Darrell Armstrong Proves Hard Work Makes Dreams Come True
Posted July 18, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. — Darrell Armstrong is on top of the world. He's anNBAsuperstar and a multi-millionaire, but the path he took to get there is nothing short of incredible.
After graduating from high school in Gastonia, Armstrong enrolled inFayetteville State University. He choose the small, predominantly black college because he had poor grades and no scholarship offer. But that is where Armstrong met basketball coach Ray McDougal.
"He was a coach who always talked about 'do-right,' Armstrong said. "He always had a policy that he said was the 'do-right policy.'"
McDougal saw potential in Armstrong and gave him a spot on the team as a walk-on.
"Darrell practiced ball 12, 1 o'clock at night, even if he was in here by himself," McDougal said. "I didn't know at the time. Had I known that, I probably would have had to do something to lock this gym up some kind of way."
"He gave me an opportunity. He believed in my ability, and it worked out fine for us," Armstrong said.
The next year Fayetteville State gave the coaching job to Jeff Capel, who in turn gave Armstrong something he will never forget -- a scholarship, which meant that his mother no longer had to struggle to put her son through school.
"It took a lot of pressure off of her from trying to work all the time, and that way she could enjoy me just going to school and not really worry about how she was going to get the money to pay my tuition," Armstrong said.
Capel remembers Armstrong as a bad player, but a great athlete who had an incredible work ethic.
"He was like a blank tape. He was hungry to learn," Capel said. "He wanted to get better. I remember him coming in every morning at 6 o'clock to shoot. He's earned it, no question."
The Seabrook Recreational Center is one of the many Cumberland County courts Armstrong played pick-up games on with friends, but his time in Fayetteville was not all about basketball.
"Fayetteville was great. Vick's soul food spot -- we use to sneak out -- coach didn't know this -- but we used to sneak out of curfew a couple of times and get sausage, foot-long dogs," Armstrong said.
Armstrong will always remember the friendships he made and lessons he learned in Fayetteville, but it took awhile before all that would payoff. The NBA Draft came and went and Armstrong was passed up.
For a couple hundred dollars a week, he played minor league ball and even went overseas, but that did not work out either. Armstrong ended up back in Gastonia working for minimum wage in a yarn factory.
However, Armstrong never gave up his basketball dream and finally in 1995 the Orlando Magic took a chance on him.
"I think it goes back to coach Capel when we was at Fayetteville State," Armstrong said. "He always told us, whenever you play, just go out and play hard, and that's all he wanted us to do. He said good things will happen if you play hard, and that's all I did."
1999 was Armstrong's breakout year. In the first year of a five-year $18 million contract, Armstrong did something no other NBA player has ever done. He won two of the league's highest honors -- the sixth man and most improved player awards -- in the same season.
"He epitomizes what hard work and perseverance are all about," Capel said. "Here's a kid who no one gave an opportunity or had a chance to play at this level."
"Prove people wrong. If someone says you can't do this, that's a good time to prove them wrong -- that's a good time to step up to the plate and show them that you're all right," Armstrong said.
And by anyone's standards, Darrell Armstrong is quite all right.