If you had to let a single piece of paper stand for the future of Big East basketball, you could do worse than the bill of sale from Dave Brown's recent trip to an appliance store not far from his apartment in Elmhurst in the New York City borough of Queens. Brown picked up three items on that run: a 35-inch picture-in-picture TV, a four-head VCR and a universal remote with which to command them both.
As a result he'll be able to keep track of his nephew, Taliek Brown, who'll be a freshman point guard at Connecticut this season. Yet in the rarefied world of elite youth basketball in the most serious hoops city in the world, Dave Brown has come to regard as family a couple of other rookie playmakers in the Big East: Andre Barrett of Seton Hall and Omar Cook of St. John's. "We've all been around one another since the guys were 10 years old, playing in the parks," says Dave, who manages a supermarket in Queens.
So should Taliek and the Huskies face a team other than the Pirates or the Red Storm on some busy night this season, Uncle Dave will be able to follow the exploits of both his nephew and one of the other two New Yorkers while the third's every look-off, pull-up and crossover is being videotaped for later perusal. "I'm ready," Dave says.
Barrett, Cook and Taliek Brown aren't the only New Yorkers who'll stand out at the point this season. Jamaal Tinsley, back for his senior year after leading Iowa State to within a game of the 2000 Final Four, may be the best of them all. Kenny Satterfield reconsidered his decision to turn pro and returned for his sophomore year at Cincinnati. And if he recovers in time from a torn ACL in his right knee, Majestic Mapp, whose name signifies the court-ruling and way-finding qualities that the position requires, will run the show for Virginia. But by the time the three Big East freshmen—"the Holy Trinity of point guard demigods," as Queens-based basketball scout Tom Konchalski calls them—are through, they could make up New York's finest class of floor leaders since 1983, when the city sent Mark Jackson to St. John's, Kenny Smith to North Carolina and Dwayne (Pearl) Washington to Syracuse.
Any other burg would be delighted to cite a single year in which it had such a terrific group of point guards. That New York can point to two such crops in the last 17 years begs for an explanation.
It's not just that Gotham has the largest population of any city in the country. Other metropolises have millions of inhabitants, too, but none comes close to matching New York's point guard legacy (chart, page 134). Konchalski cites the bent, netless rims in the city's parks and schoolyards, and the low ceilings of its CYO gyms, which can diminish a young jump shooter's percentage and prompt him to learn how to get to the basket. Moreover, with no more than a court or two serving an entire housing project, when a New York kid goes out to play, he'll play games—not just shoot baskets. He'll also play more officiated games than kids from elsewhere. In Gotham there are leagues and tournaments in the spring and fall, when organized basketball in many other cities lies fallow. A New Yorker may not hone his stroke the way a suburbanite might, but he sharpens his instincts, and no position demands instinctive reactions more than the point.
"By the time I turned 16, I'd played more than 300 games outside high school," says Smith, a former point guard for Archbishop Molloy High in Briarwood, Queens; North Carolina; and the Houston Rockets, among other NBA teams. "I've played more park games than NBA games, and I had a 10-year NBA career. No other city lets you do that. At Fond� [Recreation Center, Houston's answer to Harlem's storied Rucker Park] teams play only one organized game a week. I'd play three a day in New York. Nothing could happen in a game that I hadn't seen. All I had to do was remember."
All that experience leads to a singular style. One night last season Smith was watching an ACC game on TV with his brother, Vincent, when a player in the Virginia backcourt caught Kenny's eye. "That guy's from New York, right?" he said.
Yes, said Vincent. (The player was Mapp.)
"I could tell by the decisions he made when he got into trouble," says Kenny, "what he did to get out of trouble."