What Danridge also has which may not be as immediately apparent is an abiding faith he believes will bring him fulfillment well beyond whatever success he enjoys playing professional basketball.
Danridge is wrapping up his degree at the University of New Mexico. He ended his college career with an exclamation point by winning the dunk portion of the Slam Dunk and 3-Point Contest at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Detroit.
“It was just a great blessing,” Danridge said in a telephone interview from his Albuquerque dorm room. “After we lost to Notre Dame in the NIT, it was great to go out and get a win for New Mexico. I was a great acknowledgement for us and my career to go out on a high note.
“God has always looked out for me.”
Danridge fended off a challenge from Charlotte’s Charlie Coley, whose aerial display included dunking over former NBA star Jalen Rose seated underneath the basket. Danridge ultimately won the day by going up with basketballs in each hand and jamming them home in rapid-fire fashion in addition to bringing the ball up from his left hip in mid-air for a slam.
“I’ve done (the winning dunks) plenty of times before,” he said. “I watched videos and have seen things on YouTube before where you get ideas and get inspired. God has given me a gift to jump. Once you do it for a while, it becomes second nature.”
What also comes naturally to Danridge is living out his faith.
His father Victor is pastor of the Inland Empire Deliverance Center in San Bernardino, Calif., where Victor and his wife Venus work primarily with local low-income residents to provide basic necessities and spiritual guidance. The rest of the Danridge family–which includes four sisters–was leading a revival April 3 the night of the contest, recorded it on TiVo and avoided coverage of it so they could see it fresh for the first time together.
“We didn’t know what happened on purpose,” Victor Danridge said. “It was to our enjoyment the way it turned out like it did.”
The slam dunk completed a comeback from a devastating injury before what was to be Tony Danridge’s senior season. He broke his left leg in October 2007 days before the official start of practice. Instead of leading the Lobos on the court Danridge took a medical redshirt to keep his final year of eligibility and spent the time in rehabilitation and prayer.
“I really had to just rely on God a whole lot,” Tony Danridge said. “At the time it happened I never thought I’d be able to come back and play. Just going through the whole year was difficult. The difference was my dad and mom. They sent me different things to read and pray over, sent me Scriptures to look at. That was why I made it through it. I think it was worth the wait.
Victor Danridge is confident it was truly a blessing in disguise.
“We called it a divine delay,” he said. “We believed he could have been peaking at that time in terms of his athletic ability. Waiting the one year gave him more exposure, but it also gave him more time to mature as a young Christian man.
“We’re not religious fanatics. We try to stay low key. By the same token, we feel there is an obligation to let your light shine for God. Tony has been gifted to do work in the arena of basketball and create something more for himself beyond the big cars and the bling-bling and those material things professional players crave.”
Tony Danridge echoes his father’s view, regretting he didn’t take more economics courses at New Mexico to perhaps prepare better for managing the money he may make playing in the NBA or overseas.
“I don’t want to be like those guys who play for years and end up broke,” Tony Danridge said matter-of-factly. “I don’t want to live over the amount that I’m making. I need to have something to fall back on when my playing days are done. You can’t play basketball forever. I feel like I have something more to give.”
Not recruited as a blue-chipper out of San Bernardino’s Cajon High School, Danridge knows his NBA prospects are slim.
At 6-foot-5 he could likely be labeled as “undersized” by professional teams despite averaging 15 points per game his senior season, leading New Mexico in steals and being a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection. Danridge was not tabbed either as one of the Top 100 NBA Draft prospects by ESPN analyst Chad Ford.
“I’ve had a lot of people say I wasn’t going to be this or going to be that,” Tony Danridge said. “I can’t say at this point. God works in His own ways. Right now I can’t see what that will be.
“It may be something to minister to teenagers or people my own age. God has done so much to bless me through the whole ordeal with my leg and through my career. There are a lot of mind games that go on with playing pro ball. You just have to believe that God is going to bless you and has something great in store for you.”
Danridge would love to follow in the footsteps of fellow New Mexico alum and friend Danny Granger.
Granger made the All-Star team for the first time this year in his third NBA season for the otherwise mediocre Indiana Pacers. If that doesn’t come to fruition, Victor Danridge agrees with his son’s assessment that faith will be a driving force for years to come.
“Ultimately, I see Tony as a great humanitarian trying to impact others and represent the Kingdom,” he said. “That may be missionary work overseas, that may be helping inner city kids, whatever he can do to help a life. Our hope has always been that by seeing parents who live by a walk of faith and reaching out to people a lot of folks would rather not deal with, that the bottom line is sharing the love of Christ with others.”
University of New Mexico profile: http://www.golobos.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/danridge_tony00.html