When the team got to Madison Square Garden for the Games, Szczerbiak scarcely cooled off. He led the U.S. with a 17.2-point scoring average and got six in overtime of the gold medal game, in which the Americans defeated Australia 93-85. (Few people know that 27 years earlier Walt, then a forward for George Washington, played Julius Erving of Massachusetts to a virtual standoff in the same building. Dr. J had 35 points and 17 rebounds to Walt's 32 points and 23 boards in a 70-65 UMass win.) "In our country we've got plenty of tremendous athletes with no clue how to play basketball," says Haskins, "but Wally plays the game the way it should be played: hard and under control. He makes shots, and he makes plays."
Coles puts a finer point on it: "He's got an East Coast kind of game. Crafty, and a little bit old school. Sizing people up and then beating them. I think it comes from his dad."
After Walt played the 1971-72 season with the ABA's Pittsburgh Condors, the team folded, and he was picked up by the Kentucky Colonels in a dispersal draft. He was cut in the preseason, however, and then signed on with the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Barons of the old Eastern League. For shooting better than 60% and leading the Barons to the title, he collected $100 a game—"$83 after taxes," Walt says—and got a contract offer from the NBA's Buffalo Braves. But because the Braves guaranteed only one season, Szczerbiak passed. Instead he signed a five-year deal with Real Madrid, then the Boston Celtics of Europe, with an out-clause if he ever wanted to head back to the States to try the NBA.
He never did. Szczerbiak helped Madrid win three European club championships in the late 1970s. Teammates called him Too Late, for that's what he'd say to defenders who rushed at him an instant after he had squeezed off his unusually faithful shot. In one game opponents were so tardy that Szczerbiak knocked down 25 of 27 from the field and scored 65 points, still the Spanish single-game record. He and his wife, Marilyn, loved the expatriate life—the food, the friends and the parks where they could take little Wally, who was born in Madrid in '77. The flight attendant who lived next door would drop by the Szczerbiaks' apartment to marvel at the 18-month-old who could hoist a Nerf ball over his head and, once in every three or four tries, fling it through the hoop rigged over a doorway. Later, after gigs with a team in Udine in the Italian League and another in Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands, Walt would regret nothing, except that it's hard to call yourself a professional basketball player if you've never spent a minute in the NBA.
His European career over at age 35, Walt couldn't give up the game. For the past 12 years he has served as the North American rep for Spain's Asociación de Clubs de Baloncesto (ACB), working out of his Long Island home as a sort of Martinez Blake, bird-dogging those tweeners and sleepers who might be a late NBA cut or go undrafted but could make it in the Spanish league. In short, he gets paid to search for someone who can break his record. Even as he pushed into his 40s, he would find a gym where former college standouts such as George Bruns, Billy Schaeffer and Al Seiden mustered on weekends. Wally first tagged along to watch his dad and share a postgame burger and soda. Eventually he began to play.
"Twice a week, with my dad and his friends, I learned the tricks you don't learn in the park—all the intricacies of the game," Wally says. "Today I hear the scouts saying, 'Not only can he shoot, pass and dribble, he knows how to play the game. He knows how to run a ball screen and a pick-and-roll.' Well, that's where I learned it.
"But then I'd play with my friends and in AAU ball. The players were young and athletic. That's where I got the jiggles and the feints. Nowadays you need both the old stuff and the new stuff to be successful."
Wally has two advantages that Walt didn't. Having been confined to the post most of his career, the 6'6" Walt made sure, while coaching Wally through fifth, sixth and seventh grade, that his son learned how to face the basket and put the ball on the floor. Today, with a dribble drive to go with an outside shot, he's a sort of souped-up Majerle—a Majerle Davidson, if you will.
The other difference between the two Szczerbiaks may be what will allow the son to someday surpass the father. In Walt's day a shooter rarely went near a barbell for fear of harming his touch. That thinking has changed. Before last season Wally increased his bench press from 185 to 300 pounds.
He also gained seven pounds, pared his body fat from 14% to 9% and raised his vertical leap by 4½ inches to 30½, an increase so dramatic that RedHawks strength coach Dan Dalrymple took three separate measurements for fear he had made a mistake. Szczerbiak suddenly carried 241 pounds, and his stroke hadn't lost one feather of goose down. "The Philadelphia 76ers have trained in our gym for 11 of the 13 years that I've been at St. Joe's, " says Martelli, "and his body matches up with any of theirs."