God’s doing and a second chance. People came from all over because they know the story. No matter if he won or made a shot, this was a blessing.”
Payton, who is also a pastor, recalled all the prayers she offered for her son. She recalls the numerous poems he’s written, including one called “Second Chance.”
Then she broke down, unable to hold back the tears, words breaking up.
“We’ve …. been … through … so … much,” she said. “It’s been a long haul. A long road.”
It had been four long years since Varmall had last played a game in New Orleans. He was playing for UNO at the time.
It was Jan. 19, 2012.
He scored 11 points that night at Lakefront Arena in a come-from-behind win over SUNO.
But later that night, he made a decision — a life-altering one that turned him from the promising basketball player in the No. 4 UNO jersey to inmate No. 601143.
He was charged with simple robbery.
“It’s something I remember, but something I don’t want to remember,” Varmall said. “But it stuck with me. It’s something I dealt with. I can’t take it back.”
It was his second felony.
The first, an attempted armed robbery, came four years earlier before his senior year at White Castle High School, where he attended school after his family relocated after Katrina.
He pleaded guilty and faced 45 years in prison for that one, but he spent just 60 days in jail. The victim dropped the charges just as the judge was about to announce the sentence.
“(The victim) had watched Generra’s games and had come to church and seen him there and told the judge he thought Generra had a future,” Payton recalled.
It was an answered prayer.
Genera graduated and went on to play at Paris Junior College in Texas.
Little did Payton know, she’d need another prayer four years later.
She remembers getting the call from the UNO coaching staff telling her to come and pick up her son’s belongings.
Surely her son hadn’t let her down again, she thought.
“Momma, I did it,” he confessed to her when she saw him. “I just want my time and I’m gone.”
Varmall was facing 15-45 years this time around.
He blames nobody but himself.
“Where I went wrong was all the energy I put toward thinking about what I didn’t have,” Varmall said. “I could have been putting that energy toward basketball and school. I was just so focused on what I didn’t have.”
He ended up serving 34 months. Part of it was spent in Orleans Parish and the other part in the LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla.
“When I look back on it, all I see is darkness,” said Varmall, now 25. “But it doesn’t matter to me now because I’m a better man.”
Those close to Varmall agree.
“He is a real good dude, who just made some bad choices,” said Joshua Lewis, one of Varmall’s closest friends.
The two wrote letters while Varmall was incarcerated.
“We never gave up on him,” said Ronald Johnson, Varmall’s high school coach. “We always knew he was a good kid; he just made some mistakes on the way.
“He’s paid his dues.”
But most importantly, Varmall never gave up on himself.
“Something in me just kept telling me to keep going, keep going,” Varmall said. “I just have this type of drive now where I can’t stop until I get where I want to be.”
He’s open about his transgressions, hoping that others don’t fall into the same pitfalls he did.
“It ain’t worth it,” he said. “You have to look at the bigger picture. You can’t just look at your situation and say this is where I’m going to be the rest of my life. Just keep grinding. Do something you love to do. It doesn’t have to be sports. Find out what you like to do and go for it.”
“I hated the choices he made, but I’m proud that he has fought back,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “I knew when I went to see him in prison that he had turned the corner.”
Varmall still holds the UNO record for steals in a game (nine), set against Rice two months before his career came to a halt.
“He could have played at high level of Division I basketball anywhere,” Johnson said.
Instead he worked for almost a year after being released from prison in October 2014 and landed at Talladega College, an NAIA school in rural Alabama, in August 2015.
Talladega coach Matt Cross, who has known Varmall since his junior-college days, gave him a chance.
“He hasn’t given us any problems whatsoever,” Cross said. “He’s really a good kid from a good family. He is just trying to get back in the swing and knock that rust off.”
Varmall had to sit out the first semester but had five A’s and one B in the classroom.
He scored his first basket in a home game earlier in January on a layup.
He said he would have preferred it come another way.
“I wanted my first one to be a dunk so everybody could feel my pain,” he said.
He ended up getting a dunk in the next game.
Now he is looking to get his first points playing back in his hometown.
He’s just thankful to be playing period, though.
“I can’t even describe the feeling,” he said. “I am too thankful. I take advantage of it every day. I thank God every night for giving me another chance.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of Varmall’s high school coach. His name is Ronald Johnson, not Robert Johnson.