Legendary Flint basketball player hopes his story teaches people how to go “All In”

FLINT, Michigan — When Kelvin Torbert says that his autobiography is “a long time coming,” he means that literally.

Torbert, a Flint Northwestern graduate and one of the best high school basketball players in the history of the state of Michigan, began working on his book with another Flint native, ESPN reporter Eric Woodyard, in 2014.

“Me and Eric put in years of just back and forth, recording interviews and everything,” Torbert says. “Seeing the finished product is like running a marathon and getting to the finish line.”

Torbert was a prototypical modern NBA wing in high school. His highlights feature an array of otherworldly dunks and above-the-rim finishes. He attacked the basket with brute force but also had finesse and grace. He was a polished scorer on the perimeter as well. 

Torbert won the Mr. Basketball award in Michigan as a high school senior in 2001. He was a McDonald’s All-American and was among the top five players in the nation in his recruiting class. In that era, high school players could declare for the NBA Draft right after high school. Had Torbert pursued the NBA immediately, he was projected as a top 15 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. 

“He was one of my favorite high school players I ever saw,” says Woodyard, a Flint Southwestern and Western Michigan University graduate. “I remember the feeling I had when I first saw him play, being a 10, 11, 12-year-old kid and watching the buzz he created in high school.”

Flint native and ESPN reporter Eric Woodyard worked with Kelvin Torbert on his autobiography for approximately seven years.
Torbert decided to follow a path carved out by a few legendary Flint players who preceded him by going to Michigan State University. There, he’d try to build on the legacy of the Flintstones — Antonio Smith, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell. Cleaves, Peterson, and Bell led MSU to a National Championship in 2000. Torbert was potentially going to take the school to even greater heights. He remains one of the most accomplished high school players Tom Izzo has ever recruited and seemed destined for stardom both in college and in the NBA. 

Things didn’t go as planned for Torbert, though. While at MSU, he dealt with injuries and personal tragedies that changed the trajectory of his basketball career. Those who followed and witnessed Torbert’s abilities in high school have long been left with a lingering question: what happened?

“There was a lot of speculation, a lot of barbershop talk, but no one really truly knew his story,” Woodyard says. “When I was younger, KT going to the league was such a big thing that everyone talked about, we always thought he was going to the NBA. When he went to State, I understood it, it was right after the Flintstones and there was a lot of momentum, but when he got there, it was such a mystery — what’s going on with him?”

The truth is, Torbert still went on to have a great college and professional career and saw many parts of the world thanks to his basketball abilities. He played in a Final Four, became a phenomenal defensive player, finished his degree, and became a devoted father, among other accomplishments.

Torbert himself hasn’t formally spoken about those experiences often — he’s quiet by nature. His book, All In: The Kelvin Torbert Story, is his attempt to finally take control of that narrative and share lessons from his life that could help others.

Kelvin Torbert and Eric Woodyard inside of Flint Northwestern's gymnasium.
“I went so many years with everybody assuming and just saying how things went (at MSU), and no one actually knew,” Torbert says. “I think people will get a better understanding of what I went through as a kid and playing in college, going through the things I had to go through. That’s one of the biggest parts of it (the book), being able to control your own destiny. No one can tell your story better than you, so for me to be able to do that and explain all the things I went through was a big thing for me. Some guys don’t get a chance to tell their story — a lot of the time, people tell your story when you’re gone, and it’s not you telling it. So for us to be in a position to be able to tell my side is a great position to be in.”

Throughout the course of working on the book, Woodyard and Torbert developed a bond that helped bring deeper reflections from Torbert’s life to light. They developed a closer friendship in the process which helped add to the book’s content. 

“Once I got to know him, it became deeper and deeper,” Woodyard says. “There’s so many layers to his story that are still relevant to people now. It literally took seven years (to finish). And I feel like I didn’t even get the best interviews until 2022 because we’d gotten more comfortable with each other. He’s a quiet person and had we not told this story, it might never get told or preserved.” 

All In: The Kelvin Torbert Story is published in partnership between the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF), Flintside, and Flint Made Me. CFGF’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation initiative is a community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.All In: The Kelvin Torbert Story is available on Amazon.

Torbert's story is a vital part of Flint's history as a national epicenter for sports and culture, and sharing it in this format is intended to help share an uplifting story about Flint and its people to the community and beyond. Printed copies of the book will be donated to Flint's school libraries, community and youth centers, Flint Public Library, and other organizations that serve the community.

A book launch event will be at Comma Bookstore and Social Hub downtown Flint from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, April 9. Woodyard and Torbert will participate in a panel discussion beginning at 7 p.m. and then do a signing after. Copies will be available for purchase during the event. The book is also available online.

The cover of the book was designed by Flint native, artist, and founder of the Eight One Zero brand James Thigpen Jr. Jenifer Veloso, a former Flintside contributor, took the cover photo. Brian Komph designed the inside of the book, and former ABC 12 sports director Ryan Slocum created a promotional video for All In

“If there’s one person from Flint, or one kid, who can read this story, the fact that it's backed by the Community Foundation, that it’s going to go to Flint kids, that means more than anything to know that the community will benefit,” Woodyard says. “It’s history, people can learn from it, and it’s just a dope story, period.”

All In includes Torbert discussing his high school, college, and professional careers, but also his life after basketball, including how he worked to overcome some of his personal struggles and challenges. The book also includes forewords by legendary coach Tom Izzo and Chris Grier Luchey, a sports agent who has known Torbert since he was young. Both shed light on what it was like watching and working with Torbert over the years.

“The biggest thing for me is just letting everyone know that they get a chance to peek inside my world, see some things I went through, and hopefully learn from it,” Torbert says. “I hope it’s a teaching thing for younger kids, kids in high school, kids playing ball. Things don’t always go your way but you can always bounce back and make a positive out of anything.”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.