Justin Tillman still fighting for NBA dream after parents’ deaths

Justin Tillman’s NBA dream has never felt this close.

The former Detroit Pershing standout and ESPN four-star recruit is coming off of a strong season with the College Park Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks’ G League affiliate. Tillman earned All-NBA G League first team honors after averaging 23.5 points and 11.6 rebounds while shooting 59.8% overall and 41.7% from 3. He signed a 10-day contract with the Hawks in December. It was his first time sitting on an NBA bench, and he hopes it is not be his last.

Tillman worked out for the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks last week, and has six more workouts planned throughout the month of June. The hope is Tillman, 26, can land on an NBA roster this fall. He went undrafted in 2018 after four years at VCU and has spent most of his career playing overseas, with stops in South Korea, Israel, Italy and Turkey.

But Tillman’s NBA dream isn’t just his own. It was also the dream his parents had for him. His father, John, died April 4, 2020, after a battle with COVID-19 at the age of 53. His mother, Angela, was hospitalized with COVID at the same time as his father.

She was in critical condition and was also placed on a ventilator, but recovered from the virus. But the battle weakened her body. She died just two months after John at age 55 following a stroke.

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than a million Americans, and the city of Detroit has been hit disproportionately hard. Tillman was playing for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in Israel when the pandemic started, and he moved back to Detroit that March after the sports world shut down.

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