ALBANY, Ga. -- The terms "role model" and "father figure" are often tossed around so freely they lose their significance.
But when the parents of young black boys and men -- and the young boys and men themselves -- use those terms to describe the impact former high school, college and NBA star Dontonio Wingfield has had on their lives, the words become powerful.
"I never really had a role model growing up," said Dermund Stewart, who helped Turner Job Corps' basketball team win two of its three national championships and recently signed a scholarship to continue his career at Albany Technical College. "It means a lot to me that someone like Dontonio Wingfield would be that role model for young kids. "He really changed my life."
Hillary Hudson, a single mom whose 15-year-old son Justin Ball was spending much of his free time wandering the streets, has similar praise for Wingfield, his Albany Hawks AAU basketball program and the Save Our Sons organization Wingfield, James Nix and other volunteers created to help youngsters such as Justin.
"Being a single parent, I appreciate so much that Dontonio has become like a father figure to my son and to other kids in his program," Hudson said. "Justin's done a complete 360 since he's been in that program; he's more disciplined and his priorities have changed."
Stewart said Wingfield, who starred at Westover High School and Cincinnati University before embarking on an NBA career that was cut short by a debilitating car wreck, has impacted his life beyond the basketball court.
"He's taught me some valuable lessons in life," Stewart said. "I had some personal issues in high school, but he pushed me to go on to Turner Job Corps and get my diploma. He really built me up."
Stewart, who will study accounting at Albany Tech, was the first athlete in Wingfield's AAU basketball program to earn a college scholarship. And while Stewart says he'd like to match his coach's rise in the sport, he's preparing for a life beyond the hardwood.
"I'd like to play a couple of years at Albany Tech and then transfer to a Division I school," he said. "I'd like to play in the NBA or overseas after that. I feel like if I keep a positive attitude, I can achieve my goals.
"But once I get into a four-year school, I really want to study the dramatic arts and writing."
Hudson, meanwhile, said Wingfield's guidance is helping her son "get back on track."
"Justin was just hanging out in the neighborhood with kids older than him," she said. "A lot of times I didn't know where he was. But he heard about the (SOS) program from one of his friends, and they started going together. It's had such a positive impact on his life."