His real name is Andre Poole, but in the world of street basketball, he is referred to only as Silk.
“It’s because my moves are so smooth,” he said.
Poole is part of the Street Basketball Association All-Stars, which traveled with the NCAA March Madness Shoot-Out to the Hearnes Center on Sunday.
Columbia was the first stop for the event, which will visit NCAA tournament sites on its way to the Final Four on April 2, at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Airbrushed shirts were given away and rapper Buck 65 gave a concert as part of Sunday’s festivities.
The event featured a 2,500-capacity mobile arena with a full-length basketball court inside. That was where Silk showcased his moves.
Missouri and Kansas fans watched as Poole scooped the ball up, kicked if off the end of his foot, rolled it down his arm and popped it up into the basket.
Brian Hey, a 2002 Missouri alumnus from St. Louis, who had been selected from the audience to play against Silk, looked disoriented after the effort.
“I was very dizzy,” Hey said after the match-up.
Mid-Missouri is unfamiliar territory for the All-Stars, who are mostly from the East Coast. The Street Basketball Association, which will begin its inaugural season in June, has only two Midwest teams: Chicago and Detroit.
Poole, 27, who has starred on the “And1 Mix Tape” tour and MTV’s “Who’s Got Game,” is from the east side of Baltimore, where street ball is a tradition. He said he learned from watching older guys play when he was young kid.
“I started when I was about five or six,” he said.
His success in basketball took him to AAU tournaments where Poole said Xavier, Cincinnati and others scouted him. He said he eventually chose Georgetown, where he was headed when his plans were sidetracked after his senior year.
Poole said complications with his grandmother’s kidney disease forced him to attend junior college. He had to stay close to home to take care of his three younger siblings.
“It’s something I don’t regret at all,” he said.
While Silk was making a name for himself as a street player, he faced more family challenges.
He said he hadn’t talked to his father for two years until they met by chance in May, 2000. They talked and reconciled past differences.
“We finally got to square away some things,” Poole said. “It was cool.”
A month later, his father was murdered in his home during a robbery.
“It was crazy,” he said. “One minute we were talking and laughing, and then that happened.”
His grandmother died the same year.
“Those are things I take with me every time I step on the court,” he said.
Poole’s father never got to meet his grandson, Jaden, who was born later that year.
Poole said he hoped his son wouldn’t have to go through the difficulties he had growing up.
Poole said he planned to start teaching Jaden about basketball early.
“He’s into this football thing now, just like I was then,” Poole said. “But I’m gonna really get with him and work on it.
“Hopefully he’ll be better than I am.”
Off the court, Poole’s siblings still rely on him for advice and support. He said his experiences growing up in a tough inner-city neighborhood had given his wisdom and strength.
“Growing up in that atmosphere, you’re surrounded by elements that distract you from the things you want to do,” Poole said.
Poole’s life has been a challenge, filled with tragedy and unrealized dreams of playing in the NBA.
But on the court, he becomes Silk. His game is smooth and effortless. Those who watch him stare at his moves and wonder how it’s possible for a man to absolutely control a basketball as though it were on a string.
He has never had the opportunity to play in front of a packed house on national television. But, as Silk, wearing his blue and white All-Star jersey, Poole’s story seemed to be one of happiness, not tragedy.
He talked about his excitement for the street ball league and his belief in its success.
“This is just what we love to do,” he said. “If this had NBA money, this would be better than the NBA.”