When All-City guard Laron Armstead of Los Angeles Fremont signed a letter of intent with Loyola Marymount last week, it was a moment that validated everything he believed in.
"Putting my signature on it was a dream come true," he said. "It was a big rush going through my body. It was, 'I finally made it.' "
Growing up in South Los Angeles, one of 13 children, Armstead proved that dedication, determination and impeccable character can lead to opportunities, no matter what skeptics may say.
"Coming from where I grew up and told every day, 'You're not going to make it, what's the use?' . . . it's a big turning point in my life," he said. "I'm on cloud nine."
Armstead's story is about perseverance and loyalty.
He stayed at Fremont despite its basketball program being banned from postseason play in 2006 and 2007 for using ineligible players.
When others abandoned the team, fearing they'd lose out on exposure to college recruiters, Armstead stayed.
He refused to believe he couldn't make a positive impression and attract attention as long as he worked hard.
"With the sanctions I was scared, but I had faith in my program and my coaches," he said. "If I did my job on the court and off, it would speak loudly. I went through all the problems but played through it, stayed humble and stayed loyal."
For the last two years, he has lived with his grandparents, maintained a 3.4 grade-point average, served as a tutor for struggling students in geometry and algebra and kept working on his basketball skills.
All the while, he dealt with distractions in his community -- gangs and individuals who don't believe in the benefits of education.
"Life in our part of town is very hard," he said. "There's a lot of gang violence, hearing gunshots every day. I find a way to tune it out, focus on basketball and school."
Fremont Principal Larry Higgins has heard Armstead speak about expectations and endless possibilities.
"I've observed him in classes, and his view of the community he lives and view of the world is what I'd want from my son," Higgins said.
"He promotes Fremont and South Central. He says people don't believe good, quality kids come from South Central, and he wants to be one of them."
Yes, he has faced long odds.
"Every mistake, from walking in the wrong area with a different kind of color, from choosing not to work hard on the basketball court, every choice is costly," he said.
But Armstead, a 6-foot-5 senior, had a plan and a vision.
"You have to set your standards to above average," he said. "If I can make it out of here, I can make it anywhere."
Among the lessons he learned: Loyalty matters.
"I could have gone to any program in the City or Southern Section," he said. "My coaches told me it was my option to leave. They weren't going to be mad.
"Home is home. I didn't want to start over. I knew I had a home here. Numbers are numbers.
"If you're doing your job, someone will see you."
Armstead averaged nearly 20 points a game and helped Fremont reach the City Section Championship Division semifinals this year.
He was offered a scholarship after newly hired Loyola Marymount Coach Bill Bayno and assistant coach Jason Levy received a DVD of him in action from his Fremont coaches.
"I think he's a true sleeper that a lot of schools missed on," Bayno said. "I'm really excited to develop him."
Armstead didn't hesitate to accept the scholarship offer, not only for himself but for future South Los Angeles students, because his success can serve as inspiration.
"Everyone should know they can do it," he said. "You have to set your mind. First thing is school. If you show dedication to school, everything will fall into place."