Rookie Tremont Waters is sitting near the Celtics’ empty practice court and rattling off names of team staffers. He is doing this to make a point. He identifies coaches and strength trainers and physical therapists and chefs.
After his list reaches 10, he pauses and his eyes begin to well. He takes a deep breath.
“If we took all those guys and meshed them into one,” Waters says, moving his hands as if scooping a big snowball, “that was my dad for me growing up.”
Waters was just a child when he and his father Ed began chasing an NBA dream together, unlikely as it might have been for a 5-foot-10-inch point guard from New Haven. Then on June 20, Ed Waters sat in the stands at the NBA Draft and saw the Celtics select his son with the 51st pick.
The moment was perfect, and the future was filled with possibility. The father and son were just getting started.
But exactly three weeks later, while Tremont’s NBA career was launching in the Las Vegas summer league, Ed committed suicide in a lonely room at a Super 8 motel in Connecticut.
“I think the foundation of it all for him was that he didn’t have help or support growing up,” Tremont says. “He didn’t have a father around. He felt like he had to do everything, and it just all spiraled out of control at the moment we should have been celebrating the most.”
A shared dream
Tremont Waters was introduced to basketball when he was just 2, and he said he dribbled so much as an infant that he fractured his wrist from overuse. He played football and baseball, too, but quickly settled on a true love. He told his father, an HVAC technician, that he wanted to be a basketball star, and so the two began the journey together.
They developed a scripted, focused and relentless routine. When Tremont was in elementary school they would often wake up at 5:15 a.m. and go to a local park. Ed Waters would set up cones and Tremont would dribble around them. When his father raised his hand, Tremont would whip a pass to him.
They progressed to two- and three-ball drills, and when the biting Connecticut winter bore down, they simply added a hat, gloves, and a hooded sweatshirt to the equation.
“If I’d said I wanted to play tennis, my dad would’ve gone and looked up the best tennis drills and the best racket,” Tremont says. “But it was like, ‘You said you wanted to play basketball, so we’re going to be the best at it.’”
Waters would go home and shower around 7, and after school he and his dad would reconvene in the afternoon and train a bit more.
When Tremont was older, weekend workouts shifted to Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym. The two would arrive around 8 a.m. and stay until 3, mixing basketball skills with jump ropes and medicine balls. Sometimes their training looked like a movie scene, with Tremont running the streets of New Haven wearing headphones while his father rode alongside him on a moped.
“I think it had a lot to do with his dreams, too, because he didn’t have the best support system from his family,” Tremont said. “So he felt like he was going to do the best job he could do as a father, because his father wasn’t really in his life. He gave me what he knew.”
One last moment
Tremont Waters emerged as one of the top basketball players in his high school class, and his father would watch from the stands as the results of their work were visible for all to see. He told Tremont he was proud, but he did not gush.
During games, while fans went bananas as Tremont unspooled video-game-like moves, Ed usually remained stoic. Tremont just looked for his father’s subtle smirk, because that was the best indicator that he had done something truly special.
As college programs began to hover, Ed Waters kept his son isolated from the process. He told Tremont that most of all, he wanted him to be coached by a good person. Tremont committed to Georgetown but instead enrolled at LSU after Hoyas coach John Thompson III was fired.
The father and son rarely talked about the NBA, but it was the unspoken goal. They studied elite small guards like Stephen Curry, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and Chris Paul and tried to find things to pluck from their games. After Tremont was named first-team all-SEC and the conference’s co-defensive player of the year as a sophomore last season, he entered the draft.
The Waters family drove from New Haven to Brooklyn on June 20 and sat among fans in the crowd, even though there was no guarantee that Tremont would even be picked. Then, long after the top prospects had left the Barclays Center to celebrate, the Celtics made Waters the 51st overall choice.
Tremont hugged his friends and family members and saved his father for last. He thought about how far they had come, about the early winter mornings on frigid New Haven blacktop. They had done it.
“Draft night was like that last thing he saw or experienced,” Tremont says. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to him. But I hugged him last because this all happened because of me and him. We were able to stick through everything, and this was the last step of us getting to the highest level.”
As Tremont pulled his father close, he thanked him.
“It was definitely a good moment,” he says. “I think the hug and everything was . . . yeah.”
He can’t quite complete the thought, so he stares ahead and lets the silence speak for him.
‘He’s looking down on me’
Tremont knew that his father had some health issues and that he was stressed, but he didn’t know the depth of his internal struggles. He said that his father had started to get counseling recently, but the old scars might already have been too deep.
“I think it had a lot to do with the way he grew up, and having demons from early on in his life,” Tremont says. “He didn’t have any help. If he’d had help, even back then, he wouldn’t have had to go through a bunch of other things.
“I tried to help him through it, but mental health is something that’s real. A ton of people try to downplay it and make it seem like they’re OK. But once they’re by themselves, everything’s falling apart.”
Waters was with the Celtics at the Las Vegas summer league when he found out about his father’s death. His mother Vanessa, who was married to Ed for more than 20 years, called first, and then he heard from his agent, Kim Grillier.
“Tremont was in shock,” Grillier said. “Then it finally set in, and it was just a tough moment. [Ed] was a good guy. He really loved his son and really believed in him.”
Vanessa Waters and Tremont’s girlfriend, LSU women’s basketball player Mercedes Brooks, flew to Las Vegas to be with him. Tremont played in Boston’s final summer league game, because in a moment like this, he was not going to back away from the dream he and his father had chased together.
Tremont spoke at his father’s funeral, but he said it was all was such a blur that he cannot even remember what he said. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was among the Boston contingent that went to New Haven to spend time with him afterward.
Tremont has been leaning most heavily on his mother and girlfriend, but he is also focused on being their protector now. He requested that neither of them be contacted for this story — especially his mother — because he does not want them to relive the hurt.
The hardest part for Waters is that the pain does not just evaporate, and sometimes he is not in a room filled with people who care about him. Sometimes he is by himself, and sometimes he just needs to cry.
“It really still hasn’t hit me,” he said. “The first few days I cried, and it felt like it wasn’t real. But as days went on it just became clear that I need to live my happy life and not the life of demons coming out when I’m alone. I don’t want to go down the same path that [my father] didn’t even know he was going on. He didn’t have help in certain areas, so I have to be able to reach out and understand that if I need help, I have it.”
The Celtics have stressed to Waters that they have numerous resources at his disposal to assist with the grieving process. And for Waters, the basketball court is the best sanctuary right now. It is where he finds clarity.
This summer he signed a two-way contract with the Celtics, meaning he will likely spend the majority of the season with the team’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. But during this training camp he is focused on trying to earn Boston’s final roster spot.
There are times he wants to call or text his father and tell him about a practice or ask him for advice, but then he quickly realizes he cannot. So instead he will just lean on the lessons that were left behind.
“At the end of the day, my dad did everything he could to help the people he loved,” Waters said. “I know he’s looking down on me knowing that I’ll be just fine, and that he and God are going to guide me in the right direction and give me strength to do the things I’m supposed to do.”
If you or someone you know is having mental health issues, call (800) 273-TALK (8255).