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 Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo’s high school coach at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) Steve Smith.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Rajon on the court in high school?
Steve Smith: Well, he was on one of our best teams talent-wise and he wasn’t even in the top 50 in the nation, which was crazy. Well, we went to Spain to play in a tournament and we’re in the semifinals and Josh Smith gets in foul trouble early in the game. I honestly didn’t think we were gonna win because we were playing the best Junior team in Russia and they had pros on their team. He asked me during a timeout if I needed him to score. I told him if he didn’t score we weren’t gonna win. He ended up scoring 55 points and dished out 17 assists and we won. It was amazing. He literally took over the game. I knew he was special.
JJ: When did you know he’d be, not just a pro, but an NBA All-Star?
SS: At the time that he was here I’d had about five guards that had gone on to the NBA and I thought he was better than all of them. That’s saying a lot because they were great players too. I thought he had a chance be a great player, but I didn’t know he was gonna lead the Celtics to a title so soon. But he always had everything to be a special player.
JJ: Are you confident that he’ll be just as good, if not better, coming off of the ACL tear?
SS: No, I think he should be fine. He took a long time off and he’s rehabbed the right way. Whether he stays in Boston or not who knows. I know, talking to Melo (Carmelo Anthony), he’s recruiting Rajon to come to New York. Melo thinks he’ll come too. You never know about that stuff though. I think either way, Rajon will be fine.
JJ: What would people be shocked to know about Rajon?
SS: He’s a clothes connoisseur. He wears some crazy stuff. He was wearing skinny’s before there were skinny’s. He’d wear a shirt that would make you say “Whoa! That guy’s got a lot of nerve wearing that shirt,” but it’s just his personality.
JJ: Give me an interesting off-the-court story about Rajon.
SS: Well, Josh Smith was his running mate here and he took Josh with him to his prom in the spring. There Rajon introduced Josh to his girlfriend’s best friend and that’s Josh’s wife now. It’s funny, I went to the wedding and Rajon was with his girl longer than Josh was with his because he introduced them. Rajon was saying, “Josh you’re killing me! She’s wanting to get married now.” It was pretty funny.
JJ: Does he amaze you with all the things he’s accomplishing?
SS: I thought he’d be really good, but I didn’t know how quick it’d happen. It’s really happened fast for him. He just has no fear and I think that’s a great thing. I think that’s what makes him who he is. Some people think he’s cocky, but that’s not it; he just thinks he’s as good as everyone else. You’ve gotta have that and he’s definitely got it. That mentality is why I’m confident that he’ll be fine once he comes back.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY