By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

The usual still of midnight is broken by the hard squeaking of a single set of sneakers and rhythmic dribbling of a lone basketball reverberating in an empty high school gym.

While many of his Ellison classmates and teachers slept, a 16-year-old Matt Addison worked on his game with near-manic focus.

"It's like sometimes when you want to eat in the middle of the night, well I got that feeling but I got it for basketball. I wanted to go shoot; I wanted to go work on my game," Addison said, who modeled himself after Allen Iverson - the former bad boy of the NBA - in physical appearance and relentless work ethic.

Feeding that hunger for basketball perfection, Addison was resolute in his pursuit.

Using a metal bar he found in the woods outside his house to jimmy his way through a back door to Ellison's cafeteria late at night, Addison walked through a rear hallway to the upstairs seating area of the Eagles' gym.

Then he climbed down the collapsed bleachers to the hardwood court and began his solitary practice.

For the most part, Addison entered and left the school without detection - except for one night his junior year.

"As many times as I did it, that was the first and last time I got caught," he said.

But his propensity for breaking-and-entering was just the beginning of Addison's downward spiral of self-destruction.

The former Harker Heights standout experienced a brief stint of homelessness, had a pair of misdemeanor assault charges and played for six different basketball programs before finding a narrow path to redemption through religion, family and basketball.

"I was literally begging and crying to God to please help me out, to please get me back on a team," Addison said. "I was like, 'Please let me on a team and let your will be done from there. If you just get me there, then you can take care of the rest and I'll just try and do my part.'"

Drug of choice

For Matt Addison, rock bottom wasn't any single moment of clarity.

It was a look on the face of his future wife and mother to his children, Natasha. Despite more than four years together, he could see she was losing faith in his ability to provide for their budding family.

Testing their relationship nearly every night, there were evenings when Natasha cried herself to sleep wondering about their future, while Addison even began to question whether his dream of playing professional basketball was going pay off.

"I never really understood his love for basketball, and honestly it took a toll on our relationship because he put so much work into going to practice on a daily basis - he literally could not miss a day without going to the gym to shoot," Natasha said. "And I had a problem with that because I wanted him to be home with me."

For several months during the spring of 2008, Addison and Natasha bounced from home to home, in and out of seedy hotels and even spent several nights living out of a beat-up red Buick.

"It was really scary, it was real hard, it seemed like it was never going to end and it seemed like it was always something," Natasha said. "We always found ourselves in a really hard spot."

Through it all, though, there was basketball. Addison rode a borrowed purple mountain bike 10 miles along Loop 121 to the Mayborn Campus Center to practice with several Mary Hardin-Baylor players even though he wasn't a part of the team. Addison spent between 4 to 6 hours a day working on his game during open gym periods. Sometimes he sneaked in late at night for even more practice.

"He has what all of us coaches say that we want guys to have, and that's a unique possession of a desire to compete and a desire to be the best," longtime UMHB coach Ken DeWeese said. "And Matt's a pretty good example of that."

And despite the hard times, Addison never lost hope that basketball was his way out, ultimately finding a home at Hardin-Simmons last year.

As the Cowboys' 24-year-old senior point guard, Addison is the nation's second-leading scorer, averaging 28.1 points per game and has Hardin-Simmons (21-6) playing for the American Southwest Conference title today against McMurry University at the Mayborn Campus Center in Belton.

"Last year, I was determined to let people know that I'm still living, I can still do this," Addison said. "This year, I'm making a statement, not only for myself but for my team."

Proven wrong

From the tapestry of tattoos that line his body - including one on his left bicep that depicts Jesus Christ being crucified on the backboard of a basketball goal - to an unmitigated problem with authority, Addison rebelled from an early age, even joining a local gang in the eighth grade.

"There were a couple of times where my actions could have gotten me killed, there were shootings, drive-bys … because of my actions and who I was around," Addison said. "I honestly don't know where I would be if I didn't get away from that scene."

Despite coming from a family of means, Addison fought to prove his worth - on and off the court. But it was his compulsion to show others how good he really was that nearly cost him his future in basketball.

Playing at Temple College in October 2007, Addison's need to prove himself boiled over during a game against Navarro College - where he played in a handful of games the year before - when arguing with referees spilled over to the Cougars' bench, and incited a verbal altercation with Temple head coach Kirby Johnson.

Told to sit down and shut up, Addison tore off his jersey and sent it sailing toward the bench as he walked off the court midway through the second half.

"The kid's got a great personality, it's just when he gets that basketball in his hand, it's like he transforms into something (else)," said DeWeese, who was in the stands for the incident. "I think one of the reasons is that (basketball) is wildly important to him, and sometimes when we get that way, we let it get out of the box."

The display of public insubordination was the final straw for the few remaining Division I coaches, including those at the University of Houston, who still had interest in Addison.

"I can't blame them for how they feel. I would assume the same thing. Like, 'what's wrong with this kid?' I'm getting chance after chance after chance and keep blowing it," Addison said. "But if you were to re-evaluate me from the last couple of years ... (and) get to know me, you'd know I'm not who you knew I was. I'm someone completely different."

Fighting fire

A source of validation for Addison, basketball also was an outlet for the built-up frustrations that seemed to haunt him. But disgraced and shunned by the college basketball community, Addison struggled to fill that hole during his nearly two-year sabbatical.

"For the Matt I know, he busted his butt. He even comes in the summer to work the kids out," said Harker Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt. "That's the outside-the-lines things people don't see. ... But his exterior messes up his interior. And when his interior comes out, it always comes out in the wrong way."

Having already served time for a domestic violence charge in April 2008, Addison found himself once again on the wrong side of the law a year later. After an argument with Natasha escalated into a physical altercation that earned him 24 months of probation and enrollment in an anger management program.

"That time back then, we were both like rockets - we'd blow up about anything," Addison said.

But through repeated personal setbacks, including two miscarriages, Addison and Natasha established a foundation that would sustain them both.

"At this time, all I was thinking about was basketball ... and I felt like God was saying, 'That gift I gave you, I can easily take it away. It's like you're making basketball your god.' So I re-evaluated my relationship with Christ," Addison said.

Addison's religious rebirth gave him the strength for the biggest trial of his life, dealing with his 23-month-old son Ezelle's cerebal palsy.

"I don't know how he does it, but somehow he has enough energy to get Ezelle and be able to show him the attention he needs after coming home from practice and everything," said Natasha, who gave birth to their daughter, Clara, last month.

He still has issues on the court, though, serving a one-game suspension during last year's ASC tournament and a two-game "coaches' decision" absence earlier this season.

"Yeah, I fight some demons; I fight holding my tongue back a lot; I fight holding in my anger; I fight trying not to curse on the court," he said. "Basically all my demons are on the basketball court, but I also have my angels on the basketball court."

Journey back

In more than two decades as a college basketball coach, Craig Carse has seen his share of talented basketball players.

Carse, who recruited Shaquille O'Neal to LSU in 1989 as an assistant under legendary coach Dale Brown, had no idea what he had when Addison walked through his door in the fall of 2010.

Looking past the tattoos and bad-boy persona, Carse, in his fourth year leading Hardin-Simmons, recognized Addison as an experienced player with the ability to score at will. He also saw a humbled man seeking a second - or fourth - chance.

"The difference between then and now, the reason I am who I am, is because I did go through all that," Addison said. "And that's what I really want people to see, that I was under a rock for a little while but I bounced back."

Now, as he tries to lead the Cowboys to a berth in the Division III NCAA Tournament with a win over McMurry today, Addison's desire to earn a living playing professional basketball isn't as farfetched as it once seemed.

"I know he has a dream to keep playing ball, because that's what he's done all his life and it's given him self esteem. … Right now I think he thinks he needs basketball, and I don't think he recognizes he can make it without basketball," Carse said.

But whether his future includes the sport he's dedicated thousands of hours to, Addison's long road toward redemption is lined by the mistakes that made his journey longer and harder.

"As crazy as this might sound, everything I went through I wouldn't change it for nothing," Addison said.

"I'm so prideful and so stubborn that I won't learn unless something happens to me."

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