Adds an NBA scout, "Even if he doesn't grow another inch, he has the size and athleticism to be the prototypical NBA power forward." As the summer went on, Howard's ambidexterity turned as many heads as his raw athleticism. He'd throw an outlet pass lefthanded, shoot a free throw righthanded and block shots with either hand. It's another knack that can be traced to eighth grade, when he broke his left wrist and had to develop his off hand.
Smith, a.k.a. J Smooth, was "my joy baby," recalls his mother, Paulette, and his game usually matches that sobriquet. In Las Vegas, during a matchup with New York's Westchester Hawks, he flushed a dunk at one end, hustled back to pin a Westchester shot against the backboard and, after scrambling to his feet, claimed the rebound. Trailing the break that soon thundered off toward the Celtics' basket, he took a short alley-oop back pass from teammate Clifford Clinkscale for another dunk. The sequence caused Indiana coach Mike Davis, to whom Smith has given a oral commitment, to beam at the other coaches seated around him.
Of course, the Hoosiers, for whom former Celtics Jeff Newton and A.J. Moye played last season, understand that their catch could easily join Howard in the draft. "I think about it a lot," says Smith, whose father, Walter, played briefly in the ABA. "It's everybody's dream to be in the league, so how can you not?" After two years at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., he will spend his senior year at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy, where he'll play the three, his likely position in the pros, against a national schedule of stout competition. (Howard and Morris play for private schools in Georgia's smallest classification, and their only challenge after the summer season ends will come when their teams meet each other.) "Josh has natural leadership ability," says McCray. "He speaks up, he's emotional. The first couple of years I coached him, I couldn't talk to him after a loss."
Adds Vaccaro, "Josh is going to be like Dominique Wilkins. He'll be a big endorsement guy because of his flair."
If Howard is the spiritual one and Smith the most outgoing, Morris, Prather says, is "the intellectual." He carries a 3.7 grade point average at Landmark Christian Academy in Fairburn, Ga., and has exceeded 1,000 on his SATs. He's the most likely of the three to go to college; the lucky school could be from among Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Stanford and Georgia Tech, to which insiders give an edge because his older brother, Jonathan, is a Yellow Jackets team manager. Morris's studious bent applies to basketball as well; he breaks down the games of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when they appear on ESPN Classic. "He moves well, and from what I hear, his work ethic is great," an NBA scout says. "He's a smart kid and a nice kid, so you have to think you're not going to have trouble teaching him."
"The way I look at it, not everybody can go to the league from high school, so I'll try to take advantage, do a year or two in college," Morris says. "I can take somebody off the dribble, but I'm in my comfort zone in the post. If you play within your strengths, you don't expose your weaknesses." Told that last comment sounds like something a coach might have shared with him, Morris demurs. "I just thought of it now," he says.
"Randolph's just an average teenager," says his mother, Patricia. "He doesn't have unusual hobbies like snake farming. His father and I believe he shouldn't just be physically ready for the NBA, but emotionally and psychologically ready, too."
By the end of July, having spent 18 of 24 days on the road, the Celtics were running on fumes. On the eve of the semifinal in Los Angeles, Howard called his mom, Sheryl, in Atlanta to tell her, "I just want to get back to my own bed." The next morning the Celtics lost to a bunch that had been sleeping in their own beds all week, Southern California—based Pump 'N' Run, a team whose guards, UCLA-bound Jordan Farmar and Oregon recruit Bryce Taylor, shrewdly kept the game from being decided in the frontcourt.
Only several hundred people showed up for that game, whereas a few nights earlier more than 16,000 had filled the Staples Center across town to watch LeBron James score 28 points in Magic Johnson's charity exhibition game. But the system is always on the lookout for the next sellers of shoes and minters of street cred. That was clear from a scene in Las Vegas just before the Big Time final tipped off, as Vaccaro approached two courtside spectators, Sacramento Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof. "We're changing the structure of the draft with this one game," he said. A week later agent Jeff Schwartz could be seen chatting up Prather and Smith's dad outside Loyola Marymount's Gersten Pavilion, in the midst of the Best of Summer tournament.
All of which is a reminder that, of those S's that Dwight Howard cites, he and his precocious fellow big men have already demonstrated speed in abundance.