Long before he joined the Greens Farms Academy varsity this year as a seventh-grader, Tremont Waters had made a name for himself as a basketball prodigy.
It started back in kindergarten when he played on a fourth grade All-Star team. Then as a sixth-grader, he earned an invitation to an elite Nike camp where he competed against seventh- and eighth-graders.
In the summer of 2010, as a rising seventh-grader, Waters played with the state's best 16-year-olds in the Roundball Classic in New York City at the gym of the New York Gauchos, one of the nation's top AAU programs.
All of this didn't sit well, however, with gang members in Waters' home town of New Haven. According to Waters, they were jealous of his success.
The problem reached a head one day in late October of 2010, when the then-12-year-old was threatened in a classroom at his old school, King/Robinson Magnet. He was told that he would be shot if he didn't join the gang.
New Haven has the nation's fourth-highest per capita murder rate in the country and the city had its 34th homicide on Christmas Day, two shy of the record set in 1991. Growing up, Waters was not immune as three of his friends were murdered.
"It's been hard," Waters said prior to a GFA practice last week. "I had to stay out of trouble, stay in the house most of the time, because everyone that walks by, they look like gang members and thugs."
After young Tremont told his father of the threat, Ed Waters filed a police report and asked the principal of the school to get involved. His son was frightened as any 12-year-old would be.
"Tremont didn't handle it at first," Ed Waters said. "Tremont started missing school, Tremont wasn't sleeping. I didn't want his grades to fall because Tremont was making honors every marking period. I just didn't want my son in the hallways with those kids."
The family was extremely disappointed by the school's response. According to the elder Waters, the principal was less upset about the incident itself than the fact that the family got the police involved. Ed Waters suspects the school didn't do anything because it would have negatively affected its approval rating.
A few days later, Tremont Waters and his Spanish teacher exchanged glances in a hallway at the school. Tremont asked his teacher what he was looking at it, which the teacher apparently took as a threat or a sign of disrespect.
According to the elder Waters, the teacher called him to say, "Mr. Waters, those are fighting words from where I come from."
For Ed Waters and his wife, that was the final straw.
"I needed to get my son out of this school," he said.
The family began exploring other options and considered St. Luke's in New Canaan, but Ed Waters decided he didn't want to take on the Merritt Parkway every morning.
Logistically, Greens Farms turned out to be perfect because of the train station located right outside its doors. Basketball coach Doug Scott says GFA isn't so much a Westport school but a Metro North school. GFA's student body is populated by students from up and down the Fairfield County corridor.
During the school day, Tremont Waters faces a 90-minute daily commute. He rises at 5:50 a.m. to catch the 6:50 train out of New Haven, but the sacrifice is worth it because he is in a better environment.
Waters certainly faced a cultural adjustment, going from an inner-city school to an elite private one located on Long Island Sound with a much more rigorous academic workload. Still, he seems to be fitting in well, according to Scott, and is earning B's in the classroom.
Waters obviously doesn't have the same background as the traditional GFA student from the wealthy Fairfield County communities, but the school was willing to take a chance with him. When he enrolled at GFA for the second semester last year, all of his teachers provided tutoring to help him catch up academically.
"(GFA) is incredicably focused on community service," Scott said. "One of the things they do is find an upwardly mobile disadvantaged kid who has what it takes. They're going to invest some resources into him."
While Waters has had to work harder in the classroom, he has more than held his own on the basketball court. Scott says he can't remember the last time a seventh-grader played on a varsity team and it's not even allowed in the CIAC. Yet through five games, the 5-foot-7, 130-pound Waters was averaging 11.0 points and 5.0 assists in 21 minutes as a backup point guard for the Dragons.
"It's tough because I have to stay at the same level as the varsity kids and I have to work harder," said Waters, who turns 14 on Jan. 10. "It's pushing me to be a better person."
While Waters is blessed with physical skills, including stop-and-go ability, according to Scott, he also possesses a strong mental understanding of the game, which is a rare combination, especially for someone so young. It started when his father, an AAU coach himself, taught his son the mental
aspect of the sport while playing in the driveway of the family home.
Basketballsportlight.com, when descriding Waters, said "this youngster’s ball handling and flair make’s him definitely worth the price of admission."
"You watch him play for about five minutes and you realize he's special," Scott said. "Sometimes you get gifted physical kids that have been living off their physical gifts but to have a gifted physical kid that also understands when to apply it at such a young age is really kind of fun. I think that's why people enjoy watching him so much. You pinch yourself saying that kid is only 13."
Scott suspects there will come a time when a 17-year-old is going to try to physically intimidate his young phenom, but neither Waters nor his father is concerned about that.
"We crossed that bridge four years ago, the concern of bigger bodies," Ed Waters said. "He's always played two or three years up. He's never really played with his own age group. His getting hurt, or being afraid of getting hurt, hasn't really been an issue for four or five years."
And as Scott points out, Waters is used to adversity, having grown up on the mean streets of New Haven.
"He's always been the little kid making the big kids look bad, so it's not going to be new to him that somebody is going to get upset and take a cheap shot," Scott said. "Coming from the neighborhood he comes from, getting thrown to the floor is not a life-changing moment, so I'm not worried about him getting seruously injured."
While Scott acknowledges that it's early in the process, he has no doubt that Waters has the potential to be a Division I college player.
"He's already able to contribute with his body," Scott said. "He is going to be a phenomal high school player. He's always a pretty darn good high school player. Add five years of body strength into it, which means he's going to be a Division I player."
Waters' goal is to play in college -- his dream school is Duke -- and then the NBA, but he realizes that's far in the future. For now, he understands the importance of staying on a straight and narrow path.
"He doesn't hang out much after school," Ed Waters said. "He's either playing basketball or studying. His schedule is pretty intense."