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.
We catch up 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.
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Tonight we caught up with Zion Williamson’s high school coach at Spartanburg (South Carolina) Day School: Lee Sartor.
Williamson, a former first team ALL-USA selection, is projected to be picked No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA draft on Thursday night.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Zion on the court?
Lee Sartor: The one that I think is the most significant was a play he made in our ESPN game during his senior year. We’re up one and Greensboro Day had the ball with an opportunity to win the game. Zion read the play perfectly and ended up stealing the ball, taking two dribbles and finishing with the LeBron-like dunk that everyone has become accustomed to seeing from him. That one sticks out because it was Zion’s last play on his home court and he was able to steal it and secure the game in that way.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Zion off the court?
LS: It was the summer after his junior year and he’d just been on the cover of national magazines and all that and we were at team camp. Zion wasn’t playing because he’d played so much that summer and he was resting, but he was required to be there. Well we called a timeout and I noticed that someone kept giving the kids water. Then I heard someone say, “Does anyone else need water?” It was Zion. We’re talking about young players too; guys just trying to prove themselves and he was serving them water. It just showed me a lot about his heart and how he cared for his teammates.
JJ: What’s the craziest story that you can recall from his recruitment?
LS: Well, obviously everyone thought that he was gonna stay local at Clemson or South Carolina, and I know it was getting to Zion that everyone was trying to make sure that he did that. But I remember when Zion first came to the school I asked him what school he wanted to go to and what degree he wanted to hang on his wall, he said he wanted a Duke degree. He remained loyal to his dream, and I respected that because he was under a lot of pressure.
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JJ: Did he have any random off-the-field talents back then?
LS: (Laughs) Well, I’ve seen him throw a football 70 yards and I saw him hit a baseball over 400 feet.
JJ: How will Zion handle the hype in the NBA?
LS: I think he’ll handle it like he’s handled every other stage of his playing career: He’ll overachieve. He’s just a hard worker and a perfectionist. Any weaknesses he has, he’s gonna work hard to make them strengths and strengths he’s gonna work hard to make them even better.
JJ: Do you expect him to make the National team if he’s invited to tryout after the USA Training Camp?
LS: I think that if he’s asked to tryout then he’ll make the team.
JJ: Is Zion the Rookie of the Year?
LS: I think that he’ll win Rookie of the Year. He checks off so many boxes. Coaching him you’re just happy he’s on your team, but you just can’t plan for him as an opposing coach. He just has such a high motor that it’s hard to stop him. I think that if God spares him from injures we’ll be talking about him being one of the best players on the planet. I think he’ll have one of the best basketball careers we’ve ever seen.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY