WARE SHOALS, S.C. (AP) — Seventeen basketballs.

There is a human story behind each one.

Ware Shoals High School basketball player Shon Lowe locks his eyes on one of the 17 basketballs on the court. He sees something others don't.

"That basketball right there has saved a lot of lives," said Lowe, a senior standout as both a student and an athlete.

Lowe knows. When he was growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, he could have chosen one of two paths. One led to a life of gangs and drugs — and possibly prison or death. The other path led to a basketball court — a sanctuary for Lowe in hard times.

"That basketball is going to always be there," Lowe said. "Whatever you are going through, if you want to get something off your mind, whether you are sad or mad, you find peace in it."

Lowe lived with his mother in Cincinnati. He first came to Ware Shoals in sixth grade. He returned to Ohio, but his mother thought his prospects for a better life would be in Ware Shoals, so she sent him back to live with his grandfather during his eighth-grade year.

Lowe then bounced around between relatives and the homes of friends, never finding a stable place to lay down roots. He even stayed two weeks in a home without electricity before settling in to live with a cousin.

"I've always had a roof over my head, but things in the household didn't make it a stable place," Lowe said. "It wasn't a place you could see a future in."

Lowe knows poverty. It's the reason he chose childhood poverty as his senior project. Part of the project involved research. The other was a hands-on "product," said his English teacher, Janie Guess.

"I was very impressed with it," Guess said of the project. "I was fighting tears. It was so heartfelt. It came from his childhood and not having a lot of money for extra things."

When Lowe arrived in Ware Shoals, he didn't have his own basketball, his coach, Josh Hallman, said. Hallman said Lowe wanted a basketball just to dribble around town. It was hard for Hallman to understand that his player couldn't afford a $10-$15 basketball.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the product of Lowe's senior project was putting on a basketball camp for a select group of students at Ware Shoals Primary School.

Lowe put fliers and collection cups around the school to collect donations to buy basketballs for the young third- and fourth-graders who would be attending his camp. He was able to acquire 17 basketballs for the campers.

When Hallman found out about the project from Guess, he got emotional.

"When she told me that, tears came to my eyes because this is something that means so much to him," Hallman said of Lowe.

Lowe can be seen dribbling a basketball around town almost any day. He said residents know it's him coming down the street when they hear the ball bounce against the pavement.

"It's a way you can clear your head and get away from certain things," Lowe said.

He thinks about how 17 basketballs could change 17 lives.

Lowe has risen above life's challenges to excel on and off the basketball court. He was the region player of the year this past season after averaging 18.1 points per game, 12.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.1 blocks. He also scored his thousandth career point this past season.

Lowe also shines in the classroom. While many seniors are able to come in late or leave early, Lowe has a full load of classes so he can best prepare for college. He's taking chemistry, anatomy and physiology, government and economics, Spanish II, English IV, probability and statistics and music appreciation.

Seventeen basketballs remind him of how far he has come and keep him focused on where he wants to go in life.

Lowe coordinated with Guess on the senior project.

"It was very realistic," Guess said. "It wasn't just statistics. It's about how poverty impacts a child into adult years and how it's hard to break that cycle of poverty.

"He is really compassionate and humble. If I had to find anybody who embodies the statement of treating others the way you want to be treated, it would be Shon."

Lowe doesn't dwell on the negatives he has experienced, most notably his unstable home life.

"You are only in control of so many things," Lowe said. "I don't stress things that I can't control. I think that's what shaped me the best.

"Whatever you're going through, it really is what you make it. I know my situation wasn't that good, but I know I'm not the only one who has bad situations."

Lowe calls coach Hallman "pops."

"That's my dad," he said. "He's helped me improve my grades by just staying on me, and I respect that."

Lowe said that no matter what you are going through, you have to make the best of it.

"Not everything is going to be good," he said. "You put yourself in the best position you can put yourself in and learn from what you're going through."

Seventeen basketballs helped Lowe bring his teammates into his project.

Lowe took some varsity basketball teammates and a girls varsity player with him to the camp at the primary school. He was thrilled with the response, even though Hallman said Lowe was worried about how the camp would go.

Hallman said Lowe worried the kids wouldn't know who he was, remember his name or like him. Hallman reassured him.

"To see him interact with those kids, it was something special," Hallman said. "I hope he gets involved in something where he can really push himself and give back.

"His heart is so big. He doesn't realize how powerful his story is. I just want him to make the best of his opportunity because he's going to succeed."

As Lowe reflects on the same basketball that changed his life, he thinks about the kids who received the 17 basketballs.

"If giving them a basketball or helping them have fun for an hour or two can change their day — or their life — it's worth it," he said.

Even though he has taken a full load of classes this year, Lowe said it has been his best year academically. He was named one of five high school standouts, which took into account academic and athletic accomplishments.

He hopes to make a small contribution to ending childhood poverty and its cycle through his research and community activities, such as the camp.

"What I got out of it was seeing all those little kids smile," Lowe said. "They look like they have some bright futures."

Hallman has nothing but praise for Lowe.

"His character is even better than his athleticism," Hallman said. "His teammates, teachers and other students love him, and, with all that he has gone through, his humility, resiliency and ability to smile through it all is truly admirable."

Hallman said he doesn't think Lowe realizes how much he's been through that's not normal for kids to have to face.

"You would never think he's been through the stuff he's been through," Hallman said. "He doesn't let his circumstances define him."

Seventeen basketballs have a special meaning for Lowe. They stand for 17 lives he might have changed. He hopes the kids see the same hope in a basketball that he did. It was a hope that led Lowe to examine the bigger issues in life, such as childhood poverty. With basketball talent and academic success, he hopes to break the cycle by earning a scholarship to college.

Seventeen basketballs. For Lowe, it means you control your own destiny.

"Just write your own life story," Lowe said.

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com