Bryson Gulley was leaving a 6 a.m. preseason basketball practice at Worcester State when he received the devastating news. His mother, Chequetta, was in critical condition after a severe asthma attack. She later died on Oct. 20, 2017 at 41.
What followed was an understandable period of debilitating grief, but then Gulley turned that grief into motivation. His story could provide inspiration for those currently impacted by the current pandemic.
“A couple months after [Chequetta's] passing, [Bryson] started to put more time into developing his skills, instead of moping,” said his sister, Janyah, a star senior at Fenway who will attend Caldwell University on a scholarship.
“He grieved, yes, and then he found a way to put the energy of his grieving into basketball.”
Gulley went home to Mattapan for two weeks, then returned to finish his freshman year at Worcester State. With his family's finances even tighter, Gulley said he knew he would have to change schools, and he was able to receive a financial aid package to attend Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston.
After sitting out the 2018-19 season, Gulley hit the court and the books with renewed vigor in the hopes of matching his sister's achievement by gaining a full scholarship.
The 20-year-old guard excelled this winter, setting program records by averaging 21.4 points per game, producing five 30-point performances, nailing nine 3-pointers in a game, and earning the first NJCAA All-Region second-team selection in school history.
During the first half of the season, Division 3 colleges began to reach out with offers, but Gulley knew he had to raise his game after winter break if he wanted to be eligible for a scholarship offer.
“I said to myself, these last 13 games are make or break,” Gulley recalled. “I really got to lock in each game and go after everything if I want to reach my goal.”
When the NCAA Division 2 tournament was canceled on March 14, recruitment took center stage, and nine days later, Kentucky’s Union College offered Gulley a full ride to play out his remaining two years of eligibility.
“After everything I went through, I didn't think I would be here,” said Gulley. “I never was the type to see my parents struggle financially over me. I always wanted to make sure they didn't have to worry, and the fact that my father doesn't have to pay for my education anymore, it's surreal.”
Gulley points to his decision to transfer to Edward M. Kennedy charter school ahead of his sophomore year as a turning point in his academic and athletic career. He played one season with his older brother, Brandon, helped EMK to the Charter School Organization final as a junior, and sunk the winning free throws to seal a championship as a senior.
During those three years, he established a work ethic that allowed him to post a 2.9 GPA in a demanding computer science department at Benjamin Franklin.
According to Benjamin Franklin coach Dennis Orellana, who recruited Gulley through Edward M. Kennedy coach Demetrius Warren, Gulley had a 90 percent class attendance record and missed only two practices all season despite the fact he often worked overnight shifts as a security officer immediately following team sessions that ran from 8 to 10 p.m.
“Right away, I could tell [Gulley] was determined to do something,” said Orellana, who played at Prospect Hill Academy and Keene State.
“After everything his family has gone through, for him to not succumb to the streets, to not give up. . . . He could’ve easily dropped out and given up on himself and his aspirations. It’s inspiring to see him and his sister go off to school with scholarships.”
Janyah’s twin, Jaylah, is a senior at Boston Arts Academy considering academic scholarship offers. All four siblings and their father, John, sport matching arm tattoos with Chequetta’s nickname, Birdie, encircled by birds atop a stairway to heaven.
The tragedy he's experienced has in some ways prepared Gulley for these troubling times. As a computer science major, he says he's used to taking online classes, and he understand the gravity of the current health crisis.
“[Some classmates], they might go outside and think [the pandemic] is a joke,” said Gulley.
“I can only say so much. It’s actually more serious than they think it is. I think I am treating it a little differently after what I’ve gone through, because I can’t risk losing someone close to me like that again, so I’m trying to do my part by staying in the house.”