Michael confesses that he struggles to adapt his body to basketball after a season of football. A football player is gaited for short, powerful bursts, while basketball demands continuous motion. But as differently as a player conditions himself for each sport, basic athleticism and certain intangibles carry over. "If you're a basketball coach and have a chance to get a 6'4" leader like Brian, why wouldn't you wait two extra weeks?" says Beatty. Brian believes he brings concrete advantages from sport to sport: "In basketball you've got to have footwork, endurance and speed. It helps me in the pocket and on rollouts. And baseball is great for developing hand-eye coordination, which helps in every sport."
But nothing transfers from one sport to the next like the kind of confidence that seems to be lifted from a Chip Hilton novel. In his previous job at Blue Springs High outside Kansas City, Beatty had a quarterback who led the Wildcats to a state tide on a Saturday. Three nights later the same kid stood at the free throw line with a chance to win a Blue Springs basketball game. "He's standing there with a smile on his face," says Beatty, "and I'm sitting in the stands with a smile on my face thinking, This game's over."
Still, many parents and coaches have come to believe that it's reckless to pursue even two sports, particularly in light of the experience of Ronald Curry. While a senior at Hampton (Va.) High in 1997-98, Curry earned various national player of the year honors as a quarterback and a point guard. Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden called him the finest high school quarterback he had ever seen, yet Curry's love for basketball led him to choose North Carolina, where he was determined to play hoops too. By the end of an injury-addled four years, during which he played for two coaches in each sport, he had thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes and shot 35.0% from the field as the Tar Heels uncharacteristically lost more than 25% of their basketball games. In trying to play both sports, Curry had met expectations in neither. Last April he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and is on their practice squad as a quarterback.
If they know of the travails of Ronald Curry, the Bushes, father and son, don't give them a care, even though Michael tumbled from the top 30 in Hoop Scoop recruiting service's 2001 basketball rankings last summer after what the pundits judged to be a subpar Nike camp. The Bushes want a written commitment from the college that signs Michael to a football scholarship that he'll be free to play basketball. A handshake deal won't be good enough. The Bushes have oral agreements from the eight schools Michael is considering, and none has balked yet. "Except, I guess, the ones that have stopped calling," Michael Sr. says. " Georgia and Michigan, they don't call as much."
Still, the phone keeps ringing at the family's bungalow in Louisville's west end—an invitation from Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith to attend the Wildcats' Midnight Madness; an offer from Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer of seats for the Vols' game with Florida. "I had a meeting with [ Louisville basketball coach] Rick Pitino and [football coach] John L. Smith, and they said they wouldn't have a problem if I played both sports," Michael says.
Baseball, however, didn't come up.
Michael bush has made a pact with a couple of his senior football teammates, Dale Baughman and Casey Shumate, that they'll all go out for baseball in the spring. "You see the way he throws a football?" Casey says. "He can throw a baseball twice as hard." Dale, who used to play youth league ball with Michael, adds his assent.
With Male High football and basketball obligations completed by then, and his choice of college out of the way, Michael regards this spring as his alone—or at least his to share with his dad. "My dad has always asked me if I'd try baseball," he says.
In the halls of Male High people whisper that a scout for the Cincinnati Reds would be willing to sign Michael today, even without an inning of high school experience. That the Toronto Blue Jays have been tracking him for three years. That, at 15, his fastball was clocked in the high 80s. Michael Sr. talks about hiring a private coach to work with his son: "Three or four times, just to refresh his motion. Mike's been able to put things down and pick them up. A little practice, that's all he needs."
On a balmy Saturday over Columbus Day weekend, fresh from Male's 46-7 defeat of Central High the night before, Michael joins his family for an afternoon stroll through Louisville's Shawnee Park. The park is home to the Dirt Bowl, the legendary summer basketball extravaganza, where Artis Gilmore used to pull up to the court in his Rolls-Royce. It's also home to the Juice Bowl, a community festival of sandlot football and barbecue held every Thanksgiving. Michael won a Dirt Bowl tide as a seventh-grader and a Juice Bowl divisional title one year later.