Dressed in a black t-shirt, maroon pants and grey and green sneakers, Iren Rainey concentrates hard on the basketball plays of the 10 youngsters he’s training at West Oaks Academy gymnasium in the West Orlando area.
“I want to bring out the best in these 8th to 12th graders as they prepare for college,” the 29-year-old Rainey says. “Basketball is very important to me and my desire is to shape these kids’ lives through a game that I love.”
At one point, he pulls one of the players off the court so he could observe the various play options.
“You’ve got to know what you’re doing,” he says to the youngster. “I am not picking on you, but you just told me what to do, but didn’t do it.” He tells him to look at all of the options his teammates are demonstrating.
Everything is about timing and staying focused, Rainey says. “Fellows, don’t shy away from the pressure; pressure it [the ball], pressure it.”
There’s lots of encouragement too. “Good job,” he says repeatedly, throughout the 45-minutes or so practice session, before he gives the youngsters a break. “Get a drink fellows, get a drink.”
Rainey trains and consults for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team Orlando Evolution, where students are drawn from various schools and provided an opportunity to compete at a game they love, away from their high schools.
“We won our first division championship last week-end,” said a smiling Rainey. “It’s our first time as an organization playing together and we won our First Division 1 AAU Championship and that’s huge.”
Rainey admits that, at one point in his life, all he ever dreamed of was playing professional basketball, which he did. He has long had a passion for the game going back to when he was a kid.
Born in North Carolina, he moved to England with his parents, Billie and Michael Rainey, at the tender age of eight. His mother, a teacher, got a promotion and the decision was taken to relocate the family of three, he says.
Just prior to moving, little Iren won a Little League basketball championship in North Carolina, where his father was the head coach. Winning the championship was significant and although a highpoint in his early basketball career, he was soon to confront a major tragedy when his father and mentor, succumbed to kidney and liver failure within the first year of the family’s arrival in England.
“I watched my father die in the ICU,” he said. “It was traumatizing for me as an 8-year-old boy.” Chris Jones, a life long family friend and mentor took me under his wing and we played basketball together and went around to various tournaments, he adds.
Returning to the United States when he was 15 years old, Rainey attended a Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he trained under Howard Garfinkel, affectionately know as Garf, and the man who all agree has impacted the lives of more college basketball players and coaches than anyone else over the past half-century. Along with Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Rainey received Most Outstanding Player accolades and was immediately recruited to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, an elite private high school for basketball players, with an academically challenging curriculum.
After spending one year at Oak Hill and winning a national championship, he transferred to Farrell High School in Pennsylvania where he had an unsuccessful season and ended up getting disqualified on account of a paper-work snafu.
Despite this set-back, Rainey was highly sought after by a number of Division 1 high schools, including West Virginia, East Tennessee State, UNC Charlotte and Oklahoma, among others. He would end up going to Cheyney State in Pennsylvania where he trained under legendary coach Cleo Hill, Jr., whom he remains close to up until now.
He says he played well during his first season at Cheyney and called Pennsylvania home. “I was about 20 years old and this was the turning point.”
On a trip to Florida to visit his mother, Rainey says he met up with his first cousin, Gerald Raymond, whom he was very close to and influenced by, and who also excelled at basketball. As a struggling college student Raymond sent him money to help out, though he often wondered how his cousin had access to so much cash. He would learn later that Raymond was not only selling drugs, but involved in robbing check cashing businesses.
“My cousin Gerald had a group of friends with whom he was involved who were living the ‘wrong type of life’ in Florida,” Rainey said. He was scared when he first learned of Raymond’s robbery activities, but would end up going on a couple of trips himself.
He mostly drove the getaway vehicle the group used, never carried a handgun and went into a facility that was being robbed, on one occasion.
“I do accept my part, but I had minimal participation,” he said. “I wasn’t raised this way, but when you hang around people who you love, you end up taking on their persona.”
While fully accepting responsibility for his actions, Rainey said he was disappointed he didn’t get probation, as some in the group did for their limited participation and as his attorney had led him to believe. He would eventually serve close to five years in a South Carolina prison and also at Coleman, a low security facility in Florida.
Getting Back on Track
Out on bond prior to the start of his trial, Rainey says, he had a complete epiphany, a change in mind-set. He says he was numb to what was going on and very remorseful.
“The hardest thing was to look at my mother’s face. She was there [at trial] for me and she is amazing, she truly is,” he said.
While incarcerated he had an opportunity to undertake deep introspection and to better understand himself in relation to the rest of the world. He spent many hours reading, studying, encouraging inmates, and yes, playing a lot of basketball.
“I believe I had a positive and significant impact on many lives through helping to motivate those who seemingly had no hope,” he said. “A lot of them would not get the second chance that I would have.”
Spirituality plays a huge role in his life and he is big on meditation, he says. He practiced Yoga, prayed often and read the Bible a lot and not once did he feel sorry for himself.
“I always felt there was something divine that ‘kinda’ led me,” he said. “I always felt I was getting out earlier than I was and knew there was a reason for each day that I spent there.” He says the time didn’t go as slow as people may think, nor did it move as fast as he would have liked.
He has learned to live in the moment and not beat himself up for his poor choices.
“Life is based on each moment, but often times our minds dwell in the past or look forward to the future,” a contemplative Rainey said. “So you learn to embrace the moment as opposed to suffering and thinking about what went wrong in the past or what might happen down the line.”
Living in the Moment
And that’s exactly what Rainey is doing – living in the moment. My mission now is more for other people, he says. He has turned down offers to play professional basketball overseas, but plays professionally in the International Basketball League (IBO).
On any given day, he can be found going to various recreational centers and schools in the Central Florida area, giving motivational speeches to students, urging them to avoid his own mistakes. He speaks to people across the spectrum, including doctors and lawyers, and even those who have relationship problems.
He founded his own company, Evolution24/7 Basketball, Inc., and gained his certification to become an NBA Skills Development Coach.
“I started my own company because, a lot of the principles you learn in life, you apply the same thing in basketball,” he said. “This includes helping people to see themselves as exceptional individuals who have the ability to create their only reality, through how they think and the words they say.”
“People and players must embrace the moment,” a thoughtful Rainey adds.
Rainey says there is still an opportunity for him to play professionally in the NBA, but at this point, his love for helping players develop outweighs his desire to play in the League. In the meantime, he works out and trains with players like Courtney Lee of the Boston Celtics, Darius Washington, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs and Jason Williams, formerly of the Miami Heat.
“I have great relationships with these guys,” he says. “They respect me because of where I’ve come from and what I am doing now and my outlook on life.”
Chandler Parsons, who plays for the Houston Rockets, is a close friend with whom Rainey works out during the summer time in Orlando.
Rainey also plays basketball in the Orlando Pro-Amateur League during the summer months, and when not on the court training aspiring professional basketball players, he is reading, trading in the foreign exchange market, at which he says he is good, writing poetry and generally looking for other ways to improve himself.
“I see my mom every day; she lives in Winter Park and I make it a habit to do so,” he says affectionately of the woman who has had the most influence on his life. But, there are others who have played significant roles over the last couple of years.
One such person is public relations consultant and Radio Host, Don Miller of the Don Miller Show, who says he has a lot of respect for Rainey.
“I have watched him grow, I have watched him commit to working hard,” said Miller, who met Rainey close to two years ago when he was searching for a basketball trainer. “He [Rainey] is about results and I have seen a lot of young people with whom he works develop into talented basketball players.”
Miller says he particularly admires how Rainey has used his own challenges to help others, not only on the court, but also off the court.
“Iren Rainey is a good young man and he is about doing something positive with his life,” he said. “He is the typical example of someone who has tremendous talent, needs a vehicle to present it and I want to be a part of that.”
Getting just a tad personal I asked Rainey, an only child, what plans he has for a family and kids.
“I have a girlfriend now and definitely desire to have kids in the near future,” Rainey, who just celebrated his 29th birthday said. “For now though, I just want to continue to assist people in living more blissful and successful lives.”
“I say blissful because it’s more significant than happy,” he quickly adds.
From all accounts, Rainey is well on his way to doing just that!