Ishmael Leggett’s life changed forever when he was a freshman in high school.
It was December 20, just before the holidays, and the Maryland native was on the way to one of his basketball practices with his father, Detrick, driving. As the two approached traffic, their car kept moving while all those in front came to a standstill. The two crashed into the rear bumper of the car directly ahead. As Ishmael looked to his left, his father Detrick was unconscious in the driver’s seat. He had suffered a massive stroke.
In the moment, Ishmael, physically, was unscathed. But his life, his mindset, and his purpose changed forever with that crash.
His father Detrick was left paralyzed and unable to speak following the crash. During a six-month stay in the hospital, he underwent — and survived — three brain surgeries. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Severe Expressive Aphasia and struggled to communicate with those he loved most.
Fast forward to 2022 and Leggett, now a sophomore at Rhode Island playing the best basketball of his life, had set up a GoFundMe to raise money for his father, titled, “HELP My Dad Detrick Communicate!! APHASIA Sucks!” — with the goal of raising $25,000. That money was to be used for a Tobii Dynavox device — one that would assist Detrick with communication.
“It puts out phrases for him to click, and it’ll speak for him,” Leggett told PSN about his father’s Dynavox device. “We also used that money to get him a wheelchair, an electronic wheelchair, that helps him be more mobile, come to some games, things of that nature. Just to help him be more mobile and get back to everyday life.”
According to GoFundMe, the campaign surpassed its goal of $25,000, raising $27,305 from 330 donations.
“Unless something happens to you, you don’t realize how many things we are blessed to have,” Leggett continued. “The ability to speak, the ability to get up and go get a drink of water. When that’s stripped away from you, it’s tough. I know he’s keeping his head high, he’s always in high spirits. That GoFundMe was just to get him the things that will better equip him to get back to where he once was. It may not be something that will get him to 100 percent, but the little things matter in those type of circumstances. Just to get him feeling like he’s back in a way was big for me, so that’s why we started our GoFundMe.”
Leggett’s journey has surely taken turns that he would have never expected. However, he knows that one thing will always be consistent. All that he does — on the basketball court and off — will be dedicated to his father.
“Everything I do is in dedication to him, to be honest,” he said. “Without him, I just feel like I wouldn’t even be close to the same person I am today. He’s taught me so much about life, so many things about basketball, about morals, about foundation. The amount of knowledge he has equipped in my brain, it’s only right that I dedicate everything that I do for him.”
Although he can’t always be with his father physically while away at Pitt, Leggett still finds ways to take him with him everywhere. He currently has a tattoo on his right arm that reads, “A4D,” standing for “All for Detrick.” He talks to his dad whenever he gets the chance. and shares with him everything he does.
“Everything I do, like, right after this I will update him on practice, on how the lift went,” he said. “I send him all the game film, I send him pretty much everything that I get from Pitt or from wherever I am that has to do with basketball or anything, it goes his way. So that’s how I keep him in the loop. We FaceTime every day, always keeping him updated. Just little things like that, just to let him know that I’m grateful for you, I’m thankful that you did what you did for me to put me in a position to succeed. I’m just grateful for him and my mom doing that for me at such a young age and still to this day. I just owe everything to him.”
Leggett is preparing for his first season with the Panthers after spending two years at Rhode Island. A 6-foot-3 guard, he scored more than 16 points per game last season for the Rams, breaking out in a huge way and catching the eye of Pitt’s Jeff Capel once he entered the transfer portal. He will look to lead Pitt’s group of young guards this season to the Panthers’ second-straight NCAA Tournament.
“I’m loving the group of guys we’ve got,” Leggett said about the back court. “We’re gelling well, we’re getting a feel for each other’s games, and that’s all you can ask for right now really, until we get into official practices. Everybody’s getting a feel for each other, okay, this is what he does, this is what he does. When he does this, I’ll do that, like a read-and-react type of thing. Right now, it’s going really well. We’ve got a great group at front and back court, and I think it’s going to be a great year for sure.”
WATCH THE FULL CONVERSATION WITH LEGGETT ON PSN HERE.