KANSAS CITY, Mo. - You might know that a basketball hoop hangs in the Chiefs' practice locker room, above the entrance to the bathroom.
Someone has even taped what presumably is supposed to be a 3-point line - though it's straight, not arched - to the floor. A few basketballs are always available, and there is rarely a shortage of professional football players trying to convince someone - anyone - of their hoops skills.
Just the other day, receiver Mecole Hardman was trying trick shots. We made a bet. He now owes me a 10-minute interview because he missed. Defensive lineman Khalen Saunders calls himself "Fat Kyrie," and to be honest, it's the perfect nickname for his game. But this is not a story about Chiefs playing pretend basketball in the locker room.
This is a story about a Chiefs player who once played all the basketball, enough that he was - yes, this exists - the No. 1-ranked seventh grader in the country.
"Man, I could do everything," Reggie Ragland said. "I could shoot, pass, dribble, everything."
Ragland even remembers making SLAM magazine once - "I was their Big Baller of the month," he said - but it should not surprise you that Ragland's hoop dreams quite literally stopped growing.
It's one thing to be a junior high version of Charles Barkley. But it's quite another to have the game of a power forward and the height of a point guard. Ragland dunked for the first time in sixth grade but says he was the same height at 12 that he is now.
That ranking actually lists him at 6-foot-3. Thirteen years later, he is officially listed at 6-2.
The existence of a seventh-grade rankings list is actually pretty sad, depending on how much you think about it. There are successes, like Ragland and Kyle Anderson and Perry Ellis, but for the most part, if you're put at the top in junior high, there is nowhere to go but down. Google some names and you find a lot of flameouts, and a few tragedies.
Nobody can know whether a junior high kid has a future in professional sports, but this seemed possible for Ragland. He had an uncle who played overseas and a brother who grew into Alabama's Mr. Basketball and, well, here is where we duck out of the way and let Ragland's father make a point.
"You won't believe this," Reggie Sr. said. "But as soon as I found out his mama was having a boy, I was telling my friends, 'I don't care, no matter what, this kid is going to make it in something.' I've seen too many athletes come through in my family and just fall off because they didn't have the guidance. I knew I was going to guide him."
The stories of Ragland's childhood are almost comical: a sixth-grader with a linebacker's frame who could already dunk and hit a baseball 400 feet.
Yep. Four-hundred feet. I know. I'm skeptical, too, but here's Reggie Sr. again.
"That's no lie," he said.
Baseball is actually a touchy subject around the Raglands.
"If I have a regret doing anything it's quitting baseball," Reggie said.
"I regret that every day of the week," Reggie Sr. said.
This might be starting to sound like a father who pushed his kid, but in separate conversations both Reggies said it was the kid who pushed. Reggie Jr. said his dad never forced him to do anything, and Reggie Sr. remembers being woken from a nap because his son wanted to go run.
Listen to Reggie Jr. talk about baseball and it's hard to imagine him needing to be pushed to practice.
"That was really one of my first loves," he said. "There's just something about hitting a baseball. Plus, if you can hit a baseball you make a lot of money."
If he would've chosen baseball over football?
"Oh, I'd be in the major leagues," he said. "Just bringing in the dough. Yes sir, definitely, definitely."
Speaking of money, Ragland has said he wants to make more of it after football than with football. He graduated from Alabama with a degree in consumer affairs and wants to get into real estate, maybe own restaurants, be entrepreneurial.
The dream scenario would be, say, starting a chain of restaurants. Then he gives one to his mom, one to his brothers, and so on. Playing football, he's working for somebody. But in business, he can have people working for him.
"I'm thinking about generational wealth in my family," he said. "Because somebody has to start it. My family really ain't never had it like that. Somebody has to make that change, so why not me?"
At this point, we realize we've gone 800 words and not talked about football. We have no regrets. If the nation's No. 1 seventh-grade hooper grows into a middle linebacker for the Chiefs, with broken baseball dreams in between, you need to know about it.
Lots more on the defense coming soon, too, because whether you believe it or not, they're fulfilling their side of the bargain with the Chiefs' offense.
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