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.
Recently I caught up with Houston Rockets All Star James Harden’s coach at Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) Scott Pera, now the associate head coach at Rice.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of James on the court in high school?
Scott Pera: Wow, that’s an impossible question! I’ll say it was the game when we played against the Lopez twins. He drew four charges on one of the brothers and he ended up fouling out. I definitely remember that game.
JJ: What’s your best memory of James off the court?
SP: Probably the locker room arguments between he and his teammates about who was better between Kobe and LeBron. James loves Kobe; he would always say Kobe was better. It’s just funny that they’d have those big debates over that and now he’s on par with both of them.
JJ: What was the craziest story you can recall from his recruitment?
SP: It’s funny because so many schools tried to get in so late. Nobody saw him. Then the summer after his junior year he won MVP of every tournament he was in and everyone wanted to get in. Then I ended up getting the job at ASU and it was too late. One of the stories is how we basically blocked his visit to Washington. One of his family members wanted him to see another school before he picked ASU and I was thinking to myself, “He can’t go on that visit.” So we stopped that from occurring and he committed to ASU. Coach Romar and I joke about it now. He said James was one of the three kids in his career that he lost sleep over not getting.
JJ: What was his personality on the team for you?
SP: He was definitely always in the middle of the jokes and things like that. He wasn’t the overly serious guy in the locker room or on the court. He became more of a leader his senior year and even more when he got to college. He was really unselfish, almost to a fault.
JJ: Did James have any hidden talents?
SP: If I would’ve allowed it I think he would’ve been a pretty good baseball player. I saw him taking swings and throwing around and I’m pretty sure he would’ve been a good first baseman or something like that. He used to play when he was younger. I think he could’ve excelled there.
JJ: When it’s all said and done is James Harden a Hall of Famer?
SP: You know it’s really crazy to think of all of these things that he’s accomplished in his short career at 25; Sixth Man of the Year, NBA Finals, Olympic gold medalist, almost winning MVP… The last two left are winning the MVP and making the Hall of Fame. Do I think those things are in reach? Of course. I think he’ll have to be blessed with good health and he’ll have to sustain greatness for a significant period of time. When you look back at Hall of Fame guys, what you ask is were they the best at their position for a certain stretch of time in their career? If he continues to do what he’s going for the next four or five years I think the answer to the question is yes.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY