Had it not been for a chance four-month basketball contract in country WA, James Fitch fears his fate may have mirrored that of several former schoolmates whose lives ended violently on his home streets of Mississippi.
But 23 years after coming to Australia in 1990 to take up his State Basketball League contract in Bunbury, Fitch appreciates his stark life contrasts as he prepares to start a new job this week as a safety officer on a Newman construction site for the Forge Group.
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The 47-year-old is this year expected to figure prominently in major achievement awards being considered by the SBL to mark the competition's 25th anniversary season.
But life could have been so much different had he returned home to the US in 1991 as planned to start building a college coaching career.
Now a fly-in, fly-out worker living out of Bunbury with his wife Tania and daughters Kianna, 16, and Javene, 9, Fitch recalled how he had once dodged bullets with his name on them, while some of his peers had not been so fortunate.
His moment of truth came in a nightclub on a trip back to the US when he was confronted by an adversary who accused him of selling out to Australia.
"He pulled out his gun and started waving it around," Fitch said.
He said his schoolmate judged "most likely to succeed" was now serving a 20-year jail sentence for fraud.
Other friends had become drug dealers and he often wondered whether he could have been doing the same had the random call from Australia not come.
Fitch was one of five siblings growing up in the Mississippi farming town of Laurel where racism was rife. He once hid a relationship with a white college girlfriend from his peers and teachers for nine months for fear of reprisals.
Of the 25 players to have notched at least 300 games in the SBL, none scored more points per game than the player known as "The Black Flash", who led his beloved Bunbury City Slammers to four championships in the mid to late 1990s during his 12 seasons until 2001.
On taking his first look at Bunbury in 1990 he considered the place called a town to be more of a village.
He had heard the roar of the ocean the previous night and then saw kangaroos "running around like deer in the States".
"I was thinking, 'All right, everything is on the loose over here'," he laughed.
"When I got to the top of that (Bunbury) hill, the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Oh, what have I done? Have I made a mistake or what?' But over time, that little village has won me and I love it down there.
"I don't have any regrets because I think if things had been different, I wouldn't be where I am today.
"My heart will always be in the States, but my body and soul will always be here."
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