Before Michael Jordan was making 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 St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha’s high school coach at Pleasant Grove (Texarkana, Texas), Craig Jones.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best Michael Wacha memory from high school?
Craig Jones: It’s probably a series of those. He pitched in all of the big games, especially in the state playoffs, and you could always count on that guy to put his best foot forward, bulldog-up and be aggressive.
JJ: When did you know he’d be great?
CJ: There was a multitude of times. He had so many great moments, and he was always on time and he had a great work ethic. I knew that would translate into something special.
JJ: What personality was he on the team?
CJ: Michael was really laid back; doesn’t say a whole bunch and gets along with everybody. But he’s a fierce competitor once he crosses that chalk line.
JJ: Got any wacky recruiting stories from his high school days?
CJ: Well, the biggest thing I remember was we went to Austin, Texas with him twice; once when he was a junior and once as a senior. We got beat in the semifinals one year and got beat in the championship one year. I was a big Texas fan and Michael sits there and pitches in front of (Texas head coach) Augie Garrido for two years and they never offered him. But through word of mouth, Texas A&M ended up offering him. Obviously, he did really well there so it all worked out.
PHOTOS: MLB players in high school
JJ: What’s something we’d be shocked to know about Michael?
CJ: He played center on the basketball team here and he was pretty good. They actually went to regional finals his senior year. He was pretty good!
JJ: Have you been in contact with him since the Cardinals earned the trip to the World Series?
CJ: Yes, everything’s kinda happened like a hurricane because he hasn’t been up the whole year. It’s wild around here right now. We’re all proud of him.
JJ: What’s been your advice to him headed into the World Series?
CJ: Well, I told him back before his Major League debut that it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches and you still have a rubber mound and a batter’s box with a hitter, catcher and an umpire. It’s still the same game. I told him to go do what he does best and he’ll be fine. He’s pitched in big games at every level and the mindset doesn’t change. These are the biggest games on the biggest stage, but the mindset to prepare for them doesn’t change. A lot of people think he’s too young to know what’s going on and he’s not conscious of it all, but they’re so far off with that. He’s been brought up the right way by his parents and he’s ready for this.
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