Andre Woolridge crouched on the floor of the bus, hoping the windows could withstand the bricks and rocks.
This wasn't Nebraska, where in 1992 he set the Class A scoring record in epic fashion. Or Iowa, where in '97 he became the first player in Big Ten history to lead the league in scoring and assists.
This was five years later in Turkey, where the small-town basketball fans are known to get violent, especially when they lose on a last-second shot. Woolridge walked off the court that night, looked up and saw a D battery flying at his head — he lifted his hand just in time.
Minutes later, as glass broke over him in the bus, he thought, “Just let me get back to Istanbul.'?”
He did. And now, a decade later, Woolridge is living in Sacramento, Calif., and operating a hoops academy, All World Ballin'.
“I called it a basketball dojo, because I like to have the discipline of karate,” he said.
Woolridge, who turns 40 in November, returns home this weekend for Native Omaha Days. Saturday afternoon, if his bum knee allows it, he'll play in a celebrity all-star game at the Mid-America Center at 3:45 p.m.
He still carries a 402 cell number — “Gotta represent,” he said — and makes about two annual trips to Omaha, where his father and grandmother still live, where his legacy is still rich. Before basketball took him all over the globe, it pushed him all over north Omaha.
Growing up, Woolridge rode his bike from playground to playground after school, looking for games. Miller Park Elementary. Fontenelle Park. Druid Hill. Horace Mann.
It's so different for kids now, Woolridge said.
“I preach this: I played basketball every single day of my life. I didn't want to do anything else.”
He started for Omaha Benson as a freshman. Two summers later, in 1991, he traveled with a Nebraska all-star team to Las Vegas, where he went toe-to-toe with a California point guard named Jason Kidd. Woolridge scored 30, but Kidd won the game on an overtime tip-in at the buzzer.
“I killed him,” Woolridge said. “Just to be honest. ... And he fouled out that game, but he was the king — especially on the West Coast — so they gave his foul to somebody else. I still have it on tape. If they would've fouled him out, we would've won.”
Woolridge came home ranked as the No. 2 point guard in the country. He could've played with Kidd at Cal. He could've played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. He chose Nebraska, where he, Erick Strickland and Jaron Boone comprised one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.
The next spring, Benson reached the state championship game. Woolridge needed 47 points to break the Class A record held by his high school rival Strickland. In a 95-76 win, he put up 50.
The Devaney Center wasn't as kind to Woolridge as a college freshman. Too many guards, not enough basketballs, he said. He struggled under Danny Nee and after one year, Woolridge left — he later called Nee's program “a joke.”
He chose Iowa partly out of loyalty. The Hawkeyes had sent him his very first college recruiting letter, back in the ninth grade. When Woolridge signed with Nebraska, a Hawkeye assistant called and congratulated him.
“Then he said, 'When they do you wrong, we'll still take you.' I remembered that,” Woolridge said.
Woolridge flourished under Tom Davis, developing into a floor general who passed as well as he scored. He was still a gym rat. On off days, against Davis' orders, he went to the fieldhouse and played pick-up games with students.
“It would drive him crazy because he didn't want me to get hurt,” Woolridge said.
As a senior, Woolridge led an underdog band of Hawkeyes to a second-place finish in the Big Ten, averaging 20 points and six assists. In his final game, a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky, he scored 29.
Pitino predicted that Woolridge would be a “wonderful” NBA player. He didn't get drafted.
Instead, Woolridge played in Turkey, France, Greece, Italy, Germany, Israel, Venezuela and Cyprus. Where his peers resisted, Woolridge went happily. The money was good, why not?
Sixteen years after he arrived in Istanbul, he still remembers the taxi ride from the airport.
“The rush-hour traffic is two times worse than New York,” Woolridge said. “There's really no traffic rules over there. They're weaving in and out, they're cutting people off, you're thinking they're going to wreck at any moment. It's just mass confusion.”
He later played in Udine, Italy, where he made frequent trips to Venice. In Le Mans, France, he'd hop the train to Paris. His favorite was Salonika, Greece, right on the sea.
Woolridge signed one- and two-year contracts — often for six figures annually — and spent summers in the U.S.
“To do what I loved professionally for 13 years, I can't complain about it.”
His ties to Sacramento originated with former Husker and friend Terrance Badgett, who once lived there and invited Woolridge to train with him. Woolridge eventually bought a place and, after retirement three years ago, started his dojo.
“I'm still around basketball every day,” Woolridge said. “I can't ask for a better life.”
He works with 15-30 kids on a regular basis, promising to teach life skills through rigorous basketball training. When he really wants to demonstrate how it's done, he laces up his shoes and competes against them.
You never know which one might be the next Jason Kidd.