EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared on USA TODAY High School Sports in January 2014. It has been updated.
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.
I caught up with Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant’s high school coach at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) Steve Smith, who coached Durant his junior year.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Kevin on the court in high school?
Steve Smith: We were playing Jefferson at the Les Schwab tournament and we weren’t playing well at all. We were down by nine points headed into the fourth quarter and he made about four threes in the fourth quarter that ended up winning the game for us. We ended up winning by three points. At that point no one knew he was a perimeter player. He played a face-up four for us and no one knew him to make threes. It’s funny because now that’s what he does. I actually saw him a couple weeks back and we were eating lunch together and he mentioned this game.
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JJ: When did you know he’d be, not only a pro, but a special pro?
SS: Probably after we’d had him a couple of months. When we got here he was really thin and he looked really weak physically. You just didn’t know how strong he was gonna get, but by about January I thought that he was as skilled as any player we’ve ever had and I thought he was as big as any player we’ve ever had. I would always compare him to Carmelo (Anthony) and people thought I was crazy, but I thought he’d be that level and he’s proved me right. He’s got a great work ethic and a great attitude.
JJ: What was Kevin’s personality on the team?
SS: Well, if you didn’t know him you’d have thought he was quiet, but if you knew him you’d know he was really outgoing. I really liked his personality. He liked to have fun with his teammates and he knew when it was time to get serious. He’s honestly still the same now as he was back then.
JJ: Rumor has it that he doubles as a rapper when he’s not burning the nets from deep.
SS: (Laughs) Oh yeah he rapped a little bit, yeah! Ty Lawson used to rap a little bit with him. He’s pretty good too. Those guys were all really close. They had a lot of fun.
JJ: He’s got a reputation for being really competitive; how tough did he take losses?
SS: He definitely hated to lose. He was all about winning; it didn’t matter whether he had two points or 40 points he just wanted to win. He bought more into the team than he did himself. He definitely could’ve done more for us as an individual, but he wanted to win. He would be subservient to the seniors on the team even though he was the best player on the team. He was just that kind of guy. He didn’t care who took the shots or put up the numbers as long as his team won.
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JJ: So it doesn’t shock you that Kevin’s OK with Russell Westbrook taking a lot of shots late in games?
SS: Not at all. That’s Kevin. He wants everybody to do well. He doesn’t care who has the high point total for the game. That’s just his personality.
JJ: Does he surprise you with what he’s accomplished already?
SS: Not really. He might surprise some people, but people thought I was crazy when I would say how good I thought he was. His skill-set is so advanced and he’s got it upstairs too. I’m not surprised at all, in fact, I think he’ll get even better.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY