In the case of Gabe York, basketball allowed him to find not only a mentor but a person who has loved him as if he were one of his own. Etop Udo-Ema met York while he was in middle school and York began to play for his Compton Magic travel team, which has placed a lot of players in colleges across the country.
The relationship did not stop at basketball as York grew an admiration for Udo-Ema which eventually turned into trust, and a genuine father-son type relationship. York only has great things to say about Udo-Ema.
"Etop has been like a father figure for me," said York. "I've been playing for Compton Magic since I was in the eighth grade and he has guided me ever since I started. He took me in and has been that figure in my life definitely for the last 3-4 years. I'm always over his house and talking to him about anything. He has been a blessing."
The void comes from York not having a father figure in his life for most of his childhood. It happens a lot in basketball. You see several players leaning on mentors, uncles and grandparents to go along with their mothers rather than their very own father.
Nurturing is important, especially for the players that have a shot at stardom. Making sure that the right people are around the student-athletes is a vital part of growing up. Udo-Ema has made no mistake about being a positive figure for York.
"Not sure if anyone knows about his situation, but his dad is not in his life," said Udo-Ema. "I've been kind of that figure for him. He's like a son to me. He is over my house as much as his own house. Gabe has a great relationship with my kids and my wife and he is just a great kid.
"I think that is why he is so likeable. He is the kind of kid that if he is able to make money on the highest level, he is going to be very marketable. He is just that kind of guy."
Having York in his basketball program has allowed Udo-Ema to see him grow as a person and as a player. York showed signs of greatness even at a young age.
"He was pretty good then and you could tell that he was going to be good," explained Udo-Ema. "He was a decent athlete and he could score the basketball. But he works very hard. I have dealt with a lot of high level athletes and players that have made it pretty far and I can honestly tell you that he is the most low maintenance player that I have seen. He is really a blue collar guy and that is what the coaches at Arizona are going to love.
"Who knows exactly what they will get at Arizona but they will get a worker. In high school, if he has a bad shooting night, he will stay there or go to 24 hour and make 100 shots. That's just the type of player he is."
That work ethic is something that head coach Sean Miller tells all his recruits and incoming freshmen. Nothing is given and be prepared to work harder than you ever have before because, if you do, then the rest will fall into place.
York not only has the work ethic but he has the skill set to go along with it. Udo-Ema says that he thinks York is the best offensive guard in the country.
"I may be biased but I think he is the best scoring guard in the country," said Udo-Ema. "When you look at his offensive skill set and package, he is the most complete guard in the country. He is so good at getting to the basket and we all know he can shoot the ball."
York has stated that he wants to play point guard at Arizona and that Miller will help him accomplish that goal. But with him being such a great shooter, Udo-Ema only hopes that he does not forget what makes him so good.
"Gabe has the skill set to [play point] but he scores the ball so well, how do you take that away? He can pass and has a good handle, so it is not like he is going to lose the ball or make a bunch of mistakes. But he is such a good scorer it is going to be hard to take that away. I have talked to coach Miller and he knows the position and he also knows that they won't take that away from Gabe.
"Look at the history at Arizona and the players that have come through there. Gilbert Arenas turned into a great point guard in the NBA and he did not play point at Arizona, he was a two guard. Jason Terry too. So many guys that have excelled at the NBA and did not play point per say at Arizona."
Udo-Ema definitely has a point. Many players have excelled at playing the point in the NBA without playing much of it in college.
York may be that type of player and in a Miller system where play makers are needed at every guard position, he will have no problem learning how to be a leader on the court. York and his mentor are not even worried about competition.
"If you see the guys at Arizona now they have some good talent and people ask me if I am nervous with Gabe going there," he said. "No. Gabe is a mixture of all of what they have right now. Kyle Fogg is a good shooter and Gabe is too. Fogg is leaving so Gabe can come in and fill that type of roll. Nick Johnson is athletic and can score too and Josiah Turner is a great passer, but can't shoot at this point. Not saying that Gabe is better than them, but he has a niche that allows him to fit right in."