Arelis Reynoso, the mother of Celtics player Al Horford, has been a sports journalist since 1988 and wrote this exclusively for the Globe.
It can be difficult to turn a dream into a reality, but I saw at an early age that my son, Al Horford, was determined to do it. It all started in our home country, the Dominican Republic, and it has turned into a wonderful basketball career for him.
When Al was just 6 years old, I was surprised when he told me that he wanted to attend a basketball academy. I asked him why, and his response is still stuck in my mind.
“I want to learn fundamentals and all I can learn in this sport,” he said. “Please help me to be a good player and be with me in this adventure.”
I found the academy 10 days later but told him that he needed to focus on finishing his little league baseball season. As always, he listened, and he finished a big tournament in The Liga Deportiva Abraham. In that tournament a handful of special guests were introduced, Major League players like Moises Alou, Raul Mondesi and Mario Guerrero. I took pictures and was overjoyed by Al’s performance.
But as soon as we returned home he again asked about his basketball academy, Escuela de Baloncesto Santo Domingo. The children had to be at least 7 years old, but I spoke to the owner of the academy and signed a release allowing Al to enroll when he was 6.
He really enjoyed his first session that February. Afterward, I spoke to Teresa Duran, one of the best basketball players on the Dominican women’s Olympic team, and she had so much praise for Al.
“I believe your son will be a fantastic basketball player,” she told me. “I have taught for many years, but Al is special. He not only learns the concepts, but he has a natural talent for this sport.”
Her statement that day was one that I will forever remember and hold dear to my heart. Just three years later, I began to realize that basketball wasn’t just for fun. I knew then that my son was going to have a very successful basketball career.
Following a dream
When Al was 10, I began to search for high-level camps in the U.S. for him. It was all worth the effort. Al learned new skills and techniques, and after returning home to the Dominican Republic, we spoke about how important it would be to attend high school in the U.S. to develop his skills.
We originally planned to move to Miami together, but that wasn’t possible. So I spoke with Al’s father Tito and his wife about Al moving to Michigan to live with their family. We decided that once he finished middle school in the summer of 2000, he would leave to start this new adventure. It was also a good opportunity to connect with his brothers and sisters on his father’s side in Michigan.
Grand Ledge High School welcomed him with open arms and would help make his dreams come true. He started to contribute to the basketball team when he was just a freshman, and his team quickly turned into one of the best in the league. Al also played on travel teams and became one of the top-ranked recruits in Michigan.
Even when he lost or made a mistake, he used those learning experiences as fuel. He wanted to play with unmatched excellence.
Even then, Al knew how to play multiple positions, and he could usually play them with more skill than anyone else. He was invited to play in the prestigious Nike and Adidas showcase camps, and he was standing out among the best players in the country.
A Florida Gator
Al’s time at the University of Florida meant so much to him. He was not just there to prepare for the NBA. The college experience had been a dream for him, too.
There were some challenges during his freshman year, but now they seem trivial. I remember when Al called me in November 2004 and told me he was not named one of the five starters.
As always, I told him that was irrelevant and I suggested that he continue to work in practice, be happy—even on the bench—and take advantage of his opportunities, even if he only played two minutes.
I also added: “I’m sure you will be a starter 10 games into the regular season. You are so good and you fit with Coach Billy Donovan’s style.”
He was named a starter on Dec. 20, and he never came off the bench again. That was an important time for him. We have always had such great communication, and he knows I’m always his No. 1 critic, too.
Florida ended up winning back-to-back national championships in his sophomore and junior seasons, and he had to consider entering the NBA draft.
I always told Al that professional sports were different from college, but that the experience he accumulated at Florida would be his foundation. The NBA general managers and team owners invest in talent, but they are also looking for an educated, respectful player with a good attitude.
The draft was held on June 28, 2007, at Madison Square Garden. I was sitting next to Al, and after the first two picks were called, I told him: “Be prepared. You will be the next pick.”
Four minutes later, Commissioner David Stern came on stage and said: “With the third pick in the draft, the Atlanta Hawks select Al Horford, from the University of Florida.” I couldn’t have been prouder of my son. His dream had come true and I was so blessed to be able to watch that moment.
Today, I feel so grateful to see him play for the Boston Celtics, the franchise with the most championships in NBA history.
He worked so hard to build a strong future there. My son is a great sportsman and his leadership is necessary with the new dynasty the Celtics are building. This is his 12th year in the league, and he has developed a reputation for doing his job, working hard and helping his team.
Al views it as a privilege to represent the Celtics on and off the court. I hope he continues to play with the passion that he brings to every game, and I believe he’ll help the Celtics win many more championships.