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College student-athlete keeps brother alive through basketball

By Derek Malush, Point Park News Service

Rushan E. Roberts didn’t expect much of himself growing up in the Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Roberts was enclosed in a life of violence and drugs that created an unsettling environment for his family to grow up around.

Desperately trying to figure his way out of the “continuous cycle,” of guns, Roberts found the light and the key to his success in 2014. However, it came with an unimaginable price.

“I remember the whole night like it was yesterday,” said Roberts.

Monday, June 23, 2014 was a clear, sunny, 81-degree day in the Hill District as Roberts and a friend walked to the nearby basketball court to practice. After getting home around 10 p.m. that night, relaxing on the couch, he glanced out of his window to see an ambulance circling the block.

Roberts thought, “this was normal…this is the neighborhood people get shot in all the time.”

It was only a few seconds later he heard his mother yell his name.

“The last time my mom yelled my name like that was five years ago when my best friend died,” Roberts recalled.

This time was no different.

His brother, 23-year-old Andre Roberts was shot twice in the shoulder and once in the back at the intersection of Junilla Street and Webster Avenue. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

Roberts said when he heard the news, “not even a tear came over me.”

“I felt like my brother’s spirit, his characteristics, his influence just jumped inside of me,” Roberts said. “That day I became a man.”

Andre was Rushan’s rock, his mentor, his best friend, his other half. They did everything together. Andre served as the motivation for the young Roberts when he was in high school in an attempt to keep him off of the streets.

“He even told police that he did a crime that he wasn’t a part of so he could take my place in the holding cell,” Roberts said. “That is who my brother was.”

Today, Roberts uses his brother’s death as motivation. A senior at Point Park University studying business, the Brashear High School graduate runs the Ozanam After School Program alongside lifelong mentor Darelle Porter coaching and teaching young children basketball and assisting with their homework.

“Rushan is just a younger version of me,” said Porter.

Roberts joined the program as a teenager and Porter took him under his wing.

“Our friendship has grown into something more than just being friends,” said Porter, a former AAU college basketball coach.

Roberts said he could have easily fallen into the life of gangs and drug dealers, but chose to live and work in order to support himself and his family.

“He uses all the things he has been through and turns it into his fuel for success,” said Porter.

Roberts said that he never planned to avenge his brother’s death because, “if I did that, then I would just be a product of my environment, and that is not who I am.”

“Sure all the clothes and cars and jewelry I saw growing up were nice but that was all just fast money,” Roberts said. “I wanted to pave my own way.”

A few months following Andre’s death, Roberts enrolled himself at Carlow University to study business.

He was a part of Carlow’s first ever men’s basketball team for the first two years of his college career. Due to lack of playing time, Roberts transferred to Point Park to play for head coach Gabe Bubon.

“He really embraces trying to give back to kids that were in his situation,” said Bubon.“Those kids at that after school program love Rushan and I respect the hell out of him too.”

Roberts has high ambitions to be his own boss one day, even started a clothing line called, “Team Crawssover,” that dons a tagline of “A Brotherhood Full of Dream Chasers.”

He also has a love for tasteful music with the desire to open up a jazz bar in Pittsburgh somewhere in his near future.

“I also want to open up another after school program so that all kids from around the city not just locally can come join,” Roberts said.

Former teammate Asim Pleas describes Roberts as “the fearless-type.”

“He is up for any challenge and he was our encouraging leader…someone who provided positivity to his teammates every day,” Pleas said.

The former Carlow transfer is set to graduate from Point Park next fall and plans to come back to assist Bubon with the day-to-day basketball operations of the men’s basketball team. His dream, however, it to become a self-made business owner.

“I want to work for someone for about five years just to learn how things work in a business sense,” Roberts said. “But after that, I want to be my own boss for own my businesses.”

When the adolescent Roberts first walked into the Ammon Rec Center at the age of 15, he never dreamed of walking into that same establishment almost 10 years later and running the entire program.

It wasn’t Roberts’ plan to be who he is today, he said it happened to be God’s plan.

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