Before Michael Jordan was making Bryon Russell fall with a killer crossover and draining the go ahead jumper to win his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a skinny, determined athlete dominating the competition at Laney High (Wilmington, N.C.).
Before Adrian Peterson was trucking opposing defenses and racking up 2,097 yards in a single season for the Minnesota Vikings he was shining bright under the Friday night lights at Palestine High (Palestine, Texas), averaging 12 yards a carry and scoring 32 touchdowns.
Before athletes can become legendary they have to lay their foundation in the high school ranks.
Each week I’ll chat with a high-profile athlete’s former coach, mentor, family member, etc., and reminisce about their high school playing days; everything from the greatest moment to the wackiest story.
This week I caught up with Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul’s high school coach at West Forsyth (Winston Salem, N.C.) David Laton, now the head coach at Richmond (Rockingham, N.C.).
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Chris on the court in high school?
David Laton: Well, of course, the game where he scored 61 points to honor the age of his grandfather who was killed, and you’re just not gonna top that. I do remember when he lost his first varsity game he cried in the locker room after. I mean that just says a lot about him as a person and as a player. I’ve had guys who have cried when they lost their last game, but he was the only player I had that cried after his first loss. It was really early in the season too. I just left him alone; that was special.
PHOTOS: NBA stars in high school
JJ: Everyone talks about the 61-point game; at what point did you know he was gunning for 61?
DL: I didn’t know until the end of the game. Someone on the bench said, “He only needs three more points.” I asked what he meant by that and they told me. He did come to me before the game and ask me if he could play the whole game. Most people don’t know that he hadn’t practiced before that 61-point game. He had been dealing with the loss of his grandfather. So he did all of that without any practice. It was amazing.
JJ: Kobe Bryant’s high school coach said Kobe would chase down teammates and fight them when he lost; how did Chris handle losses?
DL: Well, he didn’t lose very much. He never lost a game at home JV or varsity. He was more disappointed for his teammates than he was for himself because he always gave it his all on the court. He wanted to the team to win. He was just a great competitor, and he really did whatever he could to make his team successful.
RELATED: A Look Back at Kobe Bryant in HS
JJ: Give me your best memory of Chris off the court?
DL: Probably the day he committed to Wake Forest. I remember Skip Prosser calling and telling me that they were gonna offer him and before he committed he wanted to talk to his brother. He was really happy that day. That was a good day.
JJ: Any wacky stories from his recruitment?
DL: He actually grew up a North Carolina fan. That was his favorite basketball team growing up, but Matt Doherty was there at the time. Doherty told us, and I’m not saying it wasn’t true, but he told us that they didn’t have any more scholarships. When we visited the school he was trying to get Chris to pay his own way for a year. I knew that wasn’t gonna happen.
JJ: Rumor has it that Chris has a background in politics.
DL: (Laughs) That’s right he was class President both his junior and senior years. I remember some of the other candidates were out in the hallways between classes shaking hands, but Chris’ mom brought doughnuts for him to hand out. That definitely earned him a few more votes!
JJ: Did you always know he’d be a pro?
DL: I don’t know if I can say I always knew he’d be a pro. I remember saying that when he went to Wake Forest that if he doesn’t start he’ll be starting before the season is over. He ended up starting before his first game. I knew being a pro was one of his goals. Chris is a guy that accomplishes all of his goals.
RELATED: A Look Back at Peyton Manning in HS
JJ: Does he surprise you with what he’s accomplished already?
DL: I wouldn’t say surprised; I always thought all of these things were possible. I would say I’m just really happy it all happened for him. Of course with this type of success there’s always a little luck that’s involved, but with Chris he’s just a really determined person. That’s why I’m not as worried about him with this injury he’s going through right now. I’m confident that he’ll bounce back from this thing and be fine.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY