Omar Sr. rebounds the ball and bounces it back to his son. “It’s the right height,” he rumbles in a voice deep as a late-night FM D.J.’s, then tells Junior to take a short water break. When the workout resumes, Junior misses a layup and winces as he lands. “You hurt?” Senior asks. “Nah, it’s mad cold in here, and I’m not loose.” “That’s your excuse?” Senior says. “There’s no excuses, man. If you can do it, you can do it.” Junior dribbles, launches, dunks so hard the ball bounces six feet in the air. “Good!” Senior says. “You should have attacked the rim like that from the beginning!”
The street agents, the middlemen, the shoe-company hustlers—they started sniffing around Omar Jr. when he was 11 years old. Omar Sr. listened and did something radical. He said no. “You hear all that stuff: ‘I can get you a job,’ ‘Do you need cash?’ ‘Do you need a car?’” Omar Sr. says. “I just tell them, ‘We’re not interested in anything extra. Just what we deserve.’ To me, a college education is invaluable. If you can educate my guy, and he’s playing something that he loves, that’s enough. The NBA, he’ll make some money, if that’s where this game takes him. I’m a true believer that your dedication, your love for stuff, will come through. I had a lot of obstacles in my life, and for me to be blessed to watch my son play in high school, my daughter play, I’m truly fortunate. I’m not supposed to have a kid when I’m 20 years old, my wife when she’s 17. But when he was born, I held him up and named him the Dreamcatcher. He’s going to be the one to fulfill all his dreams.”
That the Calhouns have raised two basketball stars who are also sane, thoughtful kids with high-school grade averages in the nineties is borderline miraculous. “Forget about basketball,” says Joe Arbitello, the Christ the King boys’ varsity coach. “I want him to raise my kids. Senior had a plan, and they’ve stuck to it.” The kids weren’t allowed to listen to hip-hop when they were small; they don’t have Twitter or Facebook accounts today. Relatives who are teachers tutored the siblings in science. Underlying everything is a sense of urgency, of not wasting any time. “You can spend two hours getting a tattoo,” Senior says, “but we could spend that two hours reading a book, or getting up shots, or with your family.” In 2008, Omar Sr. was laid off from his job as a broker at a midsize Wall Street financial firm. He and Semara decided to try to scrape by on her salary as a second-grade teacher at P.S. 39 in Park Slope while Omar Sr. devoted himself to the kids’ basketball lives, training them after school and on weekends, fielding the recruiting calls from colleges, and navigating the maze of travel teams and all-star tournaments.
“My parents keep me humble and driven,” Junior says. “You saw at the workout, when I made an excuse—Dad is quick to jump on me and say that’s a weak mind-set. It molds me, helps me get stronger.” Above his bed in the family’s cramped two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment Junior has hung a quote from Aristotle: “Excellence is not an act but a habit.” There’s a palpable joy when the family is together, and the siblings are particularly close. Both radiate low-key charisma and magnetic self-confidence, though they have distinct personalities. The son, in his serene demeanor, takes after his mother; the daughter is the fiery one, her temperament similar to her father’s. In December, when Sierra missed those free throws and her team lost to Bishop Ford, her big brother, whose nickname for Sierra is “the Beast,” knew to wait until the next day to quietly offer a tip: “You rushed those shots.”
Omar is averaging about 24 points per game this season and should soon break the career scoring record at Christ the King, a school that has enrolled a wealth of basketball luminaries, including Lamar Odom. But Sierra may well turn out to be an even better player than Omar. She’s currently averaging twenty points and nine rebounds per game. “The WNBA, a big house for my parents, making a lot of money, living in a nice warm area,” she says, closing her eyes and imagining a perfect future. “Oh, and I’d have a dog.” Many college recruiters assume Sierra will also end up at UConn, which has a dominant women’s team, but say they’re rooting for both kids—as long as they aren’t playing against one of them. “They’re a good family,” says Brandin Knight, a University of Pittsburgh assistant coach who wooed Omar Jr. “The dad is very guarded, but for all the right reasons. I see a lot of parents who are all about ‘What can I get?’ The Calhouns are not out selling their kids.”