Jovan Acree says his story of "poverty to wealth" was born after a failed test for the New York Knicks.
Acree played in semi-professionals, but often found himself sleeping on sofas, for more than a decade.
“Everyone said:‘ You need to get a job. . . It's time for you to move on, "said Acree, 37." I thought: I'm really going to get to the professionals. So I will keep trying! "
But after losing his chance with the Knicks in 2016, he launched his luxury fashion brand, Daekshinco. His denim has now been worn by stars like Tiffany Haddish, Lil Pump and Cardi B.
The New Jersey native's basketball aspirations began after Delaware State University selected him to play in the NCAA Division 1 in 1999. Acree's mother issued a check to pay for education, he said, but poor grades disqualified him at the end of his first year.
"I was supposed to play there for four years, but it didn't work out that way," Acree said. "So I came back home."
He ended up doing occasional work, even in a Banana Republic store, and modeling: Acree put on the Protege brand of former Knicks star Al Harrington and rapper T.I., A.K.O.O. for BET's annual Rip the Runway events in 2004 and 2005.
During the summer, Acree trained in local community leagues, where he met coach Bruce Hicks of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey.
Hicks convinced Acree to return to school, which he did in 2008 and graduated with a communications associate degree in 2010.
The school also allowed him to continue playing basketball.
"My heart and soul were really interested in the sports component," he said. "I needed another opportunity to show that I could really reach the professionals."
During the summers, Hicks would train Acree, by then 10 years older than the athletes he played with, for team tests.
"He was an adult man playing with young people aged 19 to 20," he said. "At that age, playing Division II basketball was basically unheard of."
Acree said his first big test was for the Baltimore semi-professional team, the Bay Area Shuckers. He played three games before winning a test for the USA Select Basketball European Tour in 2011.
"This is how it works in semi-professional sports," he said. "If you have the opportunity to try, or a coach looks for guards, you can go abroad."
During the tour, which started in London, Acree showed his skills, playing with 15 teams from the United Kingdom, until he was picked up by a brief contract with the Dublin Bulldogs in September 2011.
He played another short contract for Limerick University that winter before returning home in March 2012 for the birth of his son, Jordan.
"That is a really difficult time to keep money in your pocket. You really are not playing like abroad; you are still in limbo," he said. "I received no more offers abroad. He was almost a man on a sofa."
Functionally homeless, Acree crashed with friends and family before obtaining another short contract for the Universal Basketball Association teams, including the Houston Havok.
"I decided to get fashionable because I came and went with jobs, I really didn't take care of the rent as it was supposed to be," Acree said. "With the birth of my son, I had to make sure I had a situation where I could take care of my family."
The athlete began an apprenticeship for a friend, now his business partner, who at that time was working in the manufacture of clothing and textiles. Diego Espejo taught Acree the ropes to draw designs, cut and sew, and promote a brand, including the placement of clothes on celebrities.
In 2012, Acree partnered with Espejo to begin the launch of Daekshinco. At that time, he was still betting on the fame of the NBA.
"I was still trying to play with someone," Acree said. "Basketball was still in limbo, and traveling back and forth for the tests made it very difficult to earn money."
After an aunt died and left him enough money to buy his own production machines, Acree was able to really launch his fashion business. He began to attract attention when he gave his clothes to homeless people and people who dropped out of college.
"My mission was to find out who I identified with," Acree said. "These people who need help, who have the same mission as me but who really don't have full-time work or full-time pay, I identify with them."
The fatal blow to Acree's basketball career came in 2016 when he tested for the New York Knicks and, he said, reached the final cut. The anguish of almost playing for the Knicks was too much to handle, and he finally left behind his hoop dreams.
Daekshinco now employs 19 people, helping to give jobs to homeless and abandoned university students.
"It's like a real approach from scratch, you know, like a true kind of story from poverty to wealth," Acree said.