As youths, their common bond was wearing Cherry and White uniforms as members of one of the state's premier boys basketball programs at Williamsport Area High School. As men, Brad Vonada and Raymond Truitt have become brothers in Christ, and while the roads they took are different, they are similar.
By the time Vonada arrived in Williamsport for his senior year of high school in 1986-87 as a 17-year-old, he already was a multi-sport athlete, having competed in football, baseball, basketball and track and field.
Brad Vonada, who now is known as Duche 'Dutch' Bradley, gave his life to Christ and now is making a difference in the lives of others.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Raymond Truitt, left, protects the ball under pressure from an opposing player during a January 1993 Williamsport Millionaires basketball game. As a youngster attending Lose Elementary School, Truitt was introduced to athletics.
Vonada was born in Lewisburg, but at 2 weeks old his mother moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., then South Jersey, near Philadelphia, and eventually to Milton. At Milton High School, he started as a freshman on the basketball team and through his junior year he had scored 816 points. It was a given that he would become a 1,000-point career scorer in a Millionaires uniform, but he almost didn't get the chance.
Struggling with the divorce of his mother and stepfather the summer before his senior season, Vonada, who described himself as a "broken young man" at the time, thought a change in scenery was necessary and decided to move to Williamsport on his own.
To do so, however, meant more difficulty.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Former Williamsport Area vs. Loyalsock Township high school boys
WHAT: Alumni benefit games
WHEN: Players from the 2000s, 6:30 p.m.; players from the 1980s and 1990s, 8 p.m., April 14
WHERE: Williamsport Area High School gym.
"I got to Williamsport and the answer that the leadership in Williamsport had is they got me on welfare my last year of high school and put me in a city hotel, which was a horrific place for me to live all alone. But, my love for sports is what made me do it," he said. "Sports were my outlet, my salvation, my sense of identity; so I was willing to make any sacrifice necessary to do that.
"My hope for athletics was that they were going to take me to college and here I was It was a mental strain in my life at this time," he said. "But I just wanted to play sports."
After he transferred from Milton in the summer, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 4 committee declared him ineligible to compete because it thought his transfer was for athletic reasons, according to a Sun-Gazette story at the time. Then, just before the season began, the PIAA Board of Control overruled the district decision in a 3-2 vote.
"Truthfully, I wanted to be challenged at another level, and I was really trying to escape the problems that I had in my home life. I just wanted to get away. But, it was a Band Aid on the wound. At least it took me out of the environment I was in," Vonada said.
"The Milton program was great for triple-A ball, but it couldn't compare to what I experienced with the Williamsport program. It was like literally going from high school to college," he said.
His season started slowly as he was recovering from a broken arm, and after six games he missed the next six with a broken wrist. Then, things finally came together and he finished the season with 218 points - 1,034 for his career. At the end of the season he was given the Hustler Award for his "dedication, hustle and giving 100 percent all of the time."
With high school ball behind him and controversy surrounding his high school coach, Pete White, over allegations of alleged loans to help Vonada pay his rent, among other charges that led to White's coaching suspension the following season, the 18-year-old found himself with no prospects and no college in his future.
"I needed help to get into college but there was no one to help me. It was a difficult time for me," he admitted.
And on top of that he got his girlfriend pregnant.
The next three years turned into a downward spiral as he moved to drug trafficking as a means of self-support. And it all came crashing down when he was arrested three times in less than three months - and, at the age of 21, found him facing his next 38 years in prison.
Immediately after his third arrest, "The only person I could call was my mother," he said. "We didn't have a faith in God. We didn't have any understanding of who Christ was or is, and my mother told me later that (after the call) she looked up to heaven said, 'God, if you exist, please help my boy.' I've always remembered that because I believe that was the prayer that activated the change in my life."
He didn't know how soon that prayer would begin to be answered.
Life begins to change
Through the legal system, Vonada's potential sentence was reduced to seven years and he only had to serve 2 1/2, during which time he accepted Christ as his personal savior and began working on a college degree, first through correspondence courses and later in a prison-school release program. He attended North Carolina Central University and carried a 3.85 GPA. After his prison release in 1993, he transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., and achieved a 4.0 GPA as a media and TV communications major.
During the first few years after his release from prison he was involved with ministries in both Washington and New York City. He later went to work as a bodyguard for Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony and he was a bodyguard and personal chauffeur for P. Diddy, whenever the rapper was in Miami, Fla.
Despite living a lifestyle that many would envy, Vonada knew he wasn't where God had called him to be and left those jobs to return to the ministry, this time as a motivational, inspirational speaker who travels across the country sharing his story. This year alone, through Bill Glass Ministries, he will travel to 30 cities and 130 prisons.
"It's a tough battle. I've been doing ministry for the last three and a half years and I don't have any of the privileges that I had when I was working as a bodyguard," Vonada, who now is known as Duche "Dutch" Bradley, said recently.
"Now, it's a fight every day. I go into high schools and prisons all over the country. I'm speaking to people (in prison) that most people have given up on, that most people don't care about, and they're certainly not looking to contribute a lot of money for me being able to go and do it. But at least now I'm living my life knowing I'm doing something to help other people and not a detriment to them.
"Christ is the motivation. And I don't mean that in a religious way. When I was broken and nobody wanted me and I was thrown away, Christ came and picked me up. And every time I start complaining, he very just lovingly says 'Do you remember where I found you?' That's my motivation to go places most people would never go," he added.
Truitt had rough start
Before he came to Williamsport, begging quarters on the streets of Detroit, Mich., while his mother supported and indulged her drug habit, was common for Truitt as a child.
"We didn't have food. I wasn't in a good school. We had no stability," Truitt said. "My father was never in my life and I was disobedient. I was a misbehaved child.
"Finally, she hit her bottom. She realized she needed to stop; she couldn't do it anymore to herself or me," he continued.
According to Truitt, who has four older sisters who at the time were not under his mother's care, a family member took her to a rehab program in Philadelphia. Afterward, the two of them came to Williamsport as part of her continuing recovery in a narcotics anonymous program.
"She was a single mother. She raised me by herself. I had no father in the house, but my mother always instilled in me God. We always came from a church background, but when we came to Williamsport, that's when it hit us to get really involved in the Lord, to get to know Him and find Him for ourselves.
"A lot of people can say they know the Lord when their mother makes them go to church. But there is a difference when you have that encounter and know the Lord for yourself," Truitt continued, noting that his uncle, Sidney Wheatley, the pastor at Unity Christian Fellowship, instilled in him that "you can't let your past hinder your future."
"Detroit is a different city. Moving from Detroit to Williamsport was a big difference. Williamsport was a very unique town. I loved everything about it. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop," Truitt said.
While attending Lose Elementary School, Truitt was introduced to athletics. He played Pop Warner Football in his early years and later he played basketball in the John H. Bower Sunday School League.
"No one ever taught me how to play basketball. I just developed it," he said.
Once in high school, Truitt saw action as a reserve during his sophomore season and then started as a junior and senior. He graduated in 1994.
In high school, Truitt also competed in track and field, and he became active in his church.
"The church played a significant role. As I got older, I learned to have a more personal relationship with the Lord," Truitt said. "As a man I've learned you can't be a public success and a private failure. Now, I've got that relationship with the Lord and that's when my life started changing around for the better."
That doesn't mean there weren't setbacks.
After high school, Truitt attended Luzerne Community College and played basketball for one season. But during that time he also got caught up in college life, going to clubs and hanging with a wrong crowd. "My life started turning around backwards," he said.
He returned to Williamsport and his mother for a few months, then decided he would see how far he could go in basketball.
Played pro ball
Truitt started working out and earned a spot on the roster of the professional Fargo-Moorehead, N.D., Beez in the Independent Basketball Association. He then advanced to the Continental Basketball Association, where he played for the Yakama Sun Kings, winning two CBA titles, and Quad City Riverhawks before retiring in 2007.
Returning to Indianapolis where he has lived for 15 years, Truitt said he accepted a calling on his life to preach the Gospel, serving as a church elder and working with teens as a mentor. He also is in business with another former Millionaire, Corey Jett, of Harrisburg, in Higher Level Sports Consultant Agency and he operates his own sports consultant businesses, Ray IM Sports Consultants, on a part-time basis.
"We help kids who have academic problems, who may not be taking the right core courses in high school, so they can get into college," he explained. Several of the young men they have worked with now are playing football at the NCAA Division I level.
The biggest thing he stresses with them is "you have to stay humble and you have to keep the Lord first. There's no way you can do anything without the Lord," he said.
Charity game coming
At the point in life where he wants to give back, Truitt has been the driving force behind a charity basketball game that will pit former players from Williamsport against those from Loyalsock Township on April 14 at the Williamsport Area High School gymnasium. Tickets are on sale at both high schools, the United Way office and at The Center.
Players from the 2000s will square off at 6:30 p.m. and those from the 1980s and 1990s will clash at 8 p.m. All proceeds will go to four charities: AIDS Resource Alliance, The Center, Lycoming County United Way and the American Cancer Society. Truitt will play for WAHS and Vonada plans to attend, flying into the city after speaking at a prison earlier in the day in Birmingham, Ala.
Truitt's message to others today?
"If I can turn my life around, you can turn your life around, too. We're trying to give back in a positive way and And we want to have some good, old Millionaire fun time," he added.