Hugo had arrived in St. Croix late on the evening of Sept. 17, 1989. He was not a welcome visitor, and by the time he departed the next morning, fishing boats lay clocked in the streets of Christiansted. The Olympic-sized pool where the Duncan kids trained, the only one of its kind on the island, was ruined. The hospital was damaged to the point that lone had to undergo her cancer treatments in a tent. About the only objects of size left undisturbed by the hurricane were Tim Duncan and the basketball hoop outside his front door. Duncan couldn't possibly have known it at the time, but Hurricane Hugo had helped blow him into his future, into basketball for good.
After the hurricane Tim didn't swim for two weeks. He and his team tried ocean swimming for a while, but his attendance at practice dwindled. Then he lost his most vocal fan. "The hurricane broke Tim's routine by taking away our pool," Tricia says. "Then when Mom passed, he lost his motivation."
"I remember thinking that after basketball season ended, I'd go back to swimming," Tim says, "but then basketball season never ended."
Cheryl had purchased the backboard and the pole in December 1988 and shipped it from her home in Ohio to her baby brother as a Christmas present. Tim's father, a mason, planted it in the ground deep enough so that it could survive any storm. Deep enough so that it could survive Hugo.
Cheryl and her husband, Ricky Lowery, moved to St. Croix after her mother's death, and as Tim searched for a new direction, he kept getting advice from Lowery, a former walk-on guard at Capital University, a Division III school in Columbus, Ohio. "Timmy, let's shoot a few," Lowery would say. "How many swimmers do you see driving Porsches?"
Lowery and Tim began a series of one-on-one games on that resilient outdoor hoop. Tim wasn't small; he stood just over six feet as a ninth-grader, but Lowery, who had no way of knowing the height Tim would attain, taught his pupil the perimeter game. Tim learned slowly, his development hampered by the fact that there were only four indoor courts on the entire island, and usually those had volleyball nets strung up across them. After Tim grew nearly eight inches during his high school years—blooming into a post player—there were only half a dozen men on the entire island who could look him flush in the eye.
The St. Croix Avis started to print glowing stories about this local kid who was displaying unprecedented skills at St. Dunstan's Episcopal High. When the newspaper phoned for pictures of Tim, Cheryl sent them with a note apologizing for their quality. Every year at the holidays she had arranged for a family photo, but her shy brother often scowled and never looked directly at the camera.
That reticence almost sabotaged Wake Forest's recruitment of Tim as well. By the time he was a senior in high school, only Wake, Providence, Hartford and Delaware State had shown interest in him. Demon Deacon coach Dave Odom heard about Tim from a former Wake Forest player, Chris King, who had visited St. Croix with a tour of NBA rookies and watched 16-year-old Tim stand his ground against Alonzo Mourning. During Odom's visit to the Duncan home, Tim sat glued to the television, making no eye contact with Odom, who eventually had to move over and sit right beside the TV set as he made his pitch. Finally Odom asked if he might turn off the TV because he thought Tim wasn't listening to him. "In response to that he repeated back to me word for word what I had been telling him," Odom says. "I was amazed. He has this innate ability to look distracted but to take in everything around him."
Remembering that afternoon, Duncan says, "I was listening, but the 49ers were on. It was the fourth quarter."
During the summer before he left for Wake Forest, Duncan finally took the lead in his one-on-one series with Lowery. But who knew whether he would be ready for the ACC? When he arrived at college, he was just 17 years old, having skipped third grade. "When Timmy came here, I heard stories from our coaches that he was a project," Childress remembers. "So one day I walk into the gym and see this tall guy who grabs a rebound, puts the ball between his legs, dribbles coast to coast and slams. I went to see our coaches, and I told them, 'Hey, there's a tall kid in the gym doing some incredible things, and if he's not Tim Duncan you better recruit him fast.' "