Best High School Player You've Seen
Two of the first athletes I covered in the pages of the Washington Post were named Daryl Thompson and Manny Burriss. Thompson was a skinny, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher for La Plata High in Charles County whose hat kept falling off his head every time I saw him pitch; he helped the Warriors advance to the 2002 3A state final. "It was a big game, and we had to win," I quoted him as saying after the state semifinal victory, which was the sort of quote he gave me every time I asked him anything. Also, his shirt kept coming untucked. Like, after every pitch. His games took forever, because he was always tucking in his shirt. Just seemed like a 16-year-old goof.
The following spring, I profiled Burriss, a Wilson High shortstop who told me "People have been kind of shady about baseball in D.C., and maybe this is my opportunity to show everybody that it's not a joke." He had a nice season, but when it came All-Met time, we figured he couldn't be that good if he went to Wilson and made him honorable mention.
And you know what happened next. Burriss made his big league debut in late April and has improved every month, hitting .333 in June. Thompson, after being traded from the Nats to the Reds in the Austin Kearns deal, finally made his MLB debut this month, throwing five shutout innings at Yankee Stadium. These guys have made me feel simultaneously old and stupid.
And that's not all! I also covered Rajon Rando and Dwight Howard playing basketball as high school seniors, pronouncing myself unimpressed with either! Amazing eye for talent, right?
The point is, you feel like you've accomplished something when some kid you once watched as a high schooler makes it big. On this day of NBA drafting and nothing at all else to write about, I'm soliciting your stories of the best high schooler you've ever seen play, in any sport, in any venue, and whether you knew how good he/she was. To get us started, after the jump we have stories from my very kind and accomplished co-workers Leonard Shapiro, Camille Powell and Mike Wise.
By Leonard Shapiro
I saw a young freshman named Adrian Dantley come off the bench for DeMatha at the O'Connell Christmas tournament in 1970. I'd never heard of him, but he scored and rebounded in double figures. Afterward, Morgan Wootten told me he thought the kid was pretty special.
I also covered a Dunbar football game that year or the next and watched a quarterback named Cornelius Green dominate the game. His wore red shoes, had red tassles on his shoe laces and, if I'm not mistaken, a red headband under his helmet. He was a fabulous option quarterback who also played defense, and in the paper the next day, I called him a "flamboyant flim-flam man."
The next week, he had taped the word "flamboyant" on the front of his helmet and it was later shortened to "Flam," the nickname he took with him to Ohio State, where he became the first African American to start at quarterback for the Buckeyes.
By Camille Powell
The three players that immediately come to mind for me are Michael Sweetney, Delonte West and Branden Albert. To me, the most interesting story is West's, because when I first met him during his junior year at Eleanor Roosevelt, he wasn't even the best Delonte on his team (Delonte Holland was), and I think he had only one tattoo ('REDZ' on one of his upper arms).
There are two things I really remember about West in high school: 1) He played harder than any other kid that I covered, in any sport, and 2) His mom almost always brought a book to his games, so she could read during the lulls in the action. I don't remember him being a great long-range shooter, so I got a kick out of seeing him beat the Wizards with a three.
The thing that struck me about Sweetney in high school was how unassuming he was for someone who had been a star since his freshman year at Oxon Hill. He didn't like talking to reporters (I always tried to see if I could get him to smile), so I thought it was funny that he ended up in New York with the Knicks. As for Albert, he was just physically huge. He wasn't particularly skilled, but I remember him manhandling opponents -- I covered one game during his senior year at Glen Burnie in which he twice pulled down the opposing running back with just one arm.
By Mike Wise
My first sports writing job, at the 5,000-circulation Sanger Herald outside of Fresno ($250 a week to shoot pictures, write stories and use a waxing machine and exacta knife to layout a really brutal looking section) I covered the local high school. When Sanger played Edison, I went to West Fresno in 1988, home of 6-year-old DeShawn Stevenson and, at the time, Bruce Bowen. Bruce was a high school senior on his team. Every Edison player dunked in warm-ups. We spoke outside the gym after the game and I remember thinking, "Wow, this kid has it going on upstairs. God I hope he makes it out of this neighborhood." Flash forward to New York, circa 2000. I run into Bowen and tell him the story and he tells me his tale of woe growing up and we've been close ever since.
Third job: Covering preps at the now-defunct Sacramento Union. This big smiley-faced kid just eats up everyone playing defensive end for Roseville High School. When it comes time to name the All-Metro Team, a rival coach, whom I'll call Fred (not his real name; his real name is Randy Blankenship; he's a warped taskmaster who used to coach Nevada Union) lobbied hard for his kid, saying the Roseville kid, "takes plays off. He's lazy. He'll probably will flame out in Division I. My kid should be first team. Not him." The Roseville kid was Tedy Bruschi and, yes, he was named to the first team.
Fifth job: My first week of employment at The New York Times they send me out to do a story on all these incredible freshman Stanford recruited in every sport: from gymnast Dominique Dawes to, yes, Tiger Woods. An 18-year-old Tiger sits down in the Sports Information Office on campus and greets me, by saying, "Do you know Larry Dorman, who covers golf at the New York Times? Yeah, well, I played golf with him once. Cool, right?" I'm thinking Larry Dorman has probably told that story more than Tiger at this point.
Ok, so we've got Adrian Dantley, Dwight Howard, Tiger Woods, Tedy Bruschi and Delonte West. Your turn.
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