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Towson University

Two Names/Two Lives
By Benjamin Hughes
For BaltimoreStories.com

Michael Venson let his high arching shot sail over the defender as they battled it out on the blue and red asphalt court. He continued to abuse the opposing player by backing him down into the lane with his large, thick frame for easy baskets. The game ended with Venson smoothly dropping in a 15-footer from the corner of the key. It is not everyday that Baltimore has a former a McDonald’s All-American/ Player of the Year as named by Parade Magazine playing at Druid Hill Park courts.

Venson averaged 35 points per game his senior year and is the second leading scorer in Maryland high school history. Still most people, including avid basketball fans, probably don’t know who he is. Finding out who Michael Tate was might help.

Venson filed his application to get a spot at the coveted Nike ABCD basketball camp where all the best high school basketball players competed to get their names on the recruiting radar. Because he applied so late he was not given a spot and told try again next year. After an injury to another player, Venson got a call from the camp with an invitation and he was immediately on the bus to New Jersey.

When he got to the camp a day late, Venson was sitting on the end of the bench. He knew if he didn’t play well this week, that he might not get another invitation to come back. The coach called for Tate to go into the game but Venson jumped up and checked in at the scorer’s table. He didn’t care that they were calling him by his mother’s last name; he just wanted to show he belonged out there with the elite.

On the first play after checking in, there was a steal and outlet pass to Venson. With his 44-inch vertical, he threw down a monstrous wind-mill dunk. Then everyone knew Venson as Michael Tate and he started every game after that. As a sophomore, he ended up leaving the Nike ABCD camp as the MVP and with a new name.

Venson returned to Oxon Hill High School and was a first-team All-Metro his two last years of school. He would play AAU basketball in the off-season to keep fresh. He was on the Washington D.C. All-Stars and they would play other all-star squads like Baltimore Finest featured which Sam Cassell at the time.
In 1989, after graduating from Oxon Hill High School and being named the top high school basketball player in the nation, Venson was off to the McDonald’s All-American game. He shared a room with Shaquille O’Neal for the all-star weekend.

He was soon to be heading to Georgetown University in fall to play with future NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. Venson was on track to make millions playing basketball, but a knee injury at a practice before the Capital Classic was going to slow him down.

Venson did not know the severity of the injury, thinking it was a pulled muscle, and tried to keep playing on it. Some days it would be fine, other days it would be swollen and Venson would be sidelined.

“It was an emotional roller-coaster,” Venson said about the day-to-day effect the injury had on him. As the arthritis in his knee became more and more painful, he started to lose his confidence.

“Basketball is all instinct, but I was thinking too much,” Venson said about his performance declining. He admits that he probably should have had surgery and sat out that year to recover, but instead he tried to fight through it. He wasn’t only fighting with the injury. Georgetown coach John Thompson and Venson “did not see eye to eye” on everything. So Venson began looking for a new school.

“I had to get out of the area,” Venson said. “I needed a change of scenery.”

Venson chose James Madison University. Charles G. "Lefty" Driesell had coached Len Bias, Venson’s role model, at the University of Maryland before Bias died. Venson enjoyed going to school in the Shenandoah Valley and getting degrees in sociology and mass communications. He also changed his playing name from Michael Tate back to Michael Venson.

Venson, 35, now lives in Arlington, Vir. with his wife, Pia, and two kids, Michael, 14, and Mikayla, 9. Venson and his wife have been running a daycare center together for eight years. And running daycare center instead of playing in basketball for a living is quite all right for him.

“I am very content with my life,” Venson said. “I have a beautiful home, beautiful wife and a beautiful family.” Venson knows it is ok that he doesn’t have a million dollars or play in the NBA but “its peace of mind that really matters.”

Venson enjoyed his life when he was known as Michael Tate. He made a lot of good friends while being on top of the basketball world. He even met Michael Jordan.

“I don’t regret anything,” Venson said. “I got a free education and had great experience.” Still he knew that it was time to move on to what was next.

“I didn’t want to chase a dream,” he said. “It was a chapter in my life.”

Back at Druid Hill Park, Venson was there to watch his daughter play as the only girl on an all-boys football team, not to relive his life as Michael Tate. It evident while hearing him talk about his straight A student son, his athletic daughter or working with his wife that he is happy to be know as Michael Venson.

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