Photo via USA Today Sports
By: Jesse Nadelman- Staff Writer
DEWAN HUELL wasn’t always the best player on the court. In fact, at one point Dewan Huell’s career didn’t involve a court, or a basketball. Long before a trip to Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American game, a five-star recruiting rating, and a signed letter of intent to the University of Miami (FL), Huell was a seventh grade football player.
“After I broke my collarbone, my Mom said I never could play football anymore,” Huell said. “I didn’t want to sit home and do nothing because I knew it would lead to nothing good, so I started playing basketball.”
That decision to hang up the cleats for Jordan’s would be a decision that would change Huell’s life. But the sport transition started off rough.
“I started playing basketball in seventh grade,” Huell said. “I wasn’t really coordinated and couldn’t dunk a basketball. I didn’t really have any confidence because I wasn’t good enough.”
Huell soon went from not dunking to throwing down slams at the United Center in Chicago. But it was a process, to say the least. He needed to be developed and complete the transformation from football to basketball with the help from his personal basketball trainer, Coach Perez.
As time went on, Dewan’s game got stronger.
“When I started working with Coach Perez, I started to believe I could be good,” Huell said. “When eighth grade year came, I was the best in town. I had a good jump shot, could dribble enough to get around people, could block shots and rebound. It was the first year I dunked in a game.”
“Dewan’s struggles earlier in his basketball career was his inability to use his size to his advantage,” Coach and mentor Jean-Camille Dubuisson said. “When I saw him in seventh grade, I thought he was horrible. He would let 5’3” guys up his chest, grab rebounds over him, and even at times block his shots. But to his credit, every year he has gotten better. The kid is a gym rat.”
By the time Dewan Huell reached high school, he was already a starter for legendary head coach Lawton Williams and Miami Norland as just a freshman. But the start at Norland would open a new opportunity, a new challenge, and a new chapter his life.
Photo via Jim Donnelly
* * *
TALENT you have naturally, but skill is only developed by hours and hours of working on your craft. The storied quote is quite depictive of Dewan Huell. He was born with the height, always one of the tallest players on the court, and from football to basketball he always has had major athleticism.
But the skill that Huell has developed, the skill that made him a five-star recruit with offers from almost every top program—Kansas, North Carolina, FSU, Florida, Louisville, etc. before eventually committing to Jim Larranaga and Miami—was acquired solely from hours of dedication he put into the game.
“I had to sacrifice a lot of things for basketball,” Huell said. “I had to stay focused and not let my surroundings put me in a bad situation. I gave up going out to parties, staying up all night, and clowning off in class. I had to focus in.”
During the summer following sophomore year—after he had just won his second state title for Norland—Huell had just finished a Saturday morning workout with head coach Lawton Williams. A three-hour work out that Dubuisson says, “is grueling. From 7 AM to 10:15 AM.”
Most players had left the gym, induced with pain after such a taxing workout.
Dewan Huell isn’t like most players.
When Dubuisson showed up to the gym—close to noon—for a workout with his team, Huell was still at gym, nearly two hours after his tough workout with Miami Norland. He then went up to Dubuisson.
“Hey Coach, can I workout with you guys?” Huell asked him.
Dubuisson couldn’t believe it. Huell had just gone through a tough workout for three hours, and was still at gym nearly five hours after he had arrived at 7 AM.
“Dewan, you just went through a serious workout with Coach Williams, you’re not going to make it through my workout,” Dubuisson had answered him.
But once the clock struck noon, Huell was out there with the rest of Dubuisson’s players, stretching out along with them. As if he were fresh as walk-on seeing his first action of the year. Because Huell was that fresh, he was always fresh and ready to play, burying the fatigue that most players would let emerge.
The workout went from 12 PM to 3 PM, and Huell didn’t let up once. As Dubuisson says, “it’s like he had another gear.”
But even after another gruesome workout concluded, Huell tuned the gear up one more level. There was an open gym with top high school, college, and professional players from 5 PM until dusk and Huell was still there, as just a rising junior, running the floor even after all of tear his body and taken on in workouts that day.
“The kid impressed me that day. That’s when I knew he was special,” Dubuisson said.
Because that’s what All-American’s do. They impress people, they sacrifice, and they work until they can’t work no more.
Photo via Getty Images
* * *
HANDS covering his face, body feeling achy, emotions frozen in shock, Dewan Huell sat down on the bench at Dillard High School. It would be the last time he ever stepped on the court with ‘Norland’ or ‘Vikings’ across his chest. His next school basketball game he will be wearing, ‘Hurricanes’ across his chest. He will be playing in front of thousands of people, and the game will likely be televised on ESPN or FOX Sports Florida.
After capturing the state championship for Miami Norland in his freshman, sophomore, and junior years, Huell’s high school career had come to a close in the 7A regional finals against a younger, Dillard team.
“Nobody likes losing,” Huell said. “That was the first time my whole high school career where my season ended before a state title. It hurt but Coach Williams told me that night that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had a great high school career, and accomplished things that most kids never get to accomplish.”
But one game doesn’t define a career, and such is the case for Huell as a Viking. Right from the start in his freshman year he was a major part in helping Lawton Williams capture three of the legendary coach’s six state titles. Even in the final loss to Dillard, Huell had done his part, dropping 18 points on six of thirteen shooting.
“I would say once he gets going he gets going,” Miami Norland 6’5” guard—Chattanooga commit—David Jean-Baptiste, and a great friend of Huell’s said about his dominant play for the Vikings. “He gets his buckets inside early, and then the rest of the game will flow and he’ll have a big game.”
Over the course of their careers at Norland, Jean-Baptiste and Huell have concreted a close bond, both on and off the court.
“Growing up, I didn’t really have a big brother and I didn’t know anyone coming into Norland from middle school,” Jean-Baptiste said. “These past two years Dewan has been really big on my confidence and believing in me. Even more than myself.”
Huell’s connection with the program at Norland began back in eighth grade, when Huell met head coach Lawton Williams for the first time. After all, Norland happened to be the school Huell was zoned for, and was a defending state champion and already established as one of the best programs in Dade County history.
The first time the two met would be the start of a forever lasting relationship. A bond between a coach and a player, for the ages.
“He just kept me focused,” Huell said on his relationship with Williams. “He helped me out. Not just as a coach, but as a father figure. He always helped me out. Our relationship is great. I call him if I have any type of problems, he tells me what I need to do to correct it basketball wise and off the court.”
When Huell first walked through the Miami Norland doors as just a freshman, there was already much expected. He had played phenomenal in his eighth grade season. And besides, anytime there’s a 6’8” freshman basketball player, people are going to turn heads.
“[Expectations] were high when he walked in,” Lawton Williams said. “But he came here at a time when we had two veteran big men so he could just learn. He grew a lot strength wise and just the knowledge of the game.”
Huell’s role was secondary his first two years, although still a major one. He played alongside current Florida Gulf Coast point guard Zach Johnson as the two brought home two straight state championships, and top schools like Miami were already showing interest in 6’9” underclassman forward.
“He was getting college interest even just as a freshman,” Christina Pierre, Huell’s mother, said. “One thing I always let Dewan know when he was young was that there’s no ‘I’ in team so don’t let get out of your head just because everyone is looking at you as far as recruiting and college. It’s always a team effort. And he just remained focused.”
But after his sophomore year, Norland had lost seven players from the previous team—including four starters—which put the pressure on Huell to become the main anchor for the Vikings’ program his junior season.
And contrary to previous seasons, the expectations for Norland weren’t as high, many stating the loss of too many players as a factor that would yield Norland from capturing their fourth straight title. But what they didn’t know, is that Dewan Huell was still there. And Huell would prove those skeptics wrong in a monster eleventh grade season.
“He looked to score more,” Williams said of how Huell’s game changed into junior year. “We needed him to, and he was more vocal.”
Huell averaged 19.2 PPG and 9.1 RPG as he led Miami Norland to the school’s fourth straight state championship, capturing the Miami Herald’s 6A-8A Player of the year award, and was named to the All-Dade first team for R.M.F. Magazine and the Miami Herald.
“We were hungry that year because a lot of people slept on us,” Huell said. “We wanted it more.
“I knew I had to score more that season, pick up slack myself. So in the off-season before junior year I worked really hard to become more of a leader that season.”
He would cap off his phenomenal junior campaign by playing in the Under Armor elite circuit and traveling across the country for travel basketball events in front of college scouts and NBA GMs.
His stock jolted, as Huell was ranked the number 23 prospect in the class of 2016 by ESPN, and deemed a five-star, ranked number 25 by Scout.
“There were a lot of good kids out there that summer and a lot of college coaches and NBA GMs watching,” Huell said. “They were valuable experiences that taught me to be a stronger player. I worked a lot in the off-season to get stronger.”
Before the loss to Dillard in regionals, Huell had led Norland to the top of the R.M.F. Magazine Respect 25 rankings for most of the season, with wins over Wellington in the Hoop Hall Classic, Chaminade-Madonna, Westminster Academy, Miami Central, and other top teams.
Huell also captured his fourth district title his senior season; he won one in each of his high school years.
It may have been the last result of his high school career, but the loss to Dillard won’t be what people remember of Dewan Huell’s memorable career at Miami Norland. A legendary one, and as Lawton Williams said, “I’ve never coached a player more dominant.”
Photo via USA Today High School Sports
* * *
SINCE freshman year, the Miami Hurricanes had been in hot pursuit of the local 6’10” star Huell. Jim Larranaga and his staff could see he was special, and he was right in their backyard.
Capturing the prized five-star, however, would be challenging. Bill Self (Kansas), Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Roy Williams (North Carolina), and other top programs and coaches were all in on the Miami Norland product.
But, the Hurricanes were active. Lawton Williams says Miami would come to the school, call Dewan regularly, and they worked hard at getting him.
That persistence paid off.
On Wednesday November 18th 2015, Huell committed to Miami.
“I’m most looking forward to playing in the ACC,” Huell said. “It’s the best conference there is in college basketball right now. I want to go in there and win immediately.”
“When we did go and visit they did show a lot of the opportunities he will have to further his career,” Pierre said on her son’s choice to go to Miami. “We really enjoyed the program they did offer and the things that they did show us, but at the end it was Dewan’s decision and that’s where he wanted to go.”
For the Hurricanes, the decision echoed a message Jim Larranaga stressed at his introductory press conference back in 2011, about the importance of recruiting in Florida. He had struck gold in his own backyard.
For Huell, it was about not only staying home and continuing his legacy in the 305, but it was about the chance for the Hurricanes’ coaching staff to develop him, and help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.
“Miami is my hometown team,” Huell said. “They’ve got a lot of good recruits coming in at different positions and I’d like the chance to be apart of a great, young team. They fit my style of play, it’s just a perfect match.”
Huell’s journey won’t come to a halt just getting to Coral Gables. Huell marks the first five-star recruit Miami—still managing to reach the Sweet 16 in two of the last four years—has landed since 2008. Huell looks to take the Hurricanes to the next level, and the Miami staff couldn’t be more excited for his arrival.
“I like everything about his game,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga told USA Today High School Sports. “What separates [Huell] from other big guys is that he’s terrific defensively. Most high school players who are highly recruited are offensive-minded and have a lot to learn defensively when they get to college. That’s not true with Huell.”
And at Miami, maybe Huell will finally earn some respect, something he and many close to him feel he is still yearning to receive.
“My hardest moments in basketball are living up to the hype of my name,” Huell said. “I will always have doubters, but it’s just that much better to prove them wrong.”
Those doubters have been there since he walked through the Norland doors as a 6’8” ninth grader, and they will follow him to Coral Gables as a 6’10” five-star All-American.
“The only struggle I see for [Dewan] now is that people don’t give him the proper respect,” Dubuisson said. “Even with him being a McDonald’s All-American people still question his abilities. Why? I don’t know.
“He’s been a four-year starter at a powerhouse in Miami Norland, he’s won a state championship three out of four years in high school, he’s played for Team USA, he’s been a first team all-county selection, he’s been coached by Lawton Williams—arguable the best coach in Dade County history—what else do you want from the kid? Oh, did I forget to add he’s going to the University of Miami for free?”
Huell will hear these doubts the rest of his career. LeBron James still hears them, there’s even still doubts about Michael Jordan. But it is those doubters that will fuel him as his continues his path, the next stop Coral Gables.
From the day he will step on the University of Miami campus—as he did at Miami Norland—Huell’s legacy will continue as the next hometown hero in the 305.
Photo via Miami Herald
* * *
FOOTBALL ended for Dewan Huell from an injury, and one night it seemed like Huell’s promising basketball career would vanish the same way.
In eighth grade—Huell’s first full-year playing basketball—Christina Pierre got a call one night from Lawton Williams, saying that Dewan had broken his finger. Pierre rushed to the gym, picked up Huell, and immediately drove him to the emergency room.
“That’s it, you’re done playing basketball,” Pierre had said to him, recalling in the moment the broken collarbone injury that forced Dewan to give up football. “I’m not letting you get injured anymore.”
But unlike how the collarbone injury went down, Huell wouldn’t give in to his mother’s wishes this time. Pierre remembers him telling her about his NBA dream, and how this was just the start.
“I’m going to make it pro, Mom,” Huell had told her. “I can’t give up now. If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can do it, so can I.”
This time, Pierre gave in, and allowed him to continue playing.
“It was certainly close,” Pierre said. “I was close to making him quit in that moment.”
Nearly five years later, Huell was still playing basketball. And he was sitting on the couch with Pierre watching ESPN, waiting for the participants in the 2016 McDonald’s All-American game to be announced.
And then there it was. Huell’s name was announced.
The same kid that had just started playing the game in seventh grade, and called himself ‘uncoordinated’ at that age, was playing in a game with the 24 best high school basketball players in the nation.
“It was a great feeling,” Huell said. “Not too many top players in Miami have ever gotten elected in the McDonald’s All-American game. That was a great feeling, I mean to be apart of the 1% that got elected, that’s a blessing right there.”
Just getting his name announced, would give his mother chills.
“It was amazing,” Pierre said. “Only 1% of players do get elected for the game, and Dewan has worked really hard throughout his high school career to get there. It was just a thrill for me, even just watching him get nominated.”
As great as Huell and Pierre’s memory of Dewan getting elected was, the experience at the All-American game would be even better.
For Huell, meeting the other top players in nation, playing on the court at the United Center on ESPN, was surreal.
“The game was amazing,” Huell said. “Playing on national T.V. with all the great players and those activities they had us doing, it was great. Having us going to the Ronald McDonald house to give back to the kids was cool. It was a great feeling just to be there. There was a great vibe, and everybody had a lot of fun.”
As for Pierre, just watching her son throughout the events were moments she will never forget.
“Just sitting in the stands was a thrill,” Pierre said. “Throughout the whole process, I mean it was stressful because there were different scouts coming at me and calling me so it was kind of stressful, but I remained humble, just enjoyed the experience that doesn’t happen often, and had fun.”
And so as the McDonald’s All-American game concluded, Huell’s high school career did too. A remarkable one, to say the least, had concluded.
It’s a good thing Huell hung up his football cleats in seventh grade for Jordan’s. The first time Huell stepped on the court would be the start. The start of a Miami Garden products’ stupendous basketball path.
A path, and a career, that is just getting started.
ABOUT THE REPORTER
Jesse Nadelman is a 17-year old reporter for R.M.F. Magazine who currently is a junior at North Broward Prep. Growing up in South Florida, Jesse has grown an intense passion for sports media. He covers all of South Florida’s top high school basketball teams and events for R.M.F. In addition to contributing to R.M.F, Jesse also writes for Rant Sports, covers South Florida High School football and baseball, and currently holds Press Credentials and access for University of Miami Football games.
You could follow Jesse on twitter: @Nadelman99