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 athletes 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.
Here’s Sunday night’s NBA All-Star MVP LeBron James’ high school coach Dru Joyce at St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio).
Jason Jordan: What was your best memory of LeBron on the court in high school?
Dru Joyce: Oh man there were so many of them! I guess the best is how it all ended his senior year, winning the national championship with USA Today. We’d talked about since he was in the fifth grade. To end it that way was special.
JJ: When did you know he’d be, not just a pro, but a potentially legendary pro?
DJ: Well, his progression was kind of a continual thing, but at 14-and-under AAU nationals he really separated himself from the whole field. You’ve gotta consider that this was against guys like Chris Paul, Kendrick Perkins, guys like that. In that tournament LeBron was head and shoulders the best guy there. At that moment I thought he’d be a great, great college player. I knew he’d be a star there. Then when he got to high school, I knew at the ABCD Camp between his sophomore and junior year when he destroyed the No. 1 player Lenny Cooke that LeBron would never play a moment of college ball. He was just destined to be a pro, it was evident.
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JJ: Give me some crazy fan stories from his high school days.
DJ: Girls used to send him (underwear). I think that the craziest act was after he was on the Sports Illustrated cover and LeBron leaves the gym that Saturday morning and goes outside and he could barely get into his car because all these people were around it. I’m shooing all these fans away that are putting all these magazines in his face for him to sign. He didn’t understand what was going on. The last guy was a little belligerent and he had a stack of magazines that he wanted LeBron to sign and I told him LeBron wasn’t signing them. Then the next day we played in Youngstown and this guy was there and he sent his kid to the school hoping that their sad faces would be the reason why LeBron would sign them. That was crazy.
JJ: If the one year of college rule was in place back in 2003 where do you think LeBron would’ve played college ball?
DJ: Oh man! Of course Ohio State recruited him strong and North Carolina did; Duke didn’t recruit him quite as tough, and I know he liked Florida’s style of play. In my opinion, it would’ve been either Ohio State, Florida or North Carolina those were kinda the three… He was a big Michael Jordan fan so to have North Carolina recruiting him was big for him.
JJ: What would people be shocked to know about LeBron?
DJ: Well, he’s a big time practical joker, but I don’t think people would be shocked to know that. He might’ve even tried to do some comedy if he wasn’t playing basketball. He loves a good joke and good prank.
JJ: Does he amaze you with all the things he’s accomplishing?
DJ: Yeah, you know, I’d be lying if I said I knew he’d be doing everything that’s he’s doing. I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s all happening for him this fast. In a way it’s shocking, but then again it isn’t because of the work. He’s always put in the work. Everyone sees what he does on the court, but I was privileged to see how hard he works to be that good. He works even harder now to be the best. He understands that it requires him to be the best teammate that he can possibly be too. He just gets it on every level.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY