Hailing from a rough neighborhood in Detroit, Donnie Tillman’s mother, Donna Holmes knew that she had her work cut out for her as a single parent. Not wanting her sons to fall victim to the streets, she raised them admirably with strict rules and dignity, before moving to Henderson, Nevada three years ago .
From strict curfews to making sure her kids got done with what they needed to do, she has always let them learn from their mistakes, but she has always been there to lead them on the right path. “I could be like, ’Oh yeah Mom, I did my homework,” said Tillman. “She’d be like, “No, let me check it, let me see it.’ Things like that, she’d just constantly stay on me.”
Throughout the years, Tillman’s mom was the same way when it came to basketball, always staying on him about his practices and workouts. With her guidance and his work ethic, Donnie officially signed this past week with Larry Krystkowiak and the University of Utah.
“I’m definitely very excited,” said Tillman, over the fact that he’s now officially a Ute. “No one in my family got the opportunity to play D-1 basketball, especially at the highest level in the Pac-12. It’s just really exciting. My mom teared, she’s really proud of me—my whole family is.”
It was especially emotional for his mom.
“My mom said ‘I did my part. I helped you, I disciplined you, I took you to all the practices, workouts—you’re a college kid now. I raised a good young man.’ That’s what she’s most proud about,” said Tillman. “A lot of people don’t care about their children, especially in Detroit, you know? There’s not a lot of good coming out of there. We both stuck with it, on the hard days when we both wanted to give up, we both prayed, and we both got through it. She said, “It’s on to the next level now, it’s in your hands, and you’ve got to be a grown up. You’ve got to take care of yourself and let’s get to level three.”
Growing up without a father around, Tillman also relied heavily on his older brother Bart—both on and off the court—who himself, is a DII basketball player. The two talk on a daily basis. He’ll ask Donnie how things are going and what he needs to work on.
What’s the biggest thing Tillman has learned from his brother>
“Constantly working out when no one is watching,” he said. “You know, a lot of people say it, but don’t actually do it.”
Tillman, himself, is a man of action. He admits that he hates just sitting around, often doing three to four workouts each day. His day doesn’t feel right unless he has his 9pm workout; he will also do a pool workout and the next he will do hot yoga. Even when he’s bored at his house Tillman claims he has to do pushups or dribble the ball around.
The plan is for Tillman to arrive in Salt Lake City in June and he’s eager to embrace Ute Nation.
“Man, I love them so far,” he said. “They show a lot of love on social media and I like to interact a little bit, so I’m definitely going to say hi to everybody, hug people, (and take) pictures. I think I’m a very out-going person and I just can’t wait to get started. I can’t wait to work hard—let’s get some wins. That’s all, let’s win.”
It was a strong family bond that got Tillman to this point and while his mom won’t be moving to Utah, you can expect to see her at a lot of the games.
“She’ll definitely be out there a lot,” said Tillman. “She (told me), ‘I’m only a four hour drive or a 45 minute flight, so don’t think I won’t pop in on you.” With signing day out of the way, Tillman is one step closer to a lifelong dream and the possibility of being able to provide for his family. Still, he realizes there’s a lot of work left to be done.
“I really can’t even believe it. That’s the best part is eventually getting paid,” he said. “Basically I broke it into three levels, high school, college, and the NBA. I’m getting to level two, so there’s still a lot more things I’ve got to work on—fundamentals, especially. I’ve got to tighten up everything, so I can get there.”
Having the right desire and work ethic is half the battle and it’s something that should lead to a bright career at the University of Utah.