King of the mountain

Devante Mount has overcome obstacles on his path to greatness

Devante+Mount+fights+for+a+layup+against+New+Braunfels.+Mount+was+a+key+starter+on+basketball%27s+first+playoff+team+in+a+half-decade.

Dylan McGinnis

Devante Mount fights for a layup against New Braunfels. Mount was a key starter on basketball's first playoff team in a half-decade.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

As the clock ticks down to the start of the game, two teams prepare for a 32-minute slugfest. But their first battle is the tipoff.

San Antonio Reagan sends out their champion: Will Carsten, their 6 foot 8 inch, 225 pound forward. 

Across from him stands Devante Mount, just 5 foot 11 inches, 160 pounds. 

The crowd is quiet for a moment, then explodes.

Mount won the tip.

The stark contrast in size made the moment physically shocking, but it wasn’t really a surprise. Mount had always been great at tipoffs; it just took a while for people to notice.

“I actually do [take pride in it],” he said. “‘Cuz, you know, they’re underestimating me. So I really just wanna surprise them a little bit and show out. So right from the jump I like really getting [out] to a good start and just blowing minds.”

Despite consistent excellence at jump balls, Mount’s mind-blowing powers haven’t worn off yet. Opponents are still confused by his presence in the circle.

“At first, I think they do [look at me funny],” he said. “But they’re probably used to it by now. ‘Cuz they probably [take] it as a joke, they don’t expect [me] to win or something, and then they’re like, ‘woah. That kid just won the jump ball? Uhh, wait, what just happened?’ … I think it’s real funny ‘cuz they really don’t expect the smallest kid on the court to do the jump ball at all. It’s just a funny reaction every time.”

And it isn’t just opponents. Despite watching him since middle school, head coach Ike Thornton is still impressed.

“[He doesn’t surprise people] anymore,” Thornton said. “He’s developed a reputation… of being for real. So people take us a lot more serious than they did in the past. So, they know about him. They know about him.”

Devante has been impressing people for a while. His entire life, in fact. His mother realized he was special right away.

[I realized he was special] the day he was born… that’s real talk,” she said, laughing. 

Lakisha and Damien Mount, Devante’s parents, are both members of the United States Air Force. That’s taken its toll on Devante, though he does his best to fight through it.

“[It’s difficult],” he said. “Just not being able to see your parents all the time. I know some kids don’t see their parents all the time as well, but just having them constantly deployed, or constantly away from you, that’s probably the most difficult part. But my parents FaceTime me and all that stuff every day. So it’s really like they’re there, but they’re not there at the same time.”

Lakisha, who was first deployed when Devante was 4 years old, has always tried to make life as normal as possible for her son.

“It’s been challenging to balance everything,” she said. “However, he is always our top priority and we [are] committed to making his life as ‘normal’ as possible. We [are] lucky that he was such a good kid and learned to be flexible with our ever-changing life.”

As difficult as life can get, she and her husband always fight for what’s best for Devante.

“One of the biggest challenges is our deployments,” she said. “I deployed for the first time when he was 4 [years old]…  Once I returned, eight months later, his father left… And it continued that way for a long time. Most recently, my husband returned last year from a one-year deployment, then we moved to Florida, leaving Tae there to finish high school. 

“We had to uproot him so much, we wanted to give him an opportunity to graduate with his friends and to continue to make a name for himself within the basketball and track community.”

Even though they aren’t physically present, Devante’s friends have noticed his parents’ impact.

“He has such a close relationship with his parents,” said friend and teammate Armel Talla, Devante’s friend and basketball teammate. “His mom is the one that always pushes him to try new things. I’m pretty sure she was a big reason why he started to run track, because at first he… completely shut down the idea.”

It’s a good thing he started running, because now he never wants to stop.

“I’m trying to see how far I can go with being an athlete,” he said. “I really want to make the Olympics, that’s just really a dream of mine. But I have to take it one step at a time, and the next step is college for me, so I really want to go to a good college and perform at that college and maybe make it to the Olympics one day.”

It’s a lofty goal. But he certainly has the talent to make it a reality. He’s committed to the University of the Incarnate Word, and he’s the first leg on a 4×100 meter relay team that just set a school record time of 41.82 seconds.

Track coach Bren Jones heard rumors of Devante before he began coaching at Smithson Valley. But what impressed him the most wasn’t the athletic ability; it was his personality.

“I heard about Devante before I came to Smithson Valley,” Jones said. “When I met him, I was very impressed with his mannerisms. [He was] very disciplined, very respectful.”

Devante’s parents played a big role in his development as a person.

“It’s a mix of both [my mom and my dad],” he said. “My dad… he’s like a kid, basically. He’s like 40, but still acts like a kid. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the energy and stuff. And my mom, she’s not really the same way, but she’s really easy to talk to, she’s really open-minded and stuff, so basically you feel like you can trust her.”

The example set by his parents has molded Devante into a magnetic leader and someone people want to be around.

“He’s always lively and in a good mood,” said Cullen Betsey. “He’s just a person that you always want to be around, because you know it’s going to be a good time.”

He wasn’t always so extroverted. When he first moved to Smithson Valley, he was the quiet kid. But Talla, Betsey, Greg Eggleston and Jackson Sennie welcomed him into their friend group. From there, they’ve only grown closer.

“I met him [the first day of school] in 7th grade, Eggleston said. “He was new. He was kind of an awkward dude. He didn’t talk much, but then he started to open up more as time went on.”

Sure, he was the new kid. But his shoe game was on point, and in middle school, that’s really all it takes.

“I was already friends with Greg, Cullen and Jackson at the time, and we noticed [Devante] was the new kid,” Talla said. “We approached [him], joking with him about, he’s the only kid we see at [Smithson Valley Middle School] rocking Jordan’s… We all just laughed about it. He was real shy and quiet at first, though.”

It didn’t take long for he and the four incumbent friends to gel.

“Devante has that personality that just makes him fit in with everyone,” Talla said. “He’s always nice and respectful to everyone he meets. Plus, he’s funny.”

His inner comedian made an early appearance when he decided not to tell anyone his name.

“Devante has always been goofy,” Betsey said. “When he moved here, he wouldn’t tell anyone his name, just to mess with people… he would just say some random name.”

But pretty soon, the joke would be on Devante himself. Like all good stories, it begins on a school bus returning from San Angelo.

“We’re all just in the back [of the bus], singing a whole bunch of songs,” Devante said, setting the scene of his ultimate demise. “Mind you, there’s like 15, 20 other people on the bus, [but] I guess they didn’t care, they’re used to it by now. At this point, they just ignored us. So we’re screaming our lungs out in the back… (laughs) it’s funny. And I’m just sitting here like I am now, and we’re just singing and stuff. 

“Out of nowhere, I just catch a cramp right here (gesturing at his leg), and I just fall. It lasted for like five minutes. I’m over here screaming, and they’re just laughing at me. It was awful, it hurt so bad. Probably the worst cramp I ever got.”

On the bright side, no bad deed goes unpunished. Eggleston learned that the hard way.

“We all laughed at him the entire time he was in pain,” he said. “I think karma is a real thing because right after that I got a cramp [too].”

Devante was able to take some solace in the misfortune of his fallen comrade, but wasn’t completely satisfied.

“That was just karma coming back at them for laughing at me,” he said. “I wanted all of them to get one, but it don’t work like that.”

They’re always messing around. Once, they signed up Devante for the 4×400 meter relay, but he managed to get out of it. It’s a microcosm of a greater skill: the ability to get out of tough situations.

“We even have a name for it,” Eggleston said. “We say he lizards his way out of everything… he’s had that nickname since middle school.”

But that’s not the only reason they call him lizard.

“We think he looks like a lizard,” Eggleston said, matter-of-factly.

Regardless of the playful insults, Devante appreciates his friends. The relationships they’ve forged have helped fill the void that his parents’ physical absence has left.

“They’re my brothers,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anybody else. They’ve really helped me throughout the years of being here at Smithson Valley. I literally do everything with them. And if they ever need some help, they know who to come to. I’m always there for them, and they’re always there for me.”

It hasn’t always been perfect, living far from his parents. But both sides do what they can to stay close.

“We have missed lots of birthdays, Christmases, sporting events and other special occasions,” Lakisha said. “We [have] had to balance a demanding work life with Tae’s demanding school and sports schedule, and still find time for family. 

“At the end of the day, all of our challenges made us stronger people and a closer family.”

And that effort has paid off. Devante is the rare teenager who actually respects his mother, and their bond is a strong one.

“I’m really, really, really, really close with my mom,” he said. “She’s always been there for me. Sports, everything. Cuz they just recently deployed and stuff, and she still calls me to this day, like, ‘how’s it goin’, how’s the team,’ and all that stuff.”

His mother, Lakisha, says she has good reason.

“Tae is not only the best son my husband and I could ask for, he is a success story and one of the most charismatic, resilient [and] determined [people] I know,” she said. “He hasn’t had [a] conventional upbringing. My husband and I were teenage parents and are active duty Air Force. Tae has lived through 3 major moves and 9 deployments. 

“[But] through all that, he continued to stay [focused, and] work hard in school and sports, plus continue to be a great teammate, friend and son. He is such an awesome person and I’m so glad that I was blessed to be his mom.”

The way he overcomes challenges has not gone unnoticed by his friends, who are inspired by his hard work and dedication.

[He’s] tough,” Talla said. “Tough mindset to change. Plays tough, doesn’t back down from any challenge on the court. And tough skin, so nothing ever bothers him. It would be tough not to like Devante.”

Devante has already accomplished a great deal. But his best is yet to come.

“[I’m looking forward to] seeing him grow into the man I know he strives to be,” Lakisha said. “I’m looking forward to watching graduate college and going into the world and making a difference. Finally, I’m looking forward to growing old and watch him get older and having a family of his own.”

Through deployments, moves and the challenges of life, Devante Mount has looked failure in the face, and failure blinked first. He’s looked at giants like Carsten and slain them all. He isn’t just king of the hill. He’s king of the mountain. And the sky’s limit is just his beginning.

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