One of the women who helped raise North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks says she won’t be cheering for him when UNC plays its national semifinal game against Oregon on Saturday night.
Nope. Rosalie Meeks says she doesn’t need to.
“The rest of ’em will be hollering, so it don’t leave no room for me to cheer,” says the 91-year-old great-grandmother and matriarch of the former West Charlotte High School star’s family. In fact, she might not even make it through the whole game, which she plans to watch in the den of the house Kennedy Meeks grew up in, with assorted family members.
“Sometimes I go to bed in my room (before games are over), because they holler, yell, stomp,” Rosalie Meeks says. “I told ’em, ‘This house has settled, I know, 3 inches from everybody stomping. Oh, they can stomp, stomp and hit, hit. My goodness, it don’t take all of that.”
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Rosalie Meeks was the foundation for a support system that also included Kennedy Meeks’ mother, Nakhia, and his great-aunt, Brenda Richmond. The latter two are in Phoenix this weekend for the Final Four, which is Kennedy’s last shot at national championship. He’ll graduate in May.
To be clear, while her words might sound a bit ornery, Rosalie Meeks is a huge fan of her great-grandson’s. She’d love to see him follow up his seven-point, 17-rebound game against Kentucky in the Elite Eight by beating the Ducks, then winning a national title Monday against Gonzaga or South Carolina.
But she’s even more excited to see him in a cap and gown.
“Carolina winning ... that’s just a game,” Rosalie Meeks says. “But a degree is life. And you can’t take that away. I think education and being a Christian means everything.
“He did what I asked him to do,” she says, in regards to him staying in school for four years. “Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, Kennedy’s gonna go pro.’ I said to Kennedy, ‘Gene Potts ... he was one of the first WGIV broadcasters. And he would say, ‘Silver and gold will fade away, but a good education will never decay.’ ’ ... Money means a lot just to buy stuff. But when it’s over with, what do you have after that? Stuff.”
She could talk about Kennedy – and the importance of education, and of religion, and of good parenting – for hours. And she might have Friday morning, if someone hadn’t pried her away for lunch.
But in our 50 minutes with her, Rosalie Meeks gave us a litany of colorful quotes pertaining to her favorite basketball player, as he heads into the final weekend of his college career.
She talked to Kennedy early this week and told him: “Same thing I always say: ‘Be good. Look people in the eyes, and talk to ’em.’ ... I taught him what my parents taught me: Learn how to speak, and look people in the eye. You have no reason to hold your head down.”
But what did she say to him about the game? “Do your best. That’s all you can do is your best. And take God with you. ’Cause when you see him turn his head this way” – she cocks hers toward the ceiling – “I say, ‘Oh Lord, he’s praying. Answer his prayer!’ ... But then I’ll tell him: ‘You know, them other grandmamas want their sons to win, too.’ ”
What else? “Try to stay out of others’ way, so he don’t get hurt. ... (When I see someone) tripping people, I say, ‘Well, Lord, where in world is his mama?’ ”
Again, she honestly can’t believe how worked up some people get about college basketball: “I had one church member that called me (after the Kentucky game) and said, ‘I was looking at the game, and I got so excited I just had to go to the other room, and by the time I got back, it was over.’ I said, ‘Well, you need to stop getting that excited.’ I get excited, but not that excited. I don’t plan on having no heart attack over it.”
Speaking of emotions, did you know this about Kennedy Meeks? “His nickname is Baby. ’Cause if he loses a game, even little games – AAU games – when he get his head between his knees, that means he’s sobbing. I said, ‘Boy, you’ve gotta stop crying. Life is hard.’ ... When he graduated from West Charlotte, they gave him a great big bookbag, and on it was ‘Big Baby.’ He was a huge fellow then – what, three-something? Three-fifty? Yeah, and he wasn’t cookin’ it, man, he just liked to eat.”
Is she really not going to cheer during the game Saturday night? “Nope.”
What’s she going to do, then? “Sit there. And pray that they’ll win.”