Natchez standout playing basketball in Marines

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 14, 2009

OKINAWA, Japan — Jeremy Houston is one of the few, the proud. He is a basketball player.

Houston, a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, is also part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit, 3rd Marine Division basketball team in Okinawa, Japan.

The 21-year-old Natchez High graduate recently competed in the Far East Regional Basketball Tournament and was selected for the All-Marine Tryout Camp April 19 through May 9 at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

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“There will be people there watching,” Houston said. “They get the best players from Okinawa, from the (U.S.) East Coast and West Coast, and I have the chance to make the All-Marine Team. They go to the All-Armed Forces Tournament and play against the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.”

The All-Armed Forces Tournament will be May 10-18 in Millington, Tenn., and the All-Armed Forces team — chosen from that tournament — will defend its title in the International Military Sports Council Tournament in June.

Houston’s path to the Marines wasn’t a straight one, even though he played basketball almost the whole way through.

He started out at Northeast Mississippi Community College but was not satisfied with the school, so he decided to do something different.

“I just wanted to try something new, to go see the world, I guess,” Houston said. “I’ve done that. I’ve been to the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Australia and, now, Japan.”

And while Houston took a hiatus from playing organized basketball, he never really left the court.

His recruiter had told him about the All-Marine team, and making that team was a goal in his mind even as he was being deployed around the world for a year and a half.

“I would go to the gym, and people saw me play and would ask me if I wanted to play for their team in open tournaments here,” Houston said. “We would play all over the island in different little tournaments. Then someone asked me if I wanted to play for the Third Marine Division for regionals. They brought the paperwork up to my command, and my officer signed off on it to let me go.”

Since then, Houston has been balancing life as a Marine with life as an athlete.

He said while it’s not always easy, it is definitely worth the effort to get to play his favorite sport.

“I wanted to do this from the start,” he said. “But it’s different. You have to remember that you’ve got to be a Marine first. Your work commitments come before basketball. But if your leadership knows that you play basketball and that you’re good at it, they’ll usually be lenient with you.”

Houston’s friend and fellow Marine Terrance Henderson said Houston is a goofy guy out of work and off the court.

But when it comes to the game, Henderson said, Houston is all business.

“He’s been doing it no problem,” Henderson said. “He has to go to work still, and at the end of the day he has to cut out and go to practice. He gets tired sometimes but he still pushes through it.”

Houston’s family in Natchez is also very proud of him, even if they are a bit worried from time to time.

His mother, Teresa Houston, said she is excited he will be coming back to the U.S. for the tryout camp.

“If he gets to play in the (All-Armed Forces Tournament) we’ll go to Tennessee to watch him too,” she said. “I know he’s going to get selected. He just has such a passion for basketball — he just loves it.”

Teresa said she was nervous and a bit upset when her son first chose to join the Marines.

But now, she said, she knows why he made the choice.

“He wasn’t getting the coaching he thought he was going to get (at school), and it wasn’t all that he thought it was going to be,” she said. “I think that’s what really happened for him to make the move. He said he wanted to start making his own money, and the recruiter told us he would be able to play basketball.”

Jeremy said he misses his family back home, but he has enjoyed the chance he’s had to visit so many different places.

He said even if the culture takes some getting used to — “They drive on the left-hand side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car her,” he said — Jeremy has enjoyed the time he’s spent in Okinawa.

But now his goal is to move up the basketball ladder, and possibly re-enlist in the Marines for another four years.

“Hopefully I will get me a deployment to Afghanistan,” he said. “I like the Marines. I like the camaraderie.”