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Saddiq Bey's biggest motivator — and critic — may be his mom

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It’s common for kids with hoop dreams to hear mom yelling from the sidelines and offering critiques on the way home from AAU and high school games, met with rolled eyes and cheeks blowing out air.

But it’s hard to ignore your mom when she played college basketball at UNC-Charlotte, a team MVP her senior season.

Detroit Pistons rookie Saddiq Bey gets coached hard by Dwane Casey, but it probably doesn’t compare to his mom, Dr. Drewana Bey, not mincing words or lowering expectations during those car rides home.

“I was very critical. Very critical like, I felt like he couldn't defend a stop sign. Saddiq could not play defense,” Drewana Bey, now an Instructional Superintendent in the Washington D.C. Public Schools, told Yahoo Sports. “He was always a shooter. But defending? Anybody could get past him.”

That’s not the Saddiq Bey who’s surprised many on the NBA scene as better than average on defense and projects to be much more as time progresses. His shooting 38% from three-point range this season means mom wasn’t wrong, but back in the Washington D.C. area in the late 2000s, all she saw was a small kid with big feet.

Drewana Bey played college basketball at UNC-Charlotte. (Charlotte Sports Information)
Drewana Bey played college basketball at UNC-Charlotte. (Charlotte Sports Information)

“He wasn’t quick. I wasn’t quick, his [biological] dad wasn’t quick, we all played ball,” she said. “He got that honest. We were not known to be super athletic people.”

To Saddiq’s credit, and true to his character he displays as a pro, he didn’t say much, never responding to his mom’s honest truths.

“I was on him pretty hard. I felt like he wasn’t aggressive enough,” Drewana said, recalling a conversation where she told her son after a game, “You think you’re gonna play? You won’t even make your middle school team.”

Instead, she became his biggest motivator, believing if he could win over his mother he could win over anyone. He called it “a blessing in disguise.”

“It was hard to do but try to learn and hear what she’s saying, not how she’s saying it,” Saddiq said. “And I was always confident in myself, no matter what somebody said about me or said to me, whether it was her or my family, or anybody on the outside.”

'My mom’s beating me in front of my friends'

Emphasizing that Saddiq was well-behaved, aware of his surroundings and mild-mannered, Drewana remembers the one time she stepped on a basketball court to play against her 9-year-old son at his friend’s house.

Well, it was largely forced, she says, watching Saddiq and his friend scoring on the big kid on the court — who wound up playing on the University of Maryland’s offensive line — and she was called to even the matchup.

Walking out in flip-flops, Drewana helped settle the score but inflamed her hyper-competitive but quiet son. She wasn’t scoring on them, just putting the bigger kid in positions to score.

However, she wasn’t letting Saddiq get any easy shots — or shots period.

“I wasn't one of those that will let you score. I’m blocking his shots and he’s getting so mad,” Drewana said.

“She’s tall, and she’s good. She blocked my shot and scored on me a couple times,” Saddiq said.

 Saddiq Bey #41 of the Detroit Pistons looks to shoot a free throw against the Toronto Raptors during the third quarter at Little Caesars Arena on March 17, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Saddiq Bey learned a hard lesson while playing basketball against his mom. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

He wound up giving her hard fouls — as hard as a 9-year-old can produce — out of frustration.

“He tried to foul me hard, like he’s forgotten he’s playing his mom. Like we’re playing around and he’s serious.”

It was a rare case of Saddiq letting his emotions get the better of him, clenching his fists for a moment but visibly angry. The game stopped and although it wasn’t time to leave, it was time for Drewana to take her son home.

When they made it back home, she ordered Saddiq to his room and he didn’t emerge until the next day.

“Although he was calmer than when he was in that moment, you can tell he was still upset with me, he was so mad about this game,” Drewana said. “It bothered him that he had a mom who likes playing and I could talk trash and all of that. And so I'm pretty sure I gave him motivation.”

Saddiq calls basketball his “obsession” and attributes the incident to his competitiveness, which he points out is a trait in his mother as well.

“I know she was a big-time D-1 player and everything, but at 9 years old? My mom’s beating me in front of my friends,” Saddiq said. “That’s a testament to her.”

How Saddiq helped bring focus into Drewana’s life

If being motivated by mom pushed him to greater heights, it was a return given Saddiq brought focus into Drewana’s life.

“For the first time in my life, I wasn't as focused, [I] didn't really have a clear goal what I wanted to do even after college,” Drewana recalls. “Basketball, I enjoyed it but by the time I was done with my four years I was done.”

She averaged 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 28 games, and initially planned to go to pharmacy school, but got pregnant shortly after graduation.

“It gave me that focus again,” Drewana said. “Because it's not about me focusing on myself, I gotta focus on this kid right here and make sure that he's good.”

She returned to Maryland and even though she came from a family full of educators, she resisted following in the footsteps — until she stepped into a seventh-grade classroom and felt at home.

Saddiq Bey and his mom, Drewana. (Drewana Bey)
Saddiq Bey and his mom, Drewana. (Photoss courtesy Drewana Bey)

It was the perfect situation, in a sense. She was continuing her own education as a young parent but also able to assess what her students needed from a different lens. Before Saddiq’s stepfather came into his life, it was mom and son for the first eight or nine years.

“I was learning how to be a teacher and a parent at the same time,” Drewana said. “Saddiq was really young but I included him. We were growing together. He helped recenter me.”

As Saddiq was growing up in the competitive D.C. area, Drewana emphasized education and basketball but drew a line at being a helicopter mom, teaching him to advocate for himself. Her basketball experience didn’t mean she’d swoop in to save him when things didn’t go his way.

 “He became a person very quickly who wanted to do it on his own,” Drewana said. “He wanted to, you know, forge his path for himself and was never afraid to put the work in even when people are critical of him.”

That was on display when Saddiq attended summer camp at famed DeMatha High School — which produced current NBA players Victor Oladipo, Markelle Fultz and current teammate Jerami Grant — every year until he enrolled at the school as a freshman.

'I didn’t see college player’

After being told by his coach he couldn’t try out for the JV team, he responded by winning MVP on the freshman team. Still, though, Drewana wasn’t a believer.

“I'm gonna be honest, like, basketball-wise, I was not thinking that he was gonna have a trajectory with basketball,” Drewana said. “I didn’t see ‘college player.’”

Saddiq was a good student, though, and Drewana wanted to put him in a better position academically.

So on the advice of a family friend, Saddiq transferred to Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, Maryland, a private, college-prep academy attended by former President Barack Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia.

The education was up to mom’s standards. Tuition? $42,000 a year.

“It’s hard for them to get athletes, they don’t care that you’re a basketball prospect or not,” Drewana said. “They want to know how you are academically.”

She connected with the coach, Cliff Singletary, who informed her Saddiq would have to test to get in and although there would be assistance with the tuition, being a basketball player would have no impact on his acceptance.

“And he trusted me,” Drewana said of Saddiq, whose daily commute could take up to two hours. "It really had nothing to do with basketball. Athletics-wise, at the time, I didn’t see Division I, Division II, Division III.”

As Saddiq grew into his body, excelled academically and athletically, and started gaining attention at this school not known for athletics, scholarship offers came in, starting with Towson University.

Safe to say, Drewana was even more surprised when offers from Connecticut, Florida and Notre Dame arrived for Saddiq.

But she was turned off by the recruiting because she kept hearing this one phrase: “Pro prospect."

“I really was the last one to know, even when he started really, really being recruited after his junior year. I wasn’t convinced even then,” she said. “And you’re saying this? You’ll say anything to these kids.

“Even his high school coach was saying to me, like, if Saddiq continues on this trajectory, he'll be able to earn a living at this. And I was looking at him like, what are you talking about? Like, I just could not wrap my brain around it.”

Saddiq never asked his mom why she didn’t see him as the kid who grew into those big feet and into someone who could take his game to the next level. He kept grinding, quietly yet competitively.

And even though she was being practical and safe, she couldn’t help but admire his determination.

“That probably was a motivation for him. For him to not rebel or be angry, but more like use it as fuel or just steel,” Drewana said. “Keep his own focus and say, ‘I hear what she's saying. And I know she loves me. I know she wants what's best for me.’ But I'm gonna stay focused on what it is that I want.”

He wound up attending Villanova and as preparation for the academic load, she made him take a writing class the summer before, and “he hated it,” she said.

“But he loved it,” she said, referring to his competitive side. “It helped him get to Villanova and be able to balance high-level basketball while also doing well in the classroom.”

'We get degrees in this family'

As a sophomore, he was on track to graduate in three years when Villanova coach Jay Wright called Drewana to tell her NBA teams saw Saddiq as a first-round pick.

“No, no, no, we get degrees in this family,” she said. “Like, we get multiple degrees. We don't leave school early. So what are you talking about?”

But the COVID-19 pandemic soon hit, leaving Saddiq and mom to discuss the possibilities over several months.

“And I'll be talking about it like every day, like, these are pros and cons,” Saddiq said. “She kind of knew in my mind, like, I was leaning towards I want to go [pro], I believe in myself. But, you know, she always made sure I looked at both sides, the worst-case scenario on both sides. At the end of the day, she supports anything I wanted to do and my dreams.”

Saddiq Bey #41 of the Villanova Wildcats controls the ball against the Providence Friars at the Wells Fargo Center on February 29, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Providence Friars defeated the Villanova Wildcats 58-54. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Saddiq Bey played two seasons at Villanova. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

On draft day, Detroit wasn’t on the Beys’ radar, but new general manager Troy Weaver maneuvered a trade with the Brooklyn Nets to get Bey at the 19th pick. Weaver, a D.C. native himself, actually began the D.C. Assault AAU team Bey played on — although he left the AAU circuit for college and the NBA well before Bey arrived.

As Saddiq has excelled and surprised many, it’s a feeling he’s used to considering his roots. And while Drewana is, of course, surprised herself, she’s enjoying this part of the journey.

Sort of.

“It’s exciting, definitely been exciting,” Drewana said. “But it’s nerve-wracking for me, as a mom. I get really nervous. I don’t even watch the games, I record them and wait to see if we won and see how he did. If he didn’t do so well, I don’t watch the games.”

Saddiq has had some standout performances and is a shoo-in for the All-Rookie Team, thanks in part to setting a rookie record of 11 games with five 3-pointers or more this season.

Drewana came to visit Saddiq recently, and Saddiq said he was sending her a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day when she arrives back in D.C., but was unsure of his other plans.

One thing he knows for sure, it won’t be an invitation to play one-on-one.

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