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.
Today I caught up with NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant’s high school coach at Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) Stu Vetter.
Durant led the Warriors to the NBA title last week, knocking off the Cavaliers 4-1 in the series averaging 35.2 points, eight rebounds and 5.4 assists.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Kevin on the court in high school?
Stu Vetter: It would have to be during the 2006 season when we played Oak Hill and they were riding a 54-game winning streak and we beat them at the buzzer. It’s generally considered one of the two greatest games in the history of the DMV; the other was DeMatha vs. Lew Alcindor’s team back in the 1960s. Our game was actually chronicled in a book by Lynn Shapiro. That was a sold out crowd and it was highly anticipated on TV and Kevin was spectacular in that game. It’s just one that I’ll always remember.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Kevin off the court?
SV: Well, on signing day, I always had my players wear a coat and tie; that tradition dated back to the 1970s. Well, at that point Kevin didn’t have a coat and so I sent my staff out to find him one. They literally looked everywhere and couldn’t find a coat to fit a person with a 7-6 wingspan. What we did was took a navy blue blazer of one of my coaches and he put it over his arms and walked out to the signing. I always laugh because back then he didn’t have a coat, but now he’s got some of the finest clothes that money can buy!
JJ: Did you know that he’d be one of the best players in the world? And, if so, when?
SV: That level, you just can’t predict, but I knew that he was gonna be an outstanding NBA player. I said back then that he could’ve played for us on Friday night and played for the Wizards on Sunday afternoon. He would’ve been one of the players that could’ve gone straight to the NBA, but that was the year they started the rule where you had to go to college for a year. He really wanted to go to Texas.
JJ: What’s something about Kevin that most people would be surprised to know?
SV: As talented as he is offensively, he’s always been equally dedicated to be a great defender. When he met with me before he came to Montrose I asked him what he wanted to work on basketball-wise and he said he needed to improve his defense. When he went to the Olympics he said that he felt like Coach K would improve his defense. So the fact that he’s now looked at as a god defensive player is a testament to his dedication to improving in that area from a young age.
JJ: What was the craziest story you can recall from his recruitment?
SV: (Laughs) I remember calling Rick Barnes at Texas and saying, “Do you know how good he is!” Rick said he did, but I said, “No, he’s gonna be the best player you’ve ever had!” So he starts talking to me about all of the pros he’s coached and I said again, “No, he’s gonna be the best player you’ve ever had.” Rick had seen him a couple times, but he really didn’t know how good he was. Rick tells me later, “Coach, you are right!” That was pretty funny.
JJ: He caught a lot of flak for the move to Golden State; what were your thoughts on that move?
SV: He caught a lot of flak, but anytime you make a move that helps you improve yourself it’s hard to argue with that move. Just like in any profession, if you have a chance to improve yourself and accomplish great things then you do that. He didn’t join an all star team, he joined an established team with a vacancy. Harrison Barnes was a good player, but when he left they replaced him with a great player. The rest of that team was pretty much built through the draft. That’s a huge difference than getting together with the best players and creating a team.
JJ: Is this year’s title the first of a run of many for Kevin and the Warriors?
SV: It’s hard to predict, but I will say that he’s happy where he is and those guys are the same type of guys. I could see Kevin and Stephen Curry working on their games on their own a lot like Kevin did back in high School with Greivis Vasquez. I actually think they can be even better next season.
JJ: Does this championship turn the proverbial tide? Is Kevin Durant the best player in the world?
SV: Well, in my opinion he’s the greatest basketball player in the world. I have no problem saying that. LeBron James is a tremendous talent, but he does a lot of things on brute strength as opposed to basketball skills. Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant player I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t the most skilled player, he just powered his way in. Bill Russell was the better basketball player though. KD is 6-11, he’s got long arms, he can get his shot off on anyone and he handles the ball and plays like a guard. I just think that right now he’s taken the torch from LeBron. I wouldn’t have a problem with people saying that they’re No. 1 and No. 2.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY