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 guard Nate Robinson’s high school coach at Rainier Beach (Seattle) Mike Bethea.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Nate on the court?
Mike Bethea: Nate came to Rainier Beach because of Jamal Crawford; he really wanted to play with him. My favorite memory is during his sophomore year we were running an out of bounds play for another kid on our team to get an alley-oop. Nate came over to me and said to let him try it; he swore to me that he’d get a dunk and at that time he was 5-foot-6. We ran the play and he jumped so high and dunked it with one hand and hung on the rim and everything. I mean the whole gym did a big gasp. The refs couldn’t even call a tech for hanging on the rim because they were so shocked.
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JJ: He’s obviously beat the odds with his size; did you always know he’d be a pro?
MB: I did! If you really knew Nate you knew that he just got things done. All you had to do was tell him he couldn’t do it and he was gonna prove you wrong.
JJ: What was his recruitment like; I know he was a big time football recruit.
MB: People don’t realize he signed a football scholarship with Washington; not a basketball scholarship. People also don’t know that Reggie Bush was USC’s second choice after Nate. He was their first choice. I remember Coach Pete Carroll coming up and telling him that Carson Palmer was their fifth Heisman winner and he wanted Nate to be their sixth. The only reason Nate didn’t go to USC was because Henry Bibby wouldn’t offer him a scholarship because he didn’t like two-sport athletes.
JJ: How’d Nate take that?
MB: A friend of mine named Kurtis Townsend was a coach at USC at the time and he told me that when they played Washington, Nate was screaming at them telling them he was gonna show them why they should’ve recruited him. He said first play of the game Nate made a breakaway layup and then one of their players tried to take him out of the air. Nate grabbed the kid and threw him into the crowd by the cheerleaders and did the Hulk Hogan thing in front of him. Kurtis said the game was over then!
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JJ: Was he always set on the NBA over the NFL?
MB: No, I can’t say that. Nate didn’t know what he wanted to do back then. He was so phenomenal at both. I thought he’d play five years in the NBA then quit and play another five years in the NFL. When they went on a strike a couple years back Pete Carroll reached out to Nate about a tryout. He couldn’t do it because of his NBA contract.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Nate off the court?
MB: (Laughs) I’ll never forget we were in this big tournament out of town and there was this big kid D’Angelo Collins that was playing with his team in the tournament too. We played against them and Nate dunked on him twice in the game. So later on we’re all staying in the same hotel and D’Angelo’s teammates kept knocking on his door and running. So Nate was sitting down there with us and D’Angelo looked down and he thought that Nate was doing it. D’Angelo yelled down to Nate saying that if he did it again he was gonna tear him up. Nate jumped up and said, “Wait right there I’m coming up the elevator!” Then D’Angelo started explaining himself to me and he told me he didn’t want to fight and asked me what he should do. I said, “If I were you I’d go to that door and lock it before he makes it to you because you’re messing with the Tasmanian devil.” He went in his room and shut that door quick.
JJ: What personality was Nate on your team?
MB: (Laughs) Whoo! Nate was a handful. I loved him to death, but Nate was that little kid that you give candy and they start bouncing off the walls. That was Nate!
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JJ: I know Nate’s the ultimate competitor; how intense did the practices get?
MB: Ooh-wee! I don’t know if you remember the Stewart twins, Lodrick and Rodrick, they all played on the same team together and, I’ll tell you what, I was sweating everyday trying to break those guys up from fights. If they lost, they were at each other and Nate was always in it because he was so competitive. But they were all so close. Literally five minutes later they were walking to the car laughing going off to play somewhere. They were all the best of friends.
JJ: Did Nate excel in any other sports?
MB: He was that guy that was just good at everything. His senior year he came to the track coach and asked him what the state record was in the 110-highs and he went out and broke it the next week. One time he was on his way to track practice and the soccer coach asked him to step in until one of the players showed up; Nate ended up scoring four goals. That’s a true story!
JJ: Are you shocked at the impact he’s had in the NBA?
MB: Not at all. I knew he’d come in there and leave his mark. I’ve never seen a player with a will to win like Nate. His mentality is just next level.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY