Told that he’d never play basketball in high school after getting cut twice in junior high, Elijah Hughes refused to listen to the critics.
“Everybody doubted me,” he said. “Nobody thought I’d make it. I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
Hughes did just that by changing his lifestyle and developing into a standout player at Ceres High.
He earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors as a junior and senior.
He also earned invitations to a pair of all-star games.
“He’s a warrior on and off the court. Basketball is just a small part. He has a lot of obstacles and continues to fight.”T.J. Walker on Elijah Hughes
“It was a grind,” Hughes said.
“He’s a warrior on and off the court,” said T.J. Walker, who coached Hughes the past two seasons. “Basketball is just a small part. He has a lot of obstacles and continues to fight.”
Hughes has shed more than 80 pounds since entering high school.
It wasn’t an easy process.
“I didn’t even want to go to school my freshman year because I got made fun of,” said Hughes, who weighed 305 pounds at the beginning of ninth grade. “I used to come home crying because people would call me fat. I never took off my jacket because I didn’t want anyone to see my boobies. I can care less what people think about me now.”
Diet and exercise helped Hughes strengthen his body and mind.
“Everything started working,” said Hughes, who currently weighs 220 pounds.
“It’s definitely been a transformation,” Walker added.
Hughes used his hand to measure out food portions.
“I’d eat three times a day with two snacks,” he said. “I’d also do an all-water diet for a couple days. I starved myself.”
Hughes also weaned himself off pasta, which he had daily after school in junior high.
“I’d sit in my room, watch TV and eat,” he said. “That’s all I’d do. Pasta was my thing. I’d have four of those boxes on my own. I ate everything. There was nothing I didn’t like.”
Hughes improved his basketball skills with help from YouTube tutorials.
Rain didn’t prevent Hughes from executing drills at his neighborhood park.
“I couldn’t dribble or shoot,” he said. “I bought cones and a basketball. I practiced on my own time three hours a day.”
Hughes also wore a plastic trash bag during his running sessions. The lack of ventilation made him sweat like crazy.
“I used to do it every day,” he said.
“The first two months of the season his junior year he lost 20-25 pounds,” Walker said.
Hughes logged playing time on the Red team during the 24th Annual Six-County All-Star Game on May 10 at Modesto Junior College.
“Not a lot of people get an opportunity to play in a big game like that,” he said. “It was a blessing. It was fun to meet new people. A lot of college coaches were there watching. It was a cool experience.”
Hughes suited up for the American squad in the Turlock Journal’s Fifth Annual Central Valley Senior Showcase contest on March 21 at Turlock High School.
Hughes played a total of four seasons of basketball at Ceres High, including one year with both the freshman and junior-varsity teams.
“I didn’t have friends like everybody else,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to play sports.”
Hughes managed to average 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during his final season with the Bulldogs despite being slowed by a stress fracture in his left ankle.
He shot 57 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line.
He scored a career-high 34 points in a 69-51 win over Pacheco on Jan. 4.
“I was supposed to be out the whole season,” Hughes said. “Every game, I prayed and asked God to watch over me. When you’re in the game, you have so much adrenaline, you don’t think about the pain.”
“He just plays hard all the time,” Walker said. “He wants to get better.”
Scheduled to have surgery on his ankle, Hughes said he’d be ready for the 2019-20 college basketball season this winter. “I don’t know where I’m going to play at,” he said. “I’ll decide in July.”
“I wish nothing but the best for the kid,” Walker said. “He has a bright future.”
When asked if he had any advice for youngsters dealing with weight issues and failures, Hughes said: “The wrong thing to do is give up on yourself,” he said. “If you keep grinding, it will pay off.”