'They love him. That’s amazing': Alabama basketball team draws inspiration from Kingston Pettway, assistant coach's son with autism
INDIANAPOLIS — Antoine Pettway will be in his familiar position on the Alabama basketball bench Monday, serving as an assistant coach for the Crimson Tide basketball team.
His son, Kingston Pettway, will also be in a familiar spot, sitting in front of the family television, watching his father, probably not suspecting that he is inspiring the team — and many people beyond the team — as well.
Since Kim Minor Pettway went on Facebook and Twitter to share the story of Kingston, 9, the oldest of the Pettway’s three children and a special needs child with autism, there has been a huge outpouring of support and thanks on social media, a response that Minor Pettway said has been an inspiration to her as well.
“I never expected the response,” Minor Pettway said from Tuscaloosa on Monday morning. “I’ve heard from so many people. I heard from a mother who told me her child has just been diagnosed with autism and they hadn’t told anyone and this story was giving her strength.
“We were that way with Kingston. I always protected him, always shielded him. I was always more self-conscious because I didn’t want people to treat him differently. As he has gotten older, we’ve embraced him, not shielded him. He can play basketball. He can shoot and dribble. He can do so many things and people need to know that.
Minor Pettway said she put her child's story in the public eye for two reasons.
”First, the world needs to know how special this team is," she said. “Second, we talked about this and it’s time for Antoine and I to embrace that we can affect people positively. When we first received the diagnosis on Kingston, we were devastated. We asked, ‘Why us, God?’
“Now we ask, ‘Why not us? If we can help someone, then why not us?'”
Minor Pettway said she wasn’t trying to make Kingston an “inspiration” for the basketball team by sharing the story.
“They all have their own inspiration,” Minor Pettway said. “That’s what’s amazing. It has nothing to do with the cameras being on or people seeing them. I just know one thing: They love him. That’s amazing.
“I remember one night, Antoine came home and had forgotten something at the office so he had to go back to the Coliseum. He took King with him. Sure enough, I get a text a little later and Antoine says, ‘We’re going to be a little late.’ Josh Primo was in the gym getting in extra work and when he saw King, they started playing one-on-one. Josh didn’t have to do that.
”We are in Nashville for the SEC (Tournament) championship game and Herbert (Jones) sees King and starts fist-bumping him and talking about the game. There were no cameras around, just them and I’m thinking, ‘Herb, you’re the (SEC) Player of the Year, you don’t have to do that.’ But he wanted to do it.”
For Antoine Pettway, spending time away from his family while the team is in Indianapolis has been difficult.
“I love Antoine,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said Sunday. “As good of an assistant basketball coach as he is, he’s a better father. It’s special, me having three daughters. He’s got a kid with special needs, and it’s tough. It’s really tough in this bubble. … He FaceTimes home all the time.”
Minor Pettway says that in a way, this completes a cycle. As far back as 2002, the Pettways had a close relationship with Walt Gary, a loyal Alabama fan with Down syndrome. Gary was friends with many Alabama players over the years but none more than Antoine Pettway.
“I think about Walt all the time,” Minor Pettway said. “I thought about him this morning. It’s amazing how God works. This has come full circle for Antoine. He loved Walt. We were dating in college and Antoine would bring Walt to eat with us. They spent time together because Antoine loved him. All these years later, Antoine is coaching men who love Kingston the same way.”
Kim Minor Pettway, Kingston and her other children will be in Tuscaloosa today, pulling for Alabama for all the obvious reasons, including the fact that they will be able to come to Indianapolis in person if Alabama makes the Sweet 16.
”With three children, including a baby, it’s hard to get away but we will be there,” Minor Pettway said. “Summer Sky is only 8 months old, so she doesn’t know basketball. Jana Rae is 3 years old, so she is starting to learn about it, but she is Miss Priss and definitely runs the house. But Kingston will be right in front of the television, either being a player or a coach, depending on what he decides before the game.”
Alabama fans also know what he will be wearing — the trademark red shoes that his father wore as he carried Alabama to its most Sweet 16 appearance 17 years ago.
“Dr. Gene Aldridge (a Tuscaloosa physician and long-time season ticket holder) got Kingston his very first pair of red Converse shoes,” Minor Pettway said. “Now King has several pairs. He wears them in rotation, every game.
“He’ll be yelling as hard as he can. But what’s amazing is whatever happens, he will still love them and they will still love him.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt