Cook County isn't a culinary school, even if that's where Marquise Pryor learned to whip up a nice vegetable medley. No, Cook County is a jail -- America's largest, in fact -- that once held infamous Chicago criminals like Al Capone and John Wayne Gacy.
For the past four months, Cook County's boot camp housed the prep basketball standout, and for good reason. Nothing like what Capone or Gacy did, of course, but the Orr (Chicago, Ill.) Academy senior did plead guilty to a couple gun charges back in September.
On Friday, Pryor was released, filled with a renewed appreciation for both life and basketball. And on Wednesday, he will suit up in a Spartans uniform for the first time since earning Honorable Mention All-State honors as a junior last season.
If you ask me, this should be the playbook for troubled young athletes -- not discarding them from their respective teams to take up some far more dangerous hobby on city streets or expelling them from what might be their best shot at a proper education.
Rehabilitation can work, especially among 17-year-olds, and Pryor appears to be proof.
"I sense a change," Pryor's mother, Lealer Harris, told the Chicago Tribune in a fantastic feature about her son. "We talked about the mistakes. We talked about the past."
In boot camp, Pryor didn't touch a basketball and read the bible daily. With four months to stew over his past mistakes, he learned discipline and developed a focus he hopes will help him become the first member of his family to earn a college degree and achieve his dream of playing in the NBA, even if that means a prep school or junior college next year.
"Basketball can really take you somewhere," he told the Tribune.
Coming off his junior season, the 6-foot-7 forward was a three-star recruit with Division I offers that included Colorado State, Murray State and Oakland. Now, 20 pounds lighter, he has a chance to showcase that talent once again when Orr visits Glenbard South (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) High in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament on Wednesday.
On Monday, Pryor attended his first practice of the season, attempting to both regain his basketball form and convey the life lessons he learned in boot camp to his teammates, some of whom were waiting at Cook County Jail to embrace Pryor upon his release.
"I'm just so grateful to be here," Pryor told the Tribune. "It felt great to be back on the court. I appreciate that I have another chance to play basketball."
Even while he's playing, Pryor will wear an ankle bracelet for the next three weeks, and he hopes that lasts seven games. Orr (23-3) has a real shot at a state title, considering three weeks ago without Pryor's services the Spartans beat nationally ranked Chicago rival Whitney Young, featuring the country's top Class of 2014 recruit, Jahlil Okafor.
Talk about second chances. Starting Wednesday night in the Glenbard South gym, Pryor has the opportunity to live up to the slogan that adorned the black t-shirts his family and friends donned during a welcome home dinner on Saturday night: "Promising Change."
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