The drive from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Harvey lasts about seven hours.
Like any road trip, it is better with music, fast food and friends.
However, it’s pure misery when the main cargo is depressing uncertainty and all of the belongings from what might have been a last chance.
In Aug. 2012, Antonio Levy took that ride. Although a teammate who also happened to be leaving Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs was driving, Levy sat alone in the back with headphones and nagging big-picture questions pounding in his ears.
“Honestly I was just shocked,” Levy said. “I just couldn’t believe it at the time. I was just thinking, ‘What am I going to do next? What’s my next move? How did this happen? Why did it happen to me?’
“There were just so many thoughts going through my head. ‘What if I can’t play basketball anymore? I’ll probably get a job. My mother wouldn’t have that -- me being at home and doing nothing.”
Levy was headed back to the south suburbs because he was released from the team at Iowa Western following an altercation at a party that did not result in any arrests but was nonetheless a violation of team policy and cause for his dismissal.
His status as a starter and an all-region pick after a freshman season averaging 8.1 points and 2.6 assists per contest was washed away, and his career was in limbo.
While he was packing to leave the school and the program in the early days of what would have been the fall semester of his sophomore season, the Thornton graduate received a call from former high school teammate Charles Knowles, who seemed to have a good thing going at South Suburban.
A few phone calls and a weekend later, Levy was at South Suburban College meeting men’s basketball coach John Pigatti and registering for classes. A redshirt year and two months later, Levy is a starting guard for a team that plays the defending national champion and top-ranked team in NJCAA Division II, Rend Lake, at 7 tonight in South Holland.
Through two games of the young season, Levy, a 6-foot guard, is the second-leading scorer and top assist man for the Bulldogs. He’s making wiser choices in and out of the arena.
“Coach knows my lifestyle, the people I’m around with, so he was just telling me you can be this or you can be that,” Levy said. “He said, ‘What do you want to be, a basketball player or a street person? Do you want to do something with your life or not?’
“He knows it’s hard coming from where I come from, picking and choosing. He really stayed on me.”
As he’s done with countless young men from the south suburbs and northwest Indiana, eighth-year coach Pigatti has taken Levy away from within inches of quitting the game and given him an opportunity to find success and perhaps a Division I home.
Levy is one of three redshirt sophomores who had a front-row seat to SSC’s run to a sixth-place finish at the national finals last season.
At Thornton, Levy had looks from Division I schools such as Valparaiso, TCU, Western Kentucky and Oakland. However, his standardized test scores precluded him from playing Division I.
Now his game is more honed and Division I-ready than ever. He’s trying to be the seventh All-American in program history.
A typical day for Levy involves class from 9 a.m. to noon, shooting in the gym from noon to 2:30 and practice around 3 p.m. and into the evening.
The year away from competitive basketball, all the months of practicing as a redshirt, were tough, but now he’s reaping the rewards with better defense, less hesitation with the ball and more aggressive shot selection.
“He’s an explosive scorer, one of the best scorers we’ve had,” Pigatti said. “As time goes on, he’s going to be a great player.
“I think he’s learned from his mistakes. He just needs to understand right from wrong and get the street out of him a little bit.”
Levy’s learning curve on the court remains promising because he was a soccer player throughout his life until he joined basketball in eighth grade only because an older sister was playing.
Born and raised in Chicago, Levy moved to South Bend with his family in third grade after their West Englewood neighborhood home was shot at. They moved to Harvey before his freshman year at Thornton.
“The Chicago style of basketball was so different from the Indiana style of basketball,” Levy said. “Chicago’s tempo is way quicker. They get it and go.”