This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Basketball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 2011 ALL-USA player Bradley Beal from Chaminade Prep (St. Louis), now a shooting guard with the Washington Wizards.
MORE: American Family Insurance ALL-USA Homepage
Bradley Beal is 19, a rookie starter in the NBA and is driving a Porsche. There's only one problem. His new whip doesn't leave a lot of room for his two older brothers, Bruce, a former offensive lineman at Alabama A&M, and Brandon, who was a tight end at Northern Illinois.
"They fit in fine, but nobody can sit behind me because I'm the driver and the driver has to be comfortable," Beal says.
His first pro season has had a few sputters, but there's no question he's now in the driver's seat. After averaging 12.1 points the first few months of the season, the 6-3, 200-pound shooting guard is averaging 16.4 points a game since Jan. 1, including a career-high 29 points against the New York Knicks on March 1.
"At the end of the first half of the year, that's when I really started stepping up and playing a lot better because I wasn't satisfied with what I was doing," Beal says. "I felt like I could do a lot of things better. I wasn't giving it all I needed. I kept working on my game and it eventually came along."
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As he gained confidence, his shooting percentage, particularly from three-point range, improved. He shot only 18.4% from beyond the arc in December, but has hit 49.1% of his three-point attempts since. Beal said working on a mid-range jumper helped his longer shots.
"It increases the confidence when you can see the ball go in the hole," Beal says. "When I start inside and work my way out, my confidence develops. When I first got here, I didn't realize how far out the three-point line was until I was actually shooting from it. It's been a big adjustment for me."
He has weathered the Wizards' 4-28 start, when they didn't have point guard John Wall for 33 games with a knee injury and Nene played less than 100 percent healthy. The soft-spoken Beal credits his close-knit family, including his big brothers, for helping him adapt.
"At first, I thought it would be OK to be on my own, then I realized how boring and lonely it can be when you practice for two hours and then you're done for the day," Beal says. "It's great that they're there and I have a support system behind me. I can have a bad game and there's someone there who I can talk to."
That includes his mother, Besta, a former player at Kentucky State who was his first shooting coach.
"She talks to me every day," Beal says. "She watches more film than I do and she critiques all my shots. Sometimes, I want to tell her to chill out, that I'll figure it out on my own, but at the same time, she does a great job of helping me out and I know it is for the best. She's the one who put the ball in my hands, so I have to listen to her."
Beal has played more games this season than he did in any one season at Chaminade or Florida and he's had his share of injuries, including a sprained wrist, a few chipped teeth and now, an ankle sprain that leaves him day-to-day.
"Yes, I have had some injuries, but to me, everything is mental," Beal says. "It's how you approach things and how you approach obstacles.
There's always going to be challenges in your life and a little adversity, but it's how you recover from that. I view it as a setback. This little injury won't bother me at all."
Though he was a freshman last year at Florida, he was needed to play a leadership role and this season, he became the second-youngest shooting guard to start his first game in the NBA.
"It definitely helps you grow a lot," he says. "I've always been more mature than my actual age. I've always carried myself the right way and stayed humble and respected people and I feel the same way now. I took a back seat for a second but then my leadership qualities all come out and it's just something I've developed naturally."