(Yonhap Feature) Tough as Leather: KBL star has life stories to tell
By Jonathan Sanfilippo
GOYANG, South Korea, March 5 (Yonhap) -- Terrence Leather of the United States faced terrible hardships early in his life, but now he's enjoying success as a professional basketball player for the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus in the Korean Basketball League (KBL).
Leather, who's about 200 centimeters tall and starts at center for the Mobis Phoebus, is now in his fifth season in the KBL. During his career in the league, he has averaged 20.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while playing for four different teams -- the Seoul Samsung Thunders, Jeonju KCC Egis, Seoul SK Knights and now the Mobis Phoebus. As of Feb. 25, he ranked fourth in the KBL in scoring (24.7 points per game) and second in rebounding (13.5 rebounds per game) this season.
"Korea's been good to me," he said after a game in February against the Goyang Orions at Goyang Gymnasium. "The KBL's been very good. It's a very good league to play in. It has its ups and downs as well as anything does, but overall it's been good to me."
Leather's play has been important to his team. The Mobis Phoebus struggled early in the season before winning seven games in a row during a stretch in February. As a result of the team's improvement over the past month, the Mobis Phoebus had a 26-25 record as of Feb. 25 and had qualified for the playoffs.
Before becoming a professional basketball player, Terrence Leather, pictured here after a game on Feb. 11, 2012, had to cope with the deaths of his father and sister. (Courtesy of Jonathan Sanfilippo)
"He's physically strong, and he has great determination," Mobis Phoebus coach Yoo Jae-hak said of Leather. "He hates losing."
While Leather often makes playing in the KBL look easy, his journey to becoming a professional basketball player was extremely difficult.
Growing up, he was the youngest member of a family with nine children that lived in a dangerous part of Tampa, Florida. When Leather was 2 years old, his father was shot and killed. When he was a teenager, one of his sisters was stabbed to death.
"Growing up without a father, that's tough," he said. "Seeing my momma raise nine kids by herself and watching her fighting every day gave me the fighting spirit that I have now. But it was tough growing up without my dad, and I was 19 when my sister got murdered, so that really hurt me. That hurt me because I understood the concept of death. But we realize that my sister is in a better place, and it gives me motivation to play strong and play hard whenever I play the game of basketball."
Leather got an opportunity to have a better life when he earned a scholarship to play basketball for the University of South Florida (USF). When he first arrived on the school's campus, he had problems controlling his emotions and often disagreed with coaches. As a result, he didn't play much during his first few seasons. But as his college career progressed, he became more mature, learned to work with the coaching staff and earned more playing time. He went on to lead USF in scoring and rebounding in both his junior and senior years.
"My first two years were very hard," he said. "I was just coming off my sister's death, and it was hard for me to make a transition from high school to college. But I thank God and my mom for sticking by me and being there for me when I had those hard days my first couple years in college, and I made it through."
Since finishing his college career in 2005, Leather has played professional basketball in several countries, including Spain, Portugal, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
Leather (L), pictured during a basketball game on Dec. 29, 2011 in Ulsan (Yonhap file photo)
When asked about adjusting to aspects of life in Korea that are different than those in the U.S. -- such as the culture, language and food -- Leather said he gets help from his mother, who sends him gift packages from home, and the Mobis Phoebus' team cook, who often makes him Americanized meals. He sometimes used to go sightseeing around Korea during his first year in the KBL, but nowadays he usually stays at home.
"I really don't do anything while I'm here, just being a homebody," he said.
This KBL season is different from past years for Leather, who has four children -- a son with his current girlfriend and "three beautiful little girls" from a previous relationship. During his first four KBL seasons, Leather's girlfriend and son lived with him in Korea. However, they're unable to accompany him this season because his girlfriend is currently taking classes at USF.
"They usually come, but she's in school now," he said.
Leather said he still thinks about his father and sister whom he lost growing up. When asked if he had advice for anyone who is coping with hardships, particularly the death of a family member or friend, he said they should use the adversity as motivation.
"Think about it as if (your lost loved one is) looking down upon you, and try to make an impact in the world," he said. "It's not just about doing things for yourself. Try to make an impact in the world and do something good for somebody."