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How Donovann Toatley overcame depression to conquer his basketball dreams

For most players, four years of high school basketball still isn’t enough time to become their all-time leading scorer.

That’s why its ridiculously impressive that Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, MD) senior guard Donovann Toatley achieved that feat at the school in just TWO years with 1,271 points.

He also led his team to the Maryland Private School State championship and won. Not to mention he’s just 5’8”. In my one-on-one interview with him Toatley said,

“I definitely think that I have the short man syndrome. I feel like I’m a giant. I feel like I take up a lot of space even though I don’t.”

His coach Lou Wilson, who has coached the likes of Nolan Smith, Michael Beasley, and more, says nobody’s played like Toatley with his size,

“He is a once-in-a-decade type of player.”

When you watch him play, it’s not surprising his coach says that. The 17-year-old handles the rock like a yo-yo and his vision is superb. Not to mention, he can dunk despite being short in stature. Donovann told me,

“That’s the best feeling in the world with somebody my size. I feel like a superhero.”

And as good as he is with his hands on the court with the ball, he’s pretty darn good with writing poetry too. He talks about love and feelings. He recited one poem that he wrote to his girlfriend.

Here is an excerpt: “But my soul she has already acquire so captivated by this woman. All I can do is restlessly admire. And she is the muse from which these thoughts inspire.”

The crazy part is that this past summer Donovann had no scholarship offers and was ranked as two-star recruit.

You can imagine what that did to his confidence. He dreamed of playing college and pro ball since he was in diapers. So the fact that he cooked some of the best point guards committed to blue bloods and he didn’t see any offers sent him into a very dark place. Donaovann reflected,

“I remember it was one day in June. I sat in a gym, just dropped to my knees, and cried. I didn’t know what I was going to do at that point. Everything about my life was centered around basketball. I felt like I was a failure because I had no offers.”

He sunk into depression and barely slept during the month of June saying,

“It was hard just waking up sometimes. It was like forcing a toddler to eat vegetables. I was very depressed.”

It even got to the point where he thought about taking his own life. He continued,

“I thought about ending it all. That was my lowest point.”


Thankfully he didn’t but his dark days didn’t subside. All he did was workout like a madman. He convinced himself that this was the way for him to be successful. He felt God had blessed with amazing talent for a reason. Donovann’s dad commented,

“It got to the point where his eye was twitching because he was so worried about getting offers.”

His mother felt the exact same way saying,

“Seeing him the way he was, was very troubling.”

The big change came after reading the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho one day in July. The book focuses on the power of positive thought. One quote from the book changed his life forever.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”


He explained how that one single line is something that sticks with him today saying,

“A lot of times people tell you that the Universe isn’t on your side and you have to do things on your own. So that quote really stuck with me. Because if I have the universe on my side, my friends, my girl, and parents, then nothing can stop me.”

Here’s the kicker: The very next day he balled out in an AAU game and received an offer from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Coach Lamont Paris gave him the call that he finally dreamed of. Donovann said,

“I couldn’t believe it. I was on the bus (with my AAU teammates) and I just started screaming while he was still on the phone. I didn’t care though because I was so happy. I almost cried tears of joy.”

He ended up receiving multiple offers after that but Chattanooga ended being the school he committed to. Toatley said referring to the book’s quote,

“It’s crazy how a couple words can change your life.”


A story that seems like it was made for Hollywood. He said it saved his life so much that he was seriously considering getting the quote as a tattoo on his arm. He continued,

“It saved my soul, man. It saved my career.”

Since then Donovann’s been the happiest ever with his girlfriend and parents supporting all the way. He doesn’t fear anything in life or on the court.

“I feel invincible. Like even if LeBron is trying to check me, I believe I can still beat him.”

He knows he’ll face other challenges next year in college, but no challenge will come close to the one he defeated this summer. And that’s what gives him the belief he will end up being a star. He told me with a straight face,

“I believe I was meant to be one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.”

Hey, I mean he already got passed his depression, so why can’t he achieve it?

This story was originally done by Chris Williamson for WUSA9.