Public shame to kidnapping: How Devonta Pollard’s mother helped transform a can’t miss recruit into a criminal suspect

Cameron Smith

The seeds of the kidnapping were sewn long before the 6-year-old disappeared from her Mississippi school.

Alabama basketball player Devonta Pollard was charged with kidnapping — Getty

Devonta Pollard was already a household name in basketball recruiting circles heading into the summer before his senior season. The Porterville, Miss. native was widely recognized as one of the most versatile small forwards in the Class of 2012, seen as a player who could transform the fortunes of a number of programs, with the likes of Kentucky, Duke, Georgetown, Texas and Missouri among those who were in hot pursuit of his signature.

Amidst this backdrop, Pollard found a way to get attention for one of the more awkward reasons possible. While playing for his Southern Phenoms AAU squad, Pollard was pulled off during a game by his own mother, Jessie Mae Pollard. The trick was that his mother wasn’t the Southern Phenoms coach, yet she told her son to leave the floor anyway after being disappointed with his performance.

The brash overreaction foretold of a disturbingly one-sided relationship. While the relationship between parents and teenagers are always heated during high school years (in sports and out), this was different. This was a parent far overstepping her bounds to belittle her son (you can read more about the incident right here or watch Ms. Pollard's interaction with her son below).

This was a mother shaming her uber-talented son in public to insure he would heed her more carefully in the future. Naturally, that isn’t a healthy relationship.

Now this occasionally caustic bond has reared its ugly head in the most disturbing way possible. Where once Jessie Mae Pollard's aggressive tutelage of her son helped turn him into one of America's top basketball prospects, it now may have made him an accomplice to a major federal crime.

As reported by the Tuscaloosa News, Associated Press and a number of outlets, Pollard, scheduled to be a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama, has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He could face federal charges of between 20 years to lifetime in prison. Based on what happened in the summer of 2011, one may not be surprised to learn who was the ringleader of the kidnapping conspiracy.

Just as she was the dominant voice in her son’s hoops development, Jessie Mae Pollard was also allegedly responsible for the decision to abduct 6-year-old Jashayla Hopson from East Kemper Elementary School.

The younger Pollard’s role with the kidnapping has yet to be confirmed, but the early evidence isn’t good. Police reportedly searched Devonta Pollard’s car and discovered the key to the hotel room that was used to hold the 6-year-old as well as a receipt for a cell phone that was used to communicate during the attempted abduction and a receipt for the hotel room as well.

The Associated Press has reported that the kidnapping was all part of an elaborate land dispute between the elder Pollard and Hopson’s mother. That Jessie Mae Pollard would be willing to abduct a 6-year-old child and hold her at a hotel, away from her parents, is positively chilling. That Devonta Pollard would potentially take part in the despicable crime is equally haunting, yet also perhaps a bit unsurprising given the alleged relationship between the two.

Everyone knew the connection between the Pollards was incredibly strong, yet even those who had observed the family may have underestimated just how much moving away from home would affect Devonta Pollard. The one-time top recruit struggled to make an impact in the SEC as a freshman, averaging just 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Those struggles appeared to stretch beyond the court, with the Tuscaloosa News reporting that Pollard was investigating transferring to a community college back in Mississippi so he could be closer to home.

Devonta Pollard was Jessie Mae Pollard’s Tiger Woods, a phenomenally talented and physically gifted young athlete who could be a ticket to fame and a better life. He was also her son. That complicated relationship is often exceedingly muddled and misunderstood by both the outside world and those involved in the relationship itself.

Would a 15-year-old Tiger Woods have helped Earl Woods commit a crime if Earl was insistent that the crime was absolutely necessary? Perhaps. Would a 16-year-old Michael Phelps have helped Debbie Phelps set up a prescription drug ring (hypothetically speaking, of course)? We’ll never know, though it would foolish to rule it out.

Would Devonta Pollard help his mother if she hatched an elaborate, ill-advised and thoroughly deplorable plan to kidnap an innocent 6-year-old as a threat aimed at her mother? We can all pray not, though the early indications don’t look good.

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