(MOBILE, Ala) May 15 -- He's been described as a gentle giant, a guy who never threw his weight around. But now, Mobilian Ernest Little has gone from jump shots to mug shots.
His story begins at Monroe County High School.
"I had said he would be our best bet for one that would go off and achieve great success in the basketball arena," says his former high school coach Willie White.
Monroe County principal Larry Turner agrees. "He was well-behaved, teachers thought a lot of him, students thought a lot of him, administration here thought the world of him."
Somewhere along the way, sources tell us he started hanging with the wrong kind of friends, a problem that seemed to vanish when Ernest accepted a basketball scholarship to UAB.
"His mother was so at ease with UAB because that would put some distance between friends and relatives in Mobile and acquaintances from that past," says Coach White. "That way, he could be free of any peer pressure or coercion from anyone."
But trouble, or at least the perception of trouble, did follow him to Birmingham.
"Something transpired about some rims for an automobile, a stereo or something like that," explains White. "He was put off the team. After he was put off the team, he produced the material showing he had purchased them. They apologized and asked him to come back. he was hurt, so he refused to go back."
Disenchanted, Ernest chose to come home to play basketball at South Alabama, and he excelled earning second team All-Conference honors. In what turned out to be his final game in a Jags uniform, he racked up 17 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks in a nationally televised game.
It's unclear exactly what happened next. Here's a guy with all the talent in the world, all the potential in the world, coming off the game of his life on national TV, when something went terribly wrong. His teammate and close friend Trajinski Grigsby remembers it well - he says Ernest just disconnected. "He kind of just disappeared after the season was over," explains Grigsby. "His phone was off, different stuff like that."
Less than a month after his last game, Ernest was wanted by the law on three counts of receiving stolen property. The next day, he was arrested after allegedly attempting to rob a Budget Inn in Monroeville.
"You hear about dudes who don't have nothing going for themselves doing that," says Grigsby. "He was in college, doing good at the college, just went to the NIT - all that stuff happened, it was real surprising to me."
Ernest pled guilty to third degree robbery and received five years probation.
"I spoke to him. he was eager and wanted to get out of there," says White. "Cars and rims and speakers can be had at any time. I told him you are a person with a lot of ability and you're going to make a lot of money if you forego that for a while. Finish up school. you can have anything, can pay for it on your own. That was my advice and he readily accepted that and said that's what he was going to do."
Several months later, he was arrested again, this time charged with carrying a pistol without a permit, receiving stolen property and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. "Something happened," says Turner. "He changed at some point, if this is true. What brought it about, I don't have any idea. It's just like we're in a nightmare right now and we need to wake up, because it does not seem like this would be possible."
It's a story that cries out for a happy ending. So far, there isn't one.
His future in doubt, his life headed in the wrong direction, only Ernest knows if he will ever reach his potential.
Right now, Ernest Little sits in a cell at Mobile County Metro Jail. The charges against him are being presented to a grand jury, which will decide whether he'll be prosecuted.
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