From homeless to Final Four history, Fisk forward being honored for his courage

Jeremiah Armstead moved around so much he wasn’t even eligible to play high school basketball until his senior year
Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jeremiah Armstead moved around so much he wasn’t even eligible to play high school basketball until his senior year.

He never lost faith through all the nights his family slept in their car when they couldn’t get a hotel room or into a shelter. Especially that first night at a beach parking lot after leaving Philadelphia for California only to learn their new home had disappeared.

A police officer came by their car that night with no parking allowed after midnight and saw a family of four sleeping.

"He let us stay there,” Armstead said. "So just encounters like that, with, like, everyday good people, it just helped me to not, like, be mad at the world and what I got going on and just wait, which I did. I waited four or five years, and now it’s something finally changing.”

Armstead not only has survived, he has flourished.

On Monday, the Fisk forward will make history as the first player from a historically Black college or university or NAIA school to receive the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association at their awards luncheon hours before the national championship game.

"I don't think it'll sink in fully until I get there to the Final Four and experience everything," Armstead said of learning about the award, which is named for a Nashville native who made history as the first Black man to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference at Vanderbilt.

His coach, Kenny Anderson, marvels at Armstead.

Anderson played 14 NBA seasons after being the No. 2 pick overall of the 1991 draft. But his family was evicted from their home in Queens, New York, when he was a high school junior. Anderson stayed with a cousin, visiting his mother each morning before school until they got a new place.

“It’s satisfying for me to know that I’m helping someone that’s been in a situation like me," Anderson said. "So Jeremiah’s, he’s doing a hell of a job just with his family, the situation. And he’s just a good kid.”

The 6-foot-5 Armstead was born in Atlanta and lived in Philadelphia until his mother moved to Long Beach, California, to live with someone close enough to count as family. Except that woman unexpectedly moved to Texas, leaving Mindy Brooks and her three children stranded.

They stayed in a hotel for a couple weeks, then wound up in a shelter in Santa Monica. His mother drove him to school, a 40-minute trip one way so she waited in a parking lot for classes to wrap up to save gas and money.

Shelter time limits also forced them to move around, making even practicing basketball a challenge for a family focused first on surviving. They finally got some stability for his senior year, living in an apartment during his first semester and into the second.

That gave Armstead time to improve his game.

“I could just wake up at 6, go to school, catch the bus and everything,” Armstead said. “I didn’t have to worry about my mom waiting outside in the car all day or anything like that. So the mental fatigue was kind of wearing off.”

Stephen Bernstein helped connect Armstead with Fisk through his foundation, We Educate Brilliant Minds, based in Los Angeles.

Once Armstead arrived in Nashville, he started eating better and got busy dropping at least 30 pounds over his first two seasons.

Yet a school official learned Armstead was sending what he could home to help his family. Even that wasn't enough as his family kept moving from shelters to a hotel and back to the car. Finally last November, his mother, sister and brother finally moved into their own apartment.

Anderson has worked to help Armstead develop his basketball skills. The forward played seven games as a freshman and 12 this season, helping Fisk go 14-16.

While his family has a place to live, Armstead's mother is fighting health issues. She also cares for his brother Marcus, 18, who didn't learn to read and write until he was 13 after being hit by a car as a child, and his sister Armani, 14, will be a high school freshman this fall.

“I have seen the worst of the worst,” Armstead said.

Basketball has been his safe place. Now he is in the best physical shape of his life and majoring in kinesiology and almost halfway to a college degree he never thought would be possible. He turned 20 on March 26, an age he never envisioned reaching, let alone celebrating and planning a future.

“It showed me why ... I should keep doing what I’m doing and keep having faith in God because a few years ago I didn’t think I was going to be here and I’m here,” Armstead said.

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Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead displays a tattoo on his forearm of the word "family" during a portrait session Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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Fisk University basketball head coach Kenny Anderson, left, talks to Jeremiah Armstead on the basketball court Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead responds to questions during an interview Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The formerly homeless Armstead will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2024 Perry Wallace Most Courageous award at the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP