Von Steuben player finds motivation from tragedy

Photo at top: Donovan Maxey shoots free throws during practice Tuesday night. (Karl Bullock/Medill)

By Karl Bullock

After failing to muster the required layups in a practice drill, Von Steuben players head to the sideline to face the consequences: sideline sprints.

“Were you hustling?” Donovan Maxey asks freshman guard Chijioke Nwosu. With a look of frustration on his face, they begin to run back and forth. Before Nwosu can answer, Maxey cuts him off.

“No, you weren’t,” he said. “I was watching you,” he said.

For the past four years at Von Steuben Metropolitan, Maxey has seen his share of ups and downs while playing basketball. Two fractures to his right ankle cut short Maxey’s sophomore season. When the injury carried over into his junior year, the 6-foot-1 senior forward was forced to sit out the entire season.

Rather than let his injury situation emotionally deter him from playing again, Maxey found extra motivation through the memory of his father, Duane Berry II, who he lost to gun violence when he was 7. Despite the loss of his father, Maxey is driven by his unattainable wish to have his father in the stands to witness his son following his passion.

Maxey spent his childhood in Chicago playing football under the watchful eye of his father. He didn’t take basketball seriously until he was 13.

“He would always be with me at every practice,” Maxey said about his father. “He was the one that wanted me to do well.”

But football was too rough for him, and eventually he dropped the sport altogether.

After his father’s death, Maxey began playing pickup basketball with kids around the neighborhood.

“I was a natural,” he said. “Once I saw I could do a little bit and be good, I wanted more.”

As he recovered from his ankle injuries and geared up for his final season at Von Steuben, more disheartening news arrived. Maxey’s older brother, Duane Berry III, was shot and killed.

After losing another loved one, Maxey set a personal goal to make his last season count for something.

“That’s what made it [his brother’s] death even more sentimental,” he said. “I wanted to give something to him before this basketball thing was over.”

Sitting in living room, Maxey points at his younger brother Deandre Berry, whom he calls his best friend.

Deandre plays basketball at Walt Disney Magnet School and joined his older brother in making this season a tribute to their dad and older brother. The effort that has strengthened the bond between two brothers.

Maxey and Berry are almost inseparable. From playing video games, to picking up groceries for their mom and taking out the trash, they do everything together. So it was no surprise when Berry joined him in using basketball as a tribute to their loved ones.

“Before the season started, he told me this needs to be about our brother and our dad,” Berry said. “Because he was doing it, I thought, well that’s my big brother so we might as well make it a good go round.”

Maxey has established himself as a key contributor for Von Steuben averaging 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and four assists, all career highs.

“I wanted to dedicate it [this season] to my dad because I wanted to make him proud,” Maxey said. “Since I wasn’t so good at football, I wanted to show him that I could be good at another sport.”

Photo at top: Donovan Maxey shoots free throws during practice Tuesday night. (Karl Bullock/Medill)