A Star Is Born
Gerald Wallace has suddenly rocketed to the top of recruiting lists
Four months ago, national recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger had never heard of Gerald Wallace. Last week at the Adidas ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J., Oettinger called Wallace one of the finest high school prospects ever. "He is the best combination of athletic ability, basketball skill and intangibles that I've ever seen in a wing forward;' says Oettinger, who has been sizing up talent for 23 years. "I once wrote the same words about Michael Jordan as a wing guard. Wallace runs the floor, hits the three and plays every possession like it's his last. Nobody has put on a show like him in nearly two decades."
So where has Gerald Wallace been hiding? In little Childers-burg, Ala. (pop. 4,579), where he honed his game in late-night shootarounds at a park with his mother, Alice, his most passionate fan and most relentless critic. "I might score 40 points in a game," Gerald says with a smile, "and all my mom asks me about is the free throw I missed in the first quarter."
While Wallace averaged nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and four steals as a junior at Childers-burg High last season, he didn't register a blip on the national radar until he participated in an AAU tournament in Memphis in April. There, playing his fourth game in a 10-hour span, he scored 24 points against blue-chip prospect Darius Rice of Jackson, Miss. Wallace then earned the MVP award at another AAU tournament, in North Carolina in May, after which Bob Gibbons, another recruiting maven, promoted Wallace to No. 1 on his prospects list, saying that he "may be as good a prospect as I've ever seen."
Despite playing the ABCD camp with a painful pulled muscle in his back, the 6'7", 205-pound Wallace was still the most dynamic player on the court, dazzling onlookers with his leaping ability and drawing comparisons to his idol, Vince Carter. Says Wallace, "I've always thought that I was one of the best players in the nation, but I was just waiting to be found."
Wallace's story recalls that of Tracy McGrady, who jumped from nowhere to the head of his class during a phenomenal summer in '96. McGrady skipped college, and Toronto made him a lottery pick, but Wallace insists he isn't ready for such a giant step. Until he began playing AAU ball last summer, he had never traveled farther from home than the 40 miles northwest to Birmingham. He doesn't like to read the glowing recruiting mail that has doubled over the last two months—until the Memphis AAU tournament he was being recruited only by Alabama, Auburn and UAB, but now schools from all over the nation are interested—and he is the kind of unassuming kid who begged his mom to let him take a job this summer with the local Water Works, Sewer and Gas Board, cutting grass for the minimum wage. It probably won't be too long before Wallace will be getting a considerable raise.
"None of us would have believed that he would get so much attention so quickly," Alice says. "The boy may be a big deal up in New Jersey, but down here in Childersburg, he's still just Gerald to us."
Louisville Legacy Case
A Son of A Gunner
In stark contrast to Gerald Wallace, DaJuan Wagner has been a player to watch ever since he was an eighth-grader at Morgan Village Middle School in Camden, N.J., and was the subject of a feature story in the local Courier-Post. The recruiting letters began overflowing his mailbox a year later. "You have to grow up a little faster when you're Milt Wagner's lad," says Milt Wagner, who as a high-scoring guard led Louisville to an NCAA title in 1986 and played 13 pro seasons in the NBA and overseas. "My son has been in the spotlight since he can remember, but he's used that pressure to blossom ahead of his time."
DaJuan was so precocious that at age five he played recleague ball in a division for 10- to 12-year-olds. At Camden High he averaged 27.3 points and nine assists as a freshman on the varsity, prompting the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to rank him among the top five high school players in any class. As a sophomore last season Wagner scored 35.3 points a game and was so big an attraction that Allen Iverson drove over from nearby Philadelphia three times to see him play. After one game Iverson told Wagner, who is often compared to him, "Little brother, you got game."