Jourdanton junior point guard Payton Gonzales has never left the United States, much less been on a plane before. That will change the day before his 17th birthday on Sept. 5.
Gonzales was one of 14 athletes selected by San Antonio-based The Basketball Embassy (TBE) to participate in their 10-day international outreach program in Kosovo called the Youth Leadership through Sport (YLSP).
Payton got the official confirmation on Aug. 12. Head basketball coach Truman Reagan said you likely only need one hand to count the number of people from Jourdanton who have gone to Europe.
“It’s just crazy,” Gonzales said. “Like, I’m excited to meet new people from across the country and get to learn, not just from basketball, but also how they live, how they interact with each other. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
In the disputed territory claimed by Serbia, Gonzales will spend time coaching basketball to area youth while also experiencing the culture of Kosovo in an effort of cross-cultural understanding.
After suffering an injury to his hand, Gonzales, also a player for the Indian football team, has been limited in what he can do. Those limitations will likely carry over into his 10-day stay, meaning he will focus more on the coaching side as well as the cross-cultural learning TBE aims for.
Reagan feels that will go a long way for Payton in becoming the leader he wants to be this upcoming season.
“I’m excited because I know it’s gonna be a great experience for him personally, but at the same time, he’s going to come back having seen something that most of our kids haven’t seen. I think that’ll help him become a better leader, a better basketball player, have a broader viewpoint of life and basketball,” Reagan said. “He’s gonna see things he probably never even thought about, you know.”
Getting this chance has been a whirlwind process for the soon-to-be three-year varsity player. Gonzales’ official confirmation and approval from the United States Department of State came on Aug. 12, nearly a week after he had been told it was a possibility.
“I expected it to be gradual,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t expect one day the camp — The Basketball Embassy — the directors from there to call up and invite me to go with them on this journey. Just out of nowhere, they called up and said I was a nominee for it, that I have a chance to experience that.
“It seemed like a week later, I was already getting accepted to go. I’m sure the trip will come sooner than imagined.”
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can also open the door for Payton to pursue a career in basketball past high school. With all the work he has put in and a burning passion for the game, the junior feels he needs to make it to the next level.
“I feel it’ll help with my basketball training and everything, but it’ll definitely look good to colleges that I’ve been able to go and learn from coaches from a different continent, a different country,” Payton said. “And then take little things from each coach around the world and put it into my game and become the best player I can be and take that to a college program, hopefully.”
The opportunity almost didn’t happen after Payton’s mother, Candi, received an email from TBE Senior Administrator Meghan Huebinger saying her son was being considered for the opportunity. She almost ignored it until she got a call from The Basketball Embassy.
“I didn’t really know Meghan, so I kind of swept it to the side,” Candi said.
Then the family got a follow up email from the organization’s vice president, James Wetz.
“He said, ‘Candi, did you get the email? I really think this is a great opportunity for Payton. Payton would be a great asset for this,’” she recalled.
So, Candi sat down with her son to see if he wanted to make that trip. He didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Following that, both mother and son went to the Jourdanton ISD administration and athletic director and head football coach Darrell Andrus to make sure it was ok for Payton to leave during the school year and football season. He was given the green light by Jourdanton.
Payton, the fourthranked student in his class, was also given the work he would need to complete during his 10-day voyage. Both Payton and his mother were thankful for the understanding.
While funding trips like this has been done through crowdsourcing like GoFundMe recently, Candi only had to pay for her son’s passport. The rest is taken care of by TBE.
She didn’t hesitate to put the money down for her son to continue to chase his dreams much like she’s done time and time again.
“It’s amazing. My mom’s always been there for me, no matter what,” Payton said of his mom’s willingness to help. “She takes me pretty much across the state in the summer. Just a month ago, a coach called me and asked the day before a tournament if I wanted to play in Austin.”
Much like she did with the Kosovo trip, Candi sat down with her son and asked if he wanted to do this. He said yes and the two quickly packed up and headed north to Austin so he could play the next day.
“She’s always there for me. She’s at every single game. She’s always cheering me on,” said Payton. “She’s definitely my number one fan.”
This will also be Payton’s first birthday away from his mom. But his mom understands it’s time for the last bird in the nest to spread his wings.
“It’s time for him to shine,” she said.