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Asher Kemble's journey, from Africa to Lebanon County

How basketball helped the Burundi teen find the motivation to become a leader more than 7,000 miles from home

MYERSTOWN, Pa. — ELCO senior Asher Kemble has a story unlike any other Raider -- a story that began over 7,000 miles away in Burundi.

The ending to that story has not yet been written, but Kemble's journey to Lebanon County brought him to basketball, and helped him develop an over-sized personality -- on and off the court. 

That development is not surprising. The 6-foot, 7-inch basketball star is hard to miss.

"You have all those eyes, you walk into Sheetz or McDondald's every one, (their) eyes kind of (pop)," he says.

It's not just his height. Perhaps people remember his engaging smile, or the thunderous dunk he threw down from weeks before.

Whatever the reason, Kemble knows he's unique.

"Around here it is not common to see someone like me walk into Turkey Hill," he says. 

"There are really not many other kids that have been born in town and grown up the way he has," Asher's mom, Kelly Kemble points out.

She's right. There are not many kids in Myerstown -- or even Lebanon County -- like Asher Kemble. 

And even fewer with his story. 

It begins in 2003, when Jim and Kelly Kemble were lucky enough to adopt Asher from the war-torn African country of Burundi. 

"I have a book at home, and it is all the pictures of when I was in Africa and all my baby photos and being in different areas through out the adoption process from Burundi and Kenya through out the hole adoption process, " Asher says.

The book serves as a reminder of his past. Because he was adopted at 19 months old, Asher's memories of his time in Africa are scarce. 

He has spent his entire life in Myerstown. He wants everyone to know he is  "all Myerstonian." 

In fact, he jokes, sometimes even he and his family forget he wasn't born there.

"Sometimes my mom makes the mistake, she`ll say at the dentist or the doctor and she will accidentally say I was born in Myerstown," he says.

Like any kid in America, Asher and his brother Abe, who is adopted and from South Africa, faced everyday challenges.  

Basketball has provided an outlet. Asher played both soccer and baseball growing up, and says he was good at both, but it was hoops that hooked him.

"Basketball kind of always interested me the most," he says. "It has kind of become my identity."

His mom, sitting across the room, nods -- as if memories of Asher smoothly gliding up the soccer field have suddenly popped into her head.

"When he wants to be good at something, and he enjoys something, he is top notch at it," she says with smile. 

"(Basketball) kind of did motivate me to get better" Asher says. "I don't know if you saw the Mifflin kids and the junior high team today (they were watching in awe as he threw down several impressive dunks during warmups prior to speaking to reporters). They were like are you going to the NBA, yelling Mo Bamba, Thon Maker, I get all of those."

Since Asher's days in youth basketball, he has always worked hard. That is where he and Raiders head coach Brad Conners first met. 

Connors says he never saw a kid that was trying to fit in -- rather one who was just being himself.

"He has always been really social and everybody knows Asher," Connors says. "Asher knows everybody. On the bus he is talking, I hear his voice the entire trip home, he is one of those personalities that you know when he is in the room you know where he is at."

Asked his reaction when Asher first told him he was coming out for the basketball team, Connors flashes a smile.

"We got some height!" he says of his first reaction.

But more importantly, Connors says, ELCO got a team leader -- one who pushes everyone else.

"(Asher) is always bringing a lot of energy," says Asher's teammate and friend, Ben Horst. "He is always fun to be around he is a hard worker he always is asking me to get in and out of the gym. At anytime of the day, he is always working to get better. He always wants to be the best, and he keeps on pushing himself."

That motivation is not lost on Conners or the rest of the coaching staff.

 "His teammates know he loves basketball, he is serious about basketball and he puts a lot of time in," Conners says.

Asher's leadership role with ELCO developed over time, and it even took his dad a little by surprise.

"I had not really imagined that he would have stepped into this role," Jim Kemble says of his son. "But he enjoys being a leader on the team and he enjoys contributing to that role."

A role that sees him averaging a double-double per game while making the All-Lancaster-Lebanon League team.

Forget the stats, though. Asher just thinks it cool that he gets a fan club after games.

"I think its cool though that the little kids get so excited to see me," he says. "And they get to give me hugs. I think it is really sweet."

It is pretty cool that every eye in Myerstown wants to see Asher Kemble and what happens next on his journey.