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Love & Basketball: Kaneisha Atwater keeps striving for her son

Kaneisha Atwater with her son, Andarious, at Alico Arena during a recent home game. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs )
Kaneisha Atwater with her son, Andarious, at Alico Arena during a recent home game. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs )

For most kids entering college, their life-changing moment hasn’t happened yet. It’s all focused on getting to college, making new friends and figuring out how to live without mom and dad.

For Florida Gulf Coast University guard Kaneisha Atwater, a PARADE All-American in 2011 at Fort Pierce Westwood High School, her college career started with a new baby boy.

“I was committed to Old Dominion University at the end of my senior year, and two weeks away from getting on the plane to attend Old Dominion, I found out that I was pregnant,” Atwater said. “I was scared about what others might think of me, so I went home and discussed it with my family and decided to keep Andarious. Basically, I didn’t think I would play basketball anymore.”

After her son’s birth, an assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University, who asked if she was still interested in playing the game she loved, contacted Atwater. She accepted the opportunity and went on to play in 30 games as a freshman, but the void of not seeing her son weighed on her.

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“I had only seen him twice, and when I came home for Christmas he didn’t know who I was because I hadn’t seen him in two or three months,” Atwater said. “It was very difficult for me to be a mother and my son to not know who I am. I felt less as a mother, less as a person, so going back there was very emotional for me. I could not focus, my grades started dropping, and my performance on the court started to drop to the point where I couldn’t perform well.”

Kaneshia Atwater drives towards the net during the Kennesaw State game. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)
Kaneisha Atwater drives towards the net during the Kennesaw State game. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

The criminal justice major went back to Fort Pierce to be with her son and was then contacted by FGCU women’s basketball head coach Karl Smesko through email on Facebook about playing for the Eagles. Smesko laid out the possibilities of her going to school just an hour or two away and said that she could go home on weekends to see Andarious.

The only thing that stood in her way was that she could be sitting out for one year because of her transfer. Smesko and Atwater appealed to the NCAA for her to play immediately in the fall of 2013 and were successful.

“Coach (Smesko) told me that we might have a shot of you playing this year and I was like how are we going to do that? He told me we have to do a waiver and get it to the NCAA,” Atwater said. “I started writing letters and got letters from my coach at VCU and my guidance counselors in high school to show the kind of person I was and what I’ve been through, that I shouldn’t be penalized. They denied it at first, but Smesko and I didn’t give up and appealed. They found another player that had gone through the same thing having a boy, so they accepted the appeal and I could start playing right away.”

Atwater’s favorite movie is “Love & Basketball” and that connection is made between her son and the game.

“In the movie, she had a child as well and she still completed her dream so I can definitely relate to her having a kid and being able to get back out on the court,” said Atwater, who’s averaging 13.6 points a game and has helped lead the Eagles to a 20-2 record. “Seeing my son in the stands makes me more aggressive and want to achieve more.”

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