Guei made sure that everybody won
The assist leader in college basketball this season doesn't play for Indiana or Kentucky or Duke. CBS hardly knows he exists. He won't show up on any national stat sheet.
His name is Allan Guei (pronounced: Gway) and he's the 5-foot-9, sixth-man point guard for Cal State Northridge. He's averaging only two dishes a game, but his sweet touch has helped seven people completely change their lives.
Two years ago, Guei walked into the gym at inner-city Compton High School (near Los Angeles) and sunk a single free throw to win a $40,000 college scholarship. But what he did a month later was even more breathtaking.
The whole story is told in a just-released, award-winning documentary called "Free Throw" by Court Crandall, an ad exec who wrote the Will Ferrell hit comedy "Old School." But where "Old School" was about never wanting college to end, "Free Throw" is about eight kids hoping it begins.
Crandall's son, Chase, is a star high school hooper in ritzy Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Court had gotten to know a lot of Compton kids. He's also gotten to know how far out of reach college is for many of them.
A light bulb went off.
Crandall got the cameras, bugged friends for $47,000 in donations -- $40,000 to the winner, $1,000 each to the losers -- and began the contest, open only to Compton High School students with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Eight names were drawn randomly out of 65.
And whose name came up first? The captain of the basketball team -- Allan Guei.
"Fix," people grumbled.
"Unfair," parents whispered.
"Oops," thought Crandall.
Even Guei himself wasn't sure he wanted to do it. "I knew they were all going to be mad about me being in it," he remembers.
Fast-forward to March 25, 2011. The Compton gym was crammed. The dance team was there. The cheerleaders. The marching band. Seven nervous kids (an eighth withdrew when she got pregnant). Their parents, fingers crossed.
The first round, best out of 10, cut the field to four: Guei (who made five free throws); Arturo Mendez (five), who spends most of his day caring for his grandmother; Donald Dotson (four), who'd given away his best basketball shoes to a kid whose toes were popping through his; and Diana Ramirez (four), who didn't know a free throw from a throw rug until the contest. Her arms were so weak she couldn't even get her practice shots to the rim. "So my dad told me to try it underhanded, so I did," she says. "And it worked."
The final round was one free throw each, winner take nearly all.
"I wasn't nervous until I got up to the line," says Diana, "and then everything crashed down on me. I was thinking, 'This one shot is going to determine how easy your future is.'"
Crandall was secretly hoping she'd sink it. Nobody wants to watch a documentary in which Bill Gates wins the lottery. "Diana was the David. I needed to beat the Goliath."
But Diana's Rick Barry shot rimmed out. Donald's wasn't close. Neither was Arturo's.
Which left Guei's. It hit the front of the rim, the backboard, the front rim again and then decided to drop through.
End contest. End a lot of dreams. End hopes for a dramatic documentary.
But then a funny thing happened. The predictable ending had a piano fall on it.
Guei was suddenly on the phone telling Crandall he'd been offered a full ride to play basketball at CSUN and asking him, "What would you think if I let the other kids have the money instead?"
Candall pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it.
"That would be amazing," Crandall spit out. "Let me make sure we have some film in the camera."
And so it was, on Graduation Day, Guei gathered the six around him -- seven if you count the pregnant classmate -- and told them they were all getting $5,714 toward college, to be parceled out over four years. They were all on their Guei to college.
"We were just speechless," Diana said. "All we could do is crowd around and hug him."
Today, Guei is a proud 20-year-old father of seven. "I'm so happy they're all still in school," he beams.
Mostly, they are. The only one not enrolled is Diana, but she'll be going back to Eugene Lang College in New York City in the fall when Allan's money kicks in again, when she'll work as an office assistant and pizza driver, and a very grateful student.
As for Guei, his life hasn't gone exactly as he thought, either. He's coming off the bench instead of starting, as he often did as a freshman. And, seems like about every day, his teammates poke at his psyche.
"They're always talking about, 'Man, you coulda did this or that. You coulda bought a car!'"
Actually, the $40,000 had to be used for college, but it would've been a very nice safety net for him in case he was thrown off the team or had a change of heart about basketball.
"Anything could've happened to him," says Diana. "What if he couldn't play anymore?"
But Guei has never looked back. "I'd do it again," he says. "I mean, if I already ate and somebody's starving next to me, I'm not going to eat again, right? People I've never met in my life find me and go, 'I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of what you did. Friend me. Call me.' I've never had that kind of thing in my life."
And so it was Allan Guei became known as The Kid From Compton Who Gave Away $40,000.
"You know, when they first pulled Allan's name out, I thought, 'That's the absolute worst name that could've been drawn,'" says Efren Arellano, who is now at Long Beach City College. "And now I think it was the best."