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 any athlete 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 star and reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford’s high school coach at Rainier Beach (Seattle) Mike Bethea.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Jamal on the court?
Mike Bethea: It was when we played Nathan Hale High School and he made a guy fall down. He was literally skating across the floor. It was just hilarious. The crowd went crazy!
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JJ: When did you know he’d be a pro?
MB: Doug Christie also played at Rainier Beach and he used to have a summer Pro-Am and I told him I wanted Jamal to get a chance to play in it. Doug let him in and Jamal just dominated all of the pros in the league. He averaged 21 points in that league as a 16 year old. There were a lot of pros that didn’t want to guard Jamal in that league.
JJ: What’s the most interesting thing you can recall from his recruitment?
MB: A lot of people didn’t really know about Jamal. The major all star games passed on him and everything like that. But then when they actually came out to see him it was too late. So many schools wanted to get him, but Jamal was already committed to Michigan. I remember UCLA really wanted him bad; Baron Davis was going hard at him too. Literally, when schools saw Jamal they’d put him as their No. 1 priority over whoever. But he always wanted to play at Michigan. He was a big Fab Five fan.
JJ: What personality was he on your team?
MB: He was that guy that got all of the respect, but he wasn’t arrogant. He had a quiet confidence about him. He was really humble; always the guy his teammates wanted to be around. You couldn’t even be jealous of him because he was a cool kid.
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JJ: He’s been in the NBA for 13 years; have we seen the best of Jamal?
MB: Ya know, I don’t think so. I think he’ll get even better. It’s funny I was in Brooklyn recently coaching in the Jordan Brand Classic and I got a chance to talk with Michael Jordan and he told me that over the last five years Jamal’s been the best sixth man in the league hands down. He keeps himself in such great shape too. He’s never taken a drink, never smoked, you’d be hard pressed to get him to drink a soda. I think he can be productive for the next five years.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY