Words. Eric Bressman
Back in December of 2009, I was home in Chicago for vacation. My younger brother, a junior in high school at the time, was playing in a small holiday basketball tournament with his high school team, the Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I didn’t get to see him play very often, so I was happy to head down into the city with him on a weekday morning to watch his team square off against that day’s opponent, Perspectives Charter School. Headlining the opposition was a little-touted, gangly, but nonetheless intimidating 6-foot-several-inches junior by the name of Anthony Davis.
The story floating around the mostly empty gym that day – populated with a smattering of parents off from work and the two other teams in the tournament – was that he had only recently morphed into his present form.
It certainly showed that day, although his team’s failings were despite his better efforts. His statline was gaudy to be sure. I don’t remember exactly, but he had somewhere in the range of 30-40 points, every rebound within arm’s reach, and at one point he blocked my brother’s three-point attempt with his elbow. He might as well have bicycle kicked it. But he was still raw, unsure of how to make use of his oversized frame. He was kept out of the lane surprisingly well given that he had at least half a foot on the next tallest guy. And, mind you, the brand of basketball played in those small, parochial school conferences bears some comparison to the WNBA: highly structured, minimal facial hair and played well below the rim.
Imagine a national championship game in which Tyshawn Taylor had been assigned to Davis, then reduce Taylor’s leaping ability by about 50 percent and his workout regimen by a solid 75 precent. Suffice it to say that the Anthony Davis NBA scouts find themselves drooling over today has come a long way in a couple short years.
Most surprising of all, however, was that the Ida Crown Jewish Academy actually won. That’s right, no typo there. It took a buzzer-beater to get into overtime and another one to win it, but the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft lost to a group of guys that very likely spent some portion of their practice time proving who could grab net or slap the backboard with the right running start. Brand it as a modern day David vs. Goliath, or a triumph of team vs. talent if you will, but, as has been noted by many a basketball commentator, Davis’ high school team was awful. Will my brother and his friends nonetheless boast about that victory for years? Most certainly, as would you and I.
But the beauty of that moment, that memory, was in its rare innocence. There was a future star on the eve of fame, and yet, as far as I could tell, no scouts, boosters or agents in the crowd. Just 20 or 30 kids playing the game they loved. What a rarity in today’s big-brother-like world, where talent-seeking missiles scour every blacktop and pee-wee squad looking for anything of marketable value.