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 Denver Nuggets point guard Tywon Lawson’s high school coach at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) Steve Smith.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Ty on the court in high school?
Steve Smith: We played up in Cincinnati against O.J. Mayo and Billy Walker’s team and it was No. 1 vs. No. 2. There were about five NBA players on the floor during that game, which is crazy. The arena seated 16,200 and everyone was telling us that we weren’t gonna win. I didn’t even want them to go out and warmup because I didn’t want them to be intimidated by the crowd. Ty was looking at me like “there’s nothing to worry about.” Well, when it was game time we made quick work of them. We were up 20 in the second quarter and Ty was dominant. No one could stop him or stay in front of him. He had 25 points and 14 assists and he won their crowd over.
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JJ: When did you know he’d be, not only a pro, but a special pro?
SS: I thought he’d be a great college player, but I didn’t know how he’d be past that. I thought a lot about his size, but when I saw him doing the same things at North Carolina that he did in high school I thought he could be special. In high school he was so fast that after a made shot he’d race down the floor past everyone and make a layup. He’d go by all five guys. He did the same thing at North Carolina. I think with smaller guys like him they feel like every time they step on the floor they’ve gotta prove themselves and he had that attitude.
JJ: Was he your fastest player ever?
SS: Oh yeah, by far; especially with the ball. We’d run sprints in practice without a ball and he’d be fast. Then he’d run with a ball and he’d be faster with the ball in his hands. The ball seemed to motivate him.
JJ: Do you think he’s the fastest player in the NBA?
SS: I don’t know anybody quicker than him. He’s strong too. I always called him a little bulldog. And he had hops.
JJ: When did you first see him play?
SS: It was at the Nike All-American Camp when he was a rising junior. He came up to me and told me that he might want to transfer and I knew who he was, but I had never seen him play. Then I watched him play and I was like “Whoa!”
JJ: What was Ty’s personality on the team?
SS: (Laughs) He’s a character now! He’s a competitor but he’s a prankster, a card player and he’d sell the shirt off his back to make a little money. He’d play one-on-one against his teammates all the time and spot them points to play for a couple bucks. I never saw him lose one-on-one for money. Shooting competitions either. If there was something on the line he was gonna win.
JJ: Does he surprise you with what he’s accomplished already?
SS: When he was here I didn’t know how far he’d go, but when he did it in college I started to feel like he could make it big. So, yeah, I guess so in a way. I thought he’d be a backup for a few years, but he got his chance early and he’s never looked back since.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY