Kent State's Darren Goodson fights through adversity to find success

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

Building up and tearing down our favorite athletes is a beloved past time of sports fanatics, who gain great amusement from the typically ruthless nature of these conversations.

Sometimes we forget, especially in the case of college athletics, that these players are really still just kids.

Big kids.

And with big kids come big problems.

Case in point is Darren Goodson, who became a favorite target of area fans' abuse and belittlement while he struggled immensely during the early portion of the 2012-13 Kent State men's basketball season.

A transfer from Pensacola State junior college in Florida, the Cincinnati native Goodson was a highly touted addition to an inexperienced Golden Flashes squad who was expected to step in and make major contributions to the cause immediately as the team's starting big forward.

Goodson did indeed start his first game as a member of the Kent State program, contributing eight points and five rebounds in a thrilling overtime victory over Drexel. But after scoring four total points in his next three games, Goodson found three letter next to his name following a Nov. 20 victory over Bethune-Cookman that he never imagined he'd see.

DNP -- did not play.

"It hurt bad," Goodson admitted. "I've never missed a game. If I was injured I still played. I went home after that game and I wanted to cry, I wanted to feel sorry for myself. But at the end of the day (head coach Rob Senderoff) is not gonna feel sorry for me. I'm a grown man."

Flashes fans certainly weren't feeling sympathetic as they watched Goodson struggle. Along with his lack of overall production, Goodson was always good for at least one silly turnover or careless error -- usually early in games -- that would infuriate coaches and fans alike, prompting some not-so-well-wishers at the M.A.C. Center and on Twitter to express their hopes that Goodson would soon pack up his belongings and move back to Florida.

Little did they know that, along with the typical trials and tribulations associated with making the monumental jump from junior college to Division I basketball, Goodson faced a major issue off the court that was keeping him up at night as well.

Her name was Alyssa Marie Goodson. Born Dec. 5, with spina bifida.

WINDING ROAD TO KENT STATE

Goodson grew up on the mean streets of Cincinnati. Unlike many young men from his area who fell victim to the rough environment, Goodson was fortunate enough to have a great family to help keep him on the right track. Great mother and father. Two brothers and an older sister, Jamiela Durham, who bought him his first pair of Air Jordans.

"My sister loved basketball, and she was a good player," he said. "I never had Jordans like other kids did, but my sister would buy me Jordans, then she would take them after the game and give them to me just for games so I wouldn't go outside and tear them up. I love my sister so much. We used to go everywhere together. That's why I wear No. 42 -- she wore 42 in high school."

After starring at Aiken High School, Goodson accepted a scholarship offer from Bowling Green and was all set to become a Falcon. But he did not pass the science portion of the Ohio Proficiency Test in time to be eligible as a freshman, and wound up in prep school before spending two years at Pensacola State.

After performing well in the junior college ranks, scholarship offers from Division I schools started trickling back in for Goodson. But he knew that if one offer in particular came, it would not be refused.

"I played with (current KSU senior guard) Randal Holt in AAU ball, and I got back in touch with him the summer of my freshman year at junior college," said Goodson. "I told him Kent was on me, and if they offer I'm signing. I had UAB, South Alabama, Troy and Coastal Carolina looking at me, but I knew who I was going to pick. Guys at the four (position) here succeed being undersized, and Kent has a winning history."

Goodson joined the Flashes late last summer and fared well during preseason practices. He seemed to come just as advertised: Undersized (6-foot-5, 245) for a power forward but physical and intense with a good motor, and the ability to score with some nifty turnaround moves inside while also possessing a steady jumper that extends into 3-point range.

He was a welcome addition to a Kent State club that had just lost six of its top eight scorers from a year ago, and returned just one starter. But putting the ball in the basket, which had come so easy to Goodson throughout his career, suddenly became a difficult and frustrating endeavor at the college level.

NIGHTMARE BEGINNING

After a decent performance in the opener, Goodson started the next three games but produced just four points in 50 minutes. That led to the infamous DNP against Bethune-Cookman.

"I think the DNP helped me," said Goodson. "It made me see I need this team more than it needs me. So I got in the gym, got in some extra shots, and wound up having a good game against Nebraska (16 points, 4 rebounds.). I felt like after that game, that's the D-Good I am. But after that I went into another slump."

Goodson scored just nine points in his next four games, and went scoreless in a loss to Xavier in his hometown on Dec. 9.

"We played against Xavier and I stunk up the gym," he said. "I thought just because I was playing at home I was going to play well, but that's not how it works."

At this point, not only was Goodson's basketball career in chaos, but his personal life was more tumultuous than ever as well. Four days earlier his girlfriend Caitlin Moody, whom he met at a party in Florida about 18 months ago while playing junior college ball in Pensacola, had given birth to their daughter Alyssa. She was born with spina bifida, a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube where some vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. She had to undergo an extensive surgery immediately after birth.

Big kids, big problems.

Alyssa was diagnosed with spina bifida about four or five months into the pregnancy, but once she was actually born it was still a shock to all involved.

"She had a tough little surgery," said Goodson. "They said she might not walk (at first), but Caitlin called me (last week) and said she was moving her legs. Doctors said with therapy she probably could walk because the surgery went well. They stretch her out every day. She also had some air in her stomach and they found an infection, but they took care of that. She's doing good now."

While struggling on the court, Goodson was also torn between the commitment he had made to playing basketball at Kent State and the need to be in Florida for his daughter and girlfriend.

"I wasn't there for the surgery, and it really hurt me. I felt like I should have been there," said Goodson. "But me, Caitlin, her parents, my parents, we all felt the best thing for me to do was to come up here (to Kent State). It hurts, but I try to keep my off-court issues and on-court issues separate. I'm trying to do this for (Alyssa). I feel like that's why I've been playing so hard, getting in the gym, I'm out here playing for her."

PRODUCTIVE TRIP TO PENSACOLA

Kent State had 11 days between games after the Xavier loss, so Goodson flew to Florida to see his daughter and girlfriend. Fortunately for the Flashes, the Darren Goodson that returned to Kent State about a week later was much different than the one that left.

"After our game at Xavier, I would say that was probably the low point for him with how he payed, it being in his hometown," said Senderoff. "He left after that and went down to Florida, and when he came back he was just a different player for whatever reason. I think he did some internal checking and looked himself in the mirror and saw that he needed to change some things. It just seems like since that moment he's played better and better."

Goodson readily admits that seeing his daughter and their baby girl gave his spirits a desperately needed boost.

"I stayed down there for like a week and I thought about it, something's gotta change," said Goodson. "This is not me. I'm better than that."

Senderoff spearheaded the progression by delivering the shocking news upon his return that Goodson was about to become a point-forward of sorts.

"When I got back we sat in his office for an hour and watched clips of me passing. I was getting guys open shots," said Goodson. "He told me if it's not a wide-open layup or wide-open jump shot don't shoot, just focus on getting good shots for your teammates."

Goodson admits that switching his thought process from a scorer to a passer was stunning at first.

"When he first came to me with it, I've never disrespected a coach in my life, but in my mind I'm thinking what is he talking about? Just pass? Four man?" said Goodson. "But I saw the clips, I'm really out there making plays for guys and it's helping the team. So the next day in practice we kept stats and I had like seven assists."

Goodson also had seven assists over the next two games, both KSU victories, confirming Senderoff's decision to force him to focus on passing.

"He's a guy who had the ability to make plays for other guys, and he just wasn't doing that," said Senderoff. "We had been shooting a low percentage for a number of games in a row and were just not making plays for each other. At that point (freshman forward) Chris Ortiz was hurt so we had no choice but to play (Goodson), and we had to figure out a way for him to be effective. I thought if he stopped thinking about scoring and thought about getting other guys shots it would help keep him focused on things that could help us."

THE REAL GOODSON ARRIVES

A string of mediocre performances followed before Goodson produced 14 points and four rebounds in a tough home loss to rival Akron on Jan. 19, a solid effort he partly credits to a visit from his girlfriend.

"She surprised me," said Goodson. "The day of shoot-around I walked downstairs and she was down there sitting down. I was like wow. I was excited. I came out and had 14 points in the first half. I was happy to see her, I wanted to play hard. She hadn't seen me play since I was in Pensacola. It was just real good."

Since that game, Goodson has worked his way back into Kent State's offense as a scorer, not just a passer. He is averaging 12.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest over the last nine contests, with a pair of 18-point efforts.

"Coach told me I don't mind you shooting it, but I don't see you in the gym," said Goodson. "He sees Chris Evans in the gym, he sees Randal Holt in the gym. So I just made it a habit of getting in the gym. (Assistant coach Eric) Haut showed me film of every shot I took, and on a lot of my shots I was not jumping. It's just mechanics and getting in the gym.

"My passing and now my scoring is helping my teammates. I feel like I'm on the other team's scouting report right now."

SETTLING IN

Now, at long last, Goodson is in a pretty good place.

Baby Alyssa remains hospitalized in Gainesville, but is improving every day. Hopefully her mother, who is pursuing a nursing degree, will soon be able to return to school at least on a part-time basis.

"They won't let her go home until she can consistently drink a full bottle," said Goodson. "She gets tired and can't finish. But she's getting better. My daughter and her mother are both so strong."

On the hardwood, while both he and Senderoff admit that he needs to become a better rebounder and defender, Goodson is starting to figure out what it takes to succeed in Division I basketball.

"It was easy for me in high school and junior college to just go out there and play," said Goodson, whose cousin Trayion Durham is a star running back on the KSU football team. "But in college, when you're not as blessed as other guys, you've gotta work harder than the other guys. I'm not athletic at all compared to the guys I guard -- not taller, not quicker -- but I can play harder. That's all I'm trying to do."

Through his improved and spirited play Goodson is even starting to endear himself to Flashes fans, who no longer are expressing their desire to ship him back to Florida.

"Everybody has their issues. I feel like for me to go out here and say that my daughter is not well, that's an excuse," said Goodson. "At the end of the day, you've gotta produce or you don't deserve to be on the court. I haven't told coach (Senderoff) yet, but he saved my career at Kent State by one sitting me that game, and then by making me pass the ball.

"It could have been a bad year for me, but it's turning out to be good. And I want to finish it by making some noise in the MAC Tournament."

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