Sphere of Influence

by Micah McDaniel ’99

Anthony Haggins ’02 admits he is strongly influenced by his surroundings, which made growing up in the inner city of East Palo Alto, California, particularly rough. So rough, in fact, that even to this day, he is reluctant to talk about it. Haggins was just three when his alcoholic father moved, severing ties with the family. He returned nine years later and the two tried to rebuild a shattered relationship. During this time, the elder Haggins was diagnosed with tuberculosis and lung cancer.

Three years after his return, Haggins’ father passed away. In response to this turbulent chapter in his life, Haggins began to let his surroundings get the best of him. Constantly in trouble, the hard-nosed teenager struggled in school, and more often than not, failed to attend. He and his friends found themselves enticed by danger.

“Growing up, I was very destructive,” said Haggins. “I was stubborn and had a bad temper. That, combined with the fact that I ran with the wrong crowd, kept me in trouble.”

Ironically, it was while headed down that destructive path that Haggins had his first taste of success. During his sophomore year at Menlo Atherton High, he met American government teacher Diane Martinelli. Out of nowhere, she approached him about being her teacher’s assistant. Although bewildered, he accepted.

“She played a big part in helping me change for the better,” said Haggins. “I was with her every day. She showed me that I could succeed. With her help, I realized that I was headed down the wrong road. She treated me like I was one of her own kids. No one outside of my family had ever shown me that type of attention.”

Despite gradually avoiding trouble, Haggins still struggled in the classroom. He needed three years of summer school to catch up after an unsuccessful freshman year. Each term, he barely stayed above the 2.0 grade-point average required to play basketball. Nonetheless, the determined Haggins managed to graduate on time.

After two years at Skyline Junior College in San Bruno, California, Haggins earned a scholarship to NCAA Division I Western Illinois University, where he joined his brother, Curtis. After just one semester, however, Haggins had enough of the Midwest—and basketball—and decided to leave, returning to his haven: East Palo Alto.

“It was hard being black in the Midwest,” said Haggins. “It was a culture shock for me. Then, when it came to basketball, it was hard to see how they treated my brother. There was no respect, and every day was like boot camp. My entire day was run by basketball, so much so that I started hating it.”

During a semester hiatus from school, Haggins received a phone call from former Azusa Pacific assistant basketball coach Ken Ammann. When Ammann presented his recruiting pitch, Haggins hesitated, but still agreed to visit, spending an entire day with former Cougar standout Justin Leslie ’00, MBA ’01.

“When Haggins first got here, he said that he was going to Sonoma State,” said Leslie, now an assistant men's basketball coach for APU. “I sold him on the fact that we win and we have fun, but even if we didn't win, we still have fun. When it was time for him to leave, he looked at me and said, ‘See you in two weeks.’ ”

A fortnight later, Haggins arrived on campus. “I was skeptical at first, because I wasn’t a Christian,” said Haggins. “Once I got here, it was different than anything I was used to. Coach treated everyone on the team the same, and I had a personal relationship with him, which made fitting in easier.”

On the court, Haggins averaged 9.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game, playing a key role in the Cougars’ 2000-01 record-breaking 35-3 season. He increased his average in conference games to 11.5 points as the Cougars won an unprecedented ninth straight Golden State Athletic Conference title.

“When you look at where Anthony came from, and the situation he grew up in, he has come a long way,” said Bill Odell, Azusa Pacific’s men’s basketball head coach and athletics director. “Anthony has not just fit into this community, he has thrived here.”

The biggest successes, however, have come off the court. His grades are up, and he is making better choices. Gone are the days of skipping school and fistfights. Most significantly, he became a Christian last summer.

“When I went home, I saw that my childhood friends were still in the same place. They didn’t get chances I got, and I wanted more than what my neighborhood had to offer,” said Haggins. “I’ve matured in the last year. I’ve learned to be a leader, not a follower, especially when times get rough. I’m working harder in school, and I want to excel. Not only that, but I got saved. I realized that I needed God in my life. This place has definitely had a major impact on my life.”

Haggins will graduate in May 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and hopes to work with inner-city and troubled youth faced with the same situations he experienced. Undeniably, he is still strongly influenced by his community.

Micah McDaniel ’99 is the assistant sports information director in the Office of Athletics. [email protected]