East Hills native Khari Hicks: ‘My purpose in life is to guide the younger generation
McKEESPORT—Growing up in East Hills, Penn State Greater Allegheny Basketball Player Khari Hicks was always pushed to be the best player he could be. In a neighborhood where there is sometimes violence and negativity, Hicks said he used basketball as a way to pave his own path to success and change the way people view his community.
“A lot of people think of violence and negative events when discussing my neighborhood,” said Hicks. “I just want to bring a positive spotlight to my community and show how it truly should be labeled. Growing up in (East Hills) gave me the toughness and perseverance to overcome anything, and I am going to keep that mindset to reach my goal of graduating and getting my degree.”
Basketball wasn’t always Hicks’ favorite sport growing up. He primarily played football until his brother, Neo Fisher, started encouraging him to play basketball. As the two started playing the game more and more, Hicks fell in love with the game, eventually turning it into his primary sport.
“Football was my first sport, but my brother, Neo, was pretty good in basketball, and it persuaded me to start playing,” said Hicks. “He always wanted me to play, so that would make me want to play even more. He always encouraged us to want to win. If we lose, we aren’t doing something right so we would just practice to get better.”
All the hours of training and the motivation of his community led Hicks to Allderdice High School where he started his basketball career. He didn’t play much his freshman year and was looking for somewhere where he could continue to grow on the court. That’s when Imani Christian Academy Head Basketball Coach Khari Wilson approached him with a chance for him to continue playing the sport he loves.
Hicks first met Wilson at a summer league in East Hills. Wilson was impressed with Hicks’ skills and wanted to help lead him on the path to success, both on and off the court.
“(Wilson) came up to my neighborhood to recruit me,” Hicks said. “We had a summer league basketball team my ninth-grade year, and he liked how I played. He said he didn’t want me to fall victim to my neighborhood that I was growing up in. Imani was a good path for me to go and he thought that would be the best situation for me so that’s where I went.”
Hicks’ basketball career would take off at Imani Christian Academy, where he was a three-year player on the basketball team. His best game at Imani came in his junior season against Oak Hill High School where he put up 15 points and went 5-for-5 from the 3-point line. Hicks continued the success into his senior year where averaged 18.1 points per game and was named a captain.
After finishing up high school, Hicks wanted to continue on the path to success and use the perseverance and strength instilled in him from a young age to go out and get his degree. After searching around for colleges, it was a small town that he visited several times where he found his perfect match in Penn State University Greater Allegheny. He fell in love with the campus and knew it would be the right place for him to continue his career on the court and in life.
“I had been to McKeesport so many times, and I never knew this campus existed,” said Hicks. “It looked nice, the people were fun. It was a family environment and everyone cared about you. Then, I learned about the resources offered here and I knew it was going to be a good fit for me.”
Hicks was entering a new situation coming into PSUGA. The program was getting a new head coach, Tyler Care, who was looking to change the culture of the team. When he saw Hicks and his work ethic, he knew that he would be the right fit for the PSUGA Men’s Basketball Program.
“Khari had everything a coach could want in a player,” Care said. “He is extremely hard-working, dedicated, tough and very athletic. It was a no brainer that I wanted him to be a part of the GA program from Day 1. He has been the heart of this program, and really, the program would not be where it is today without him.”
Hicks got the chance to shine right away being named a starter in his freshman season. He put up 463 points that season, averaging 17.8 points per game, and helped the team raise its win total from five the year before to an 8-18 record.
“My freshman year we went 8-18 and every year we set the bar higher and higher. My second year here was the first time we made the playoffs, and we lost in the semifinals. Then, we finally won it all in my junior year (2017). It was a great experience, and I was happy to be a part of it,” Hicks said.
Hicks’ team won the Penn State University Athletic Conference Tournament, the conference to which PSUGA belongs. They also qualified and won games in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
Hicks soon began to focus even more on being a team-oriented player, helping others around him succeed on the court. And he has a record to show for it, as he holds the all-time assist record at PSUGA, collecting 386 assists through his four years with the team. He also holds the records for assists in a season (154), assists in a single game (17), and games played (104). Hicks went on to score over 1,000 points in his PSUGA career on Nov. 8, 2017, when his team beat Point Park, 82-77.
While he was shining on the court, Hicks never lost site of the ultimate goal of working toward his degree. He credits the assistance and services offered by Penn State Greater Allegheny as a big reason why he saw his success not only on the court, but in the classroom as well.
“The teachers…work with you and help you with everything you have to do as an athlete,” said Hicks. “Miss April (Belback) has been a big help and is basically my advisor, and in the learning center, Miss Lailee, Miss Shevon (Brooks), and Miss Erica (Willis) have been a big help as well.”
Coming into the college experience, Hicks had no idea that PSUGA existed. His message to up-and-coming athletes who want to play basketball at the collegiate level is to not worry about the name or size of the school, but the opportunities a school can give you to grow and reach your potential. “There are a lot of big name schools that you can go to where you won’t have a good bond like you do at PSUGA,” Hicks said. “When you come here it’s a small school, but it’s a Penn State degree and you’ll have fun playing. It is a real good experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Hicks, a communications major, upon graduation wants to use the tools he has learned to give back to the community that shaped him into the man he is today. “My purpose in life is to guide the younger generation, so one of my life missions is to try and get a community center in East Hills, just to help the kids stay in the right direction,” Hicks said. “I just want to show the younger generation that there is a different path.”
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