By Kai Huntsberry

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

I’ve wanted to play in the NBA since I was in kindergarten.

That’s certainly not a dream that’s out of the ordinary. I’m willing to bet there are kids all over the world shooting hoops in a driveway or local gym at this very moment with that same aspiration.

But my life has been far from ordinary.

I’ve traveled the country as a student-athlete to prepare me for the opportunity to play professional basketball.

Throughout my journey, I’ve been rejected, doubted, and overlooked more times than I can count. I had zero Division I offers coming out of high school.

I even stepped away from basketball during the 2020 season.

But through it all, my friends, coaches, trainers, and family never stopped believing in me.

They believed in me before I ever believed in myself.

As a senior on the University of North Texas basketball team, I wouldn’t be in this position without them.

If there’s anything I’ve learned through all the adversity I’ve faced in my life, it’s knowing my purpose to help others supersedes anything I do on the basketball court.

There have been so many people that have blessed and impacted my life more than they can possibly imagine, and I know I have a responsibility to pay it forward and be a light in other people’s lives.

Early growing pains

I originally committed to Central Wyoming out of high school, but there was a coaching change before I got there that put my commitment in doubt.

As a 17-year-old kid, that was a scary place to be in. I needed to find a new home while also leaving the place I’ve called home since I was five years old in Sacramento with my family.

I’ve always been incredibly close with my parents – they’re the best people I’ve ever known – so I didn’t want to move thousands of miles away from them as I embarked on my collegiate career.

After a friend recommended San Diego City College, I stayed in my home state and moved down to Southern California to begin my basketball career.

It turned out to be the perfect spot for me in my first two years as a student-athlete. I grew and matured both on and off the court, and I give so much credit to my teammates and coaches in San Diego for molding me into the person I am today.

For all the growth I was able to achieve as a person and player in San Diego, though, I wasn’t fully prepared for circumstances and events that would force me to step away from the game I love in 2020.

And I didn’t know when — if ever — I’d step foot on the court again.

Changing my mindset

Once I finished my two years in San Diego, I was looking at DI schools to transfer to. The problem was, as much as I tried to fight it, I knew deep down I wasn’t ready.

I believe my abilities on the court were there, but my mindset wasn’t. My confidence was lacking, and my self-doubt would consume me at times.

There was no way I could step foot on a DI court with that kind of mindset and attitude.

To make matters worse, my mom had a stroke in 2020. She’s always been my biggest supporter and made sacrifice upon sacrifice for my life and basketball career, so to see her in this state was beyond overwhelming.

Taking the year off became a logical decision for me, and looking back, it was the best decision I ever made.

I took this time to work with several different trainers that completely changed my outlook not only on the basketball court but in life.

It became a period of self-reflection in which I learned to give myself some credit. Up to this point, I’d always been a person that would praise others but would never praise myself.

I found fault and imperfections in everything I did, and that’s not a healthy way to live life.

With a shifted mindset and my mental health being in the best place it’d ever been, I transferred to the University of Mary in North Dakota and flourished both on and off the court.

I was grateful for everyone that helped me out of the hole I found myself in, and I was proud of the man I was becoming.

Basketball has always been my passion, but through my own tribulations, I found a greater purpose in the power you can have in uplifting others and impacting their lives.

I was grateful for everyone that helped me out of the hole I found myself in, and I was proud of the man I was becoming. Basketball has always been my passion, but through my own tribulations, I found a greater purpose in the power you can have in uplifting others and impacting their lives.

Ready for DI success

After finding myself and setting my priorities straight at the University of Mary, I finally felt like I was ready for DI basketball.

My coaches, teammates, and the community in North Dakota created such a family environment that I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had to in order to take the next step in my journey and career.

When the University of North Texas made contact with me, this was a university and program I was familiar with, but I didn’t initially realize the meteoric rise their basketball team had been on in the last few seasons.

They beat Purdue in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The Mean Green meant business.

When they offered me a scholarship, it meant everything in the world to me. Not only did I finally reach my goal of getting the opportunity to play DI basketball, but I would be doing so for such a respected and high-level program.

This season, we set a program record for the most single-season wins and because of our record-setting season are still playing with the goals of cutting down the nets and winning a national postseason championship in the NIT.

To have played an integral role on such a special team and season leaves me almost without words.

I’m blessed beyond measure.

Knowing my purpose

As if my parents couldn’t inspire me any more, they continue to be my rocks. Seeing my dad be so strong for my mom while she was recovering from her stroke was nothing short of amazing.

Despite the stroke, my mom never stopped putting others before herself. The adversity I’ve faced in my life pales in comparison to the struggles she faced in the last few years, but she continues to put my career at the forefront of her life because that’s the kind of person she is.

My parents are the most selfless people I know, and as I finish my collegiate career and move on to whatever is next for me in life, I aspire to be just like them.

Whether I continue chasing my dream of playing basketball at the professional level or transition into coaching, I want to be a light in this world.

I don’t know where I’d be without so many people that have helped me throughout my journey. I’ll never be able to fully repay everyone that helped me along the way, but I have the rest of my life to make up for it by impacting as many people as I can.

For the longest time, I didn’t know what my purpose was outside of the hardwood. Through the guidance of many, I now know my purpose is to change lives.

Just like so many have changed mine.