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On Dreams, the Future, and Shan Foster

What do you dream of? What do you know about yourself?

For Shan Foster, the dream was simple: make it to the NBA. This is not a particularly unique dream, but it is a difficult one to achieve. Indeed, according to this ranting, excruciatingly long and vulgar blog post, the odds of such an event occurring for a random 14 year old basketball player are 7 in 540,000.

But Shan was no ordinary basketball player. He served as his high school team’s captain for all three of his years in high school, garnering First-Team All State, All-Metro MVP, and All-City and All-District awards while playing in a suburb of New Orleans. Impressively, he made his school’s academic honor roll. From this point, Shan was heavily recruited, and ended up picking Vanderbilt over Kansas, Notre Dame, Illinois, and LSU.

His college career was a great success as well. Shan’s freshman year, he shot 44.5% from the 3 point line and averaged 9.2 a game. His sophomore year and junior year continued his improvement, but it was in his senior year that Shan really hit his stride. He lead Vandy to a 16-0 record, before falling to Kentucky in double overtime (Vanderbilt would get Kentucky back a month later, though, when they beat the Wildcats 93-52). In a game against 25th ranked Mississippi State, Foster hit nine consecutive three pointers, before hitting the game winning jumper to win the game 86-85, finishing with 42 points. He was so spectacular that season that he finished with the 2008 SEC Player of the Year award, not a small honor in such a big conference.

Shan then moved on to the NBA draft process, almost certain to be drafted. In their March 20th mock draft, DraftExpress actually predicted Foster would be taken in the first round, commenting "At the moment, it's hard to look at the stats and call him anything else but the best shooter in college basketball."

And that’s when Shan composed the NBA Draft song above. It’s a remarkable achievement for a young man, to be honest. It manages to combine much of what makes Shan so interesting: his NBA talent, his earnest chase for a dream, his honor student and musical gifts are all rolled up into this one performance. It’s not just the talent that Shan displays in the video, though, but also the excitement. Is there anything more identifiable, more human, than someone who’s excited to get to somewhere they always wanted to go?

I’m only 21, I’m still on the school path, I’m not really at the point of my life where I’m even considering playing the role of the "family man". But Shan Foster’s video makes me want to have children, if only to be able to witness my kids, possibly, doing what Shan did in this video. Hell, just watching the 2 minutes of Shan’s video, you feel a legitimate connection to his identity and spirit. You want to see him when he achieves his dream, because nobody deserves it more.

And that’s what makes is so heartbreaking to learn that Shan’s never played in the NBA. The lyric "But now I’m headed to the NBA" makes it abundantly clear: at this point, Shan playing in the league was a definite; a when, not an if. Shan thought he was there, and he had every right to believe that. After all, he had worked unimaginably hard to be the best player in his conference, possessing a legitimate NBA skill (his shooting), and was assuredly going to be drafted. And he was. But it wasn’t enough.

Shan’s story is even more devastating because of the manner of his fall: he just blew his chance. The routine is pretty simple for second round picks, especially those who meet a team need: play well enough or show promise in summer league and training camp, and you’re usually signed. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for Shan: "Shan Foster was a big disappointment once again", DraftExpress noted at the time. "forcing bad shots and even air-balling one 3-pointer by about five feet… He looks like he’s putting way too much pressure on himself, and will need to settle down a bit and remember what got him here. He unfortunately doesn’t bring enough to the table besides his shooting to be as cold as he’s been thus far." So he went to the Italian League and played for Caserta, where he only shot 40.7% from the field and 35.8% from three, just not good enough to demand being brought to the NBA. While he played in a couple more summer leagues with Dallas, he never really impressed. In 2010, when ran an article about unsigned draft picks, Foster’s chance of making it to the NBA was listed at 0%. He now plays for Mons in the Belgian League.

He’s been somewhat better recently, but really, he simply doesn’t have the talent to make an NBA roster. His one NBA skill is no longer NBA caliber. Why did the Jazz trade for him? Maybe on the off-chance his shooting stroke comes back. Or maybe to make a young Jazz writer named Andy happy. Who knows?

Some stories have no morals, no lessons to learn. That may be the way we prefer to view Shan’s tale, because the alternative is so frightening: if you work really, really hard, are an honor student and all-around great kid, then maybe, just maybe, you too can get really close to your dreams but not quite get there.

Luckily, Shan seems like he's doing all right:

The story may not go the way you want it to go, but if you can fall on your knees and say Lord not my will, but your will be done... God will give you the strength to endure what you thought you couldn't make it though, and give you EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY ABOVE ALL!!!!! - ShanFoster_32 on Twitter

And nothing's better than that. By definition, actually.