EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 4, 2013

Lawrence basketball player used sport to persevere while homeless

Christopher Smith
csmith@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Karisha Jimenez feels at home on the basketball court.

“I love the game and I love to play,” says the Lawrence High junior guard, smiling, of course.

For several months last year, the basketball court at Lawrence High was her home as she and her family lost their home during summer 2011 after being unable to pay the rent. The state moved them into the Best Western in Haverhill.

“Basketball was going to be her out — her way to fight through what was going on so she wouldn’t have to be at the hotel as many hours,” Lawrence coach Dan Blouin said.

Jimenez added, “I’d rather play basketball than be where I was.”

Jimenez almost always smiles while playing basketball. And she used the game to persevere during about a six-month period last school year when she and her family were homeless. She said basketball helped her get her mind off everything else.

“There is a drive in her that should inspire everybody,” Blouin said.

Jimenez’s family was evicted during August 2011.

“We had 42 hours to move,” Jimenez said. “I was scared, nervous. But I didn’t express my emotions because I know my mom would’ve broke down. ... She always told me it was going to be all right — that things happen for a reason and God’s always going to be with us.”

Jimenez’s mother Carmen Villegas added: “My income was still low even though I was working. It wasn’t enough for my rent. And I have other kids. Karisha has a little sister and an older brother that I take care of, too. So it was kind of hard.”

The family pulled through it. They now live in a three-floor building on Alder Street in Lawrence.

The difficult experience Jimenez went through makes her play harder and with sort of a chip on her shoulder, Blouin said. He added that Jimenez was a leader on last year’s team despite the squad having several older players. Throughout this past summer, Jimenez led all the captain practices. She is a returning starter.

She worked hard this summer on her shooting and transformed herself from a post-player to guard. Her shooting has been much better lately than at the beginning of this season. She entered Friday averaging 9.2 ppg in her previous five games.

“She’s teaching her teammates as bad as basketball can get sometimes, we’re going to fight through it and we’re going to be all right,” Blouin said. “Whatever the score is going to be, there’s always something worse that can happen in life— that we’re lucky to play basketball. She’s a great teammate. She’s a junior captain. That’s kind of rare. But I’ve seen her grow since her freshman year.”

The state offers homeless students bus rides to and from school, Blouin said. But Jimenez was unable to take advantage of the rides home because she was playing basketball.

“So she could’ve easily given up,” Blouin said. “We found many different ways to get her to and from — teammates, myself, the assistant coaches.”

Jimenez always has been a hard worker. Blouin once helped coach at a summer camp at UMass-Lowell in which Jimenez attended.

“Karisha was dead (tired) after the second day,” Blouin said. “The next day I asked her what she went home and did. She said that she was dribbling until about 8:30 at night. I said, ‘What do you mean? You left here yesterday like you were going to pass out — go to sleep right away.’ She goes, ‘I went home, took a shower, slept for like a half an hour and went back out and started dribbling.’ That’s the kind of person she is.”

Blouin’s help certainly shouldn’t go unrecognized.

“Coach Blouin was awesome,” Villegas said. “He used to come pick her up, take her to the games and everything. It helped a lot. They still help.”