NEW BRUNSWICK – Felicia Harris and Keith Sellers were both great basketball players during their day at St. Peter’s College. Both of whom were 1,000-point scorers for their respective teams and both rank among the all-time leading scorers in the history of the school.
The two fell in love, got married and had a son, named Antonio.
It was only natural that young Antonio would be a basketball player like his celebrated parents.
Felicia Sellers later became the first-ever girls’ basketball coach at Hudson Catholic, when girls were first accepted into the school after 40-plus years of the school being strictly an all-male institution.
Felicia is currently the disciplinarian at Lincoln High School. Keith is a counselor at Hoboken University Medical Center. The family makes their home in Bayonne.
It is a tight-knit family, with their lifeline being basketball. It’s the sport that Felicia and Keith played and the sport they passed on to their son. It’s just a way of life.
Young Antonio had a bright future planned in basketball. He attends Hudson Catholic and played a lot of minutes for coach Nick Mariniello’s Hawks, averaging close to 11 points and six rebounds per game. Standing 6-foot-5 and only 15 years old, the sky’s the limit for this young man. He is an NCAA Division 1 prospect if there ever has been one, shooting the ball with ease, rebounding, ball handling. The kid can do it all.
But these days, Antonio Sellers is not playing basketball. He’s currently in a hospital bed in the Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, recovering after he underwent extensive surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor back in March.
The story is too amazing for words, but recently, both Felicia and Keith sat down at Antonio’s bedside to tell the tale. It’s a saga that makes you want you to hug your kids or hug the neighbor’s kids if you don’t have any of your own. It makes you want to appreciate your children more, love them more, cherish their lives more. Because frankly, you never know.
Just like the tragedy that was written last week about former St. Peter’s Prep baseball and football star Augie Gonzalez and his family, devastated by the fatal car crash in Kentucky that claimed the life of Augie and his two precious little daughters, this tale is also tragic – except for one key fact.
Antonio Sellers is still with us. He sat up and recognized the sportswriter who sat at the foot of his bed, smiled, and gave a big “thumbs-up” signal, telling the writer that everything was going to be alright in time. But he’s far from the basketball player we last saw during the Hudson County Tournament semifinal game against Union City, his floppy dreadlocks shaved from his head. He has a long tenuous road ahead of him in terms of recovery.
Felicia Sellers, who has remained at Antonio’s side day and night since he arrived in March, sleeping on a pull-out cot directly next to Antonio’s bed, said that her son started complaining about headaches right before the Hawks faced the Patrick School in the second round of the NJSIAA Non-Public B North state playoffs.
“He played a decent game, but we started questioning him about the headaches,” Felicia Sellers said.
Her husband agreed.
“Right before the game started, he started complaining about the headaches,” Keith Sellers said. “He was complaining about his head hurting and went over to the side on his own. He was very passive and not shooting the ball. There were some shots he could have made with his eyes closed. But he didn’t take the shots. You could see that he just wasn’t himself. He always played at a high level and put people in place to score. He always contributed in a lot of ways.”
Felicia Sellers said that Antonio really didn’t say anything about the headaches until the day of the state sectional semifinal game against Roselle Catholic.
“I called Keith and I told him that I thought Antonio was just nervous about the game,” Felicia Sellers said.
“I was joking with Antonio, telling him that I was ready to take his place,” Keith Sellers said.
After the Hawks lost to Roselle Catholic, essentially ending their season, Antonio moved on to play for his AAU program, the Playaz, the program spearheaded by former New York Knicks player Tim Thomas.
“The workout started and he was fine,” Keith Sellers said. “But I noticed that he was shooting air balls from close range, like from three or four feet. He never did that. He said that the basket looked closer than what it really was.”
“He complained that his vision was a little blurry,” Felicia Sellers said. “He got home and the headaches were back. He spoke on the phone to [Knicks legend and current Georgetown head coach] Patrick Ewing.”
Georgetown was one of the schools that had already offered Antonio a scholarship.
“But he laid down and put his head on me, saying that his head really hurt,” Felicia Sellers said.
A CAT scan was performed that Monday.
“The doctor said that he had to speak to me right now,” Felicia Sellers said. “I knew that it wasn’t good news.”
The doctors showed Felicia images that showed that Antonio had brain bleeding. And there was a mass that had to be removed about the size of a golf ball.
“They immediately took him by ambulance to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital,” Felicia Harris said. “To be honest, I couldn’t believe what was happening. This is my only child, my pride and joy. Was I going to lose him? I was thinking about a lot of stuff. As his mother, I wanted to take away all of his pain. This was devastating to us.”
Keith Sellers had the same emotions.
“This was my little man,” Keith Sellers said. “I couldn’t lose him. He’s my best friend. I was just praying all the time. A lot of stuff was going through my head. I was shocked, I was scared. I didn’t know what to think. I had so many things racing through my head.”
Antonio was placed into an induced coma in order to perform the intense surgery.
Through the entire journey, Felicia Sellers has been keeping a diary. The day of the surgery, she penned these words:
“We woke up this morning to hear good news,” the diary read. “I was nervous about that, because I want my baby boy back. Everyone is so proud of you. You are amazing and everyone loves you.”
Everyone was convinced that the tumor was gone, but three weeks later, the tumor grew back, so it meant more surgery. But doctors were fairly certain that the entire tumor was removed the second time around.
“Once the brain heals, he should make a major comeback,” Felicia Sellers said. “Doctors are certain he should make a full recovery. We knew there was a possibility it could come back. We want this to be over now.”
Keith Sellers agrees.
“All I want is my boy back,” Keith Sellers said. “I want him to be the same kid with the same personality, the smart kid who lights up the room. If basketball happens, then it happens. But his health is the most important thing. Basketball is the furthest thing from my mind. We can get through this. He has to be able to do some certain things first, like walk and talk.”
Felicia Sellers has been lifted up by the incredible amount of support she and Keith have received from family, friends, colleagues, the basketball community. A GoFundMe page has been established to help raise money to defray some of the medical costs.
“I always knew that Antonio was a special boy,” Felicia Sellers said. “I just didn’t know how special he was to others. He’s a brat at home and a pain in my neck. But my son is a good kid, an amazing kid. He has a long road back, but he’s a super duper fighter. Who’s to say he can’t play like he did? I want to see him back on the court. I want to see how hard he’s worked to get back. To see what he worked so hard for get taken away from him. I pray every day he gets to do what he once did. I pray every single day.”
Keith Sellers now realizes how beloved his son is.
“The love for this kid from others is tremendous,” Keith Sellers said. “The people at Hudson Catholic have been great.”
Teammates have been visiting Antonio on a regular basis. Fellow freshman standout Zion Cruz has been at Antonio’s bedside constantly. So has head coach Mariniello. They all want to see their friend and teammate back to where he once was. When he flashed that smile and gave this reporter the sign he was on his way. The words might not have been there, but the feeling was. Here’s to hoping that Sellers makes a full recovery and gets back to the hardwood as soon as possible. He’s a great kid who deserves a good break after all he’s been through.
To donate to the Antonio Sellers “We Are 1” GoFundMe page, spearheaded by Bobby Whyte, log on to https://www.gofundme.com/f/antonio-sellers. Word of warning: There have been other so-called fundraising efforts that are fraudulent and should not be recognized. This is the only way right now to help the Sellers family.