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Chris Ballard
March 08, 2004
Already a polished star, Brooklyn hoops phenom Sebastian Telfair is set to become the first point guard to jump from high school to the NBA
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March 08, 2004

Ready For The Big Time

Already a polished star, Brooklyn hoops phenom Sebastian Telfair is set to become the first point guard to jump from high school to the NBA

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Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy

Consensus No. 1 pick if he comes out (which is all but certain). Extremely athletic, skilled ball handler and passer for a big man (6'11"). Has been compared with Alonzo Mourning and Amare Stoudemire




Oak Hill (Va.) Academy

Lanky, athletic 6'9" forward has signed with Indiana but is almost certain to enter draft. Likely lottery pick who's similar to Syracuse star Hakeem Warrick



Peoria (III.) Central High

Thought by some to be a better point guard prospect than Telfair, though he's chopstick-thin at 6'7", 180 and has faced less high-level competition. Signed with Duke but a lottery pick if he goes



Seagoville ( Texas) High

A 6'11", 225-pound forward in the Garnett mold. Averaged 25.7 points, 12 rebounds, 10 blocks as a junior. Committed to Texas but may enter draft. Likely first-rounder



Bakersfield High

The 7-foot center gave USC coach Henry Bibby his biggest recruiting score ever when he signed with the Trojans. Not as athletic as other big men who've made the jump but NBA teams are interested



Landmark Christian School (Fairbum, Ga.)

A true center at 6'11", 245, with an arsenal of low-post moves. Has a 3.7 GPA and scored 1270 on the SATs



Prentiss (Miss.) High

Strong (6'9", 260) with soft hands and a career high of 62 points in a game. Knock is that with his big body, he needs to improve his conditioning. Signed with Arkansas



South Kent ( Conn.) School

Athletic but raw 6'7" forward signed with DePaul but would be a first-rounder



Bremerton (Wash.) High

Thought by some to be best player in state history. Good post moves and three-point range. At 6'9", 225, has been compared with young Shawn Kemp. Signed with North Carolina

It's a Frigid Tuesday night in the Bronx, the kind that seems to drain the color from the city. Inside the gym at Lehman College, Brooklyn's Lincoln High and Manhattan's Wadleigh Secondary School are about to tip off in the second round of the Public Schools Athletic League playoffs. The winner will advance, and the loser's season will be over. Those facts, however, are all but irrelevant to most of the thousand or so fans on hand, including the rapper Cam'Ron and his camo-garbed posse. The crowd is here to see Sebastian Telfair, Lincoln's 6-foot point guard, nicknamed Bassy.

There are plenty of believers in the house, but also some skeptics, because going to see Telfair is like eating at a restaurant that's reputed to have the world's best seafood: So much praise breeds skepticism. Although he's just 18, Telfair has already been incubating in praise for years. Ever since The Dallas Morning News ran a feature on him as a seventh-grader, Bassy has been anointed as the Next Great New York Point Guard, fawned over by the press and the round-ball kingmakers who, like television networks calling the winners on election night, compete to be the first to declare the next big thing. Telfair has posed for magazine covers, hung with Derek Jeter and Jay-Z and played on ESPN2, making him basketball's second-most-hyped high schooler ever, behind his friend LeBron James. The scrutiny has been even more intense because of where he plays—in the media capital of the world—and because of his royal bloodlines: His cousin is the reigning King of New York Point Guards, Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks. And in June, Telfair could become the first point guard to jump directly from high school to the NBA.

So the skeptic watches the early going against Wadleigh and notices not what Telfair can do but what he can't. He practically cracked the backboard with that jumper! Why is he launching from three feet behind the arc? Wasn't that pass needlessly risky? Just when the guy with the James Earl Jones pipes who's bellowing It's all hype! is starting to sound like he's onto something, it hits: the moment when the superlatives make sense. Late in the first quarter Telfair receives an outlet pass at half-court, and in one fluid motion he relays the ball 30 feet past a defender to an empty spot on the court. An instant later a cutting teammate runs into the pass for a layup. It is a remarkable play—all the more so because in order to make the ball bounce just so, the righthanded Telfair had to throw a spinning, underhanded bounce pass with his left.

That marks the beginning of an assist-a-thon. Telfair launches a parabolic 60-foot chest pass for another layup. He leaps, catches the ball, spins 180 degrees in midair and fires a perfect baseball bounce pass for a dunk. He serves as a one-man press-buster, weaving through Wadleigh players as if they were traffic cones, then flicking a look-away pass for a basket. Though he sits for most of the fourth quarter of Lincoln's 103-77 victor, he still finishes with 14 points and 14 assists. That scoring total is less than half his season average of 33.2—earlier in the season he set the school record, with 61—but, as he explains later with a shrug, "I didn't need to score for us to win [the Wadleigh] game." Such talk is catnip to NBA general managers seeking an unselfish playmaker.

Of course Telfair's opponents this night, and every other night in his high school career, are still just kids, mostly a collection of baby-faced 5' 5" guards and gangly centers with wispy mustaches. Facing Wadleigh is a far cry from playing the Sacramento Kings on the first night of a back-to-back, as Marbury was doing on the same evening. Maybe that NBA talk is a bit premature.

Undoubtedly Telfair would benefit from a season in college, and he has already committed to Louisville, doing so in a preposterous press conference on Oct. 16 at Lincoln's gym. (His teammates wore T-shirts that read NBA OR COLLEGE? on the front, then spun as one after Telfair announced his decision, revealing the phrase TELFAIR SAYS LOUISVILLE on the back.) The Cardinals' Rick Pitino is a player's coach, and Telfair would fit perfectly into his run-and-gun system. An extra year would also give him time to get stronger—the smallest player in recent years to make the prom-to-pros jump was the 6'5" DeShawn Stevenson in 2000—and to learn a few more of the nuances of the game.

To a man, NBA personnel experts say Telfair should go to college—and in the next breath declare him a surefire lottery pick this June. Hard for Telfair to pass up the chance to be a lottery pick. Hard for him to turn down making history, even with the lingering memories of past New York guards—Omar Cook, Lenny Cooke and Erick Barkley—who declared for the NBA too soon. Pitino understands. "I told him, As badly as I want to coach you, if you can be a lottery pick, I would advise you to go,' " the coach says. "If he can be the first-ever point guard taken out of high school, that's great."

So, Sebastian, what's it going to be, dorm rooms or David Stern? Telfair smiles and purses his lips for a moment, then answers. "I'd say it's 50-50 right now."

Don't believe him for a second.

It's hard to believe, too, that Telfair is, in many ways, still a kid. True, he might be miked during a basketball game and have his every move followed by a documentary film crew, but he still lives with his mother, Erica; his father, Otis; and three siblings in an apartment at the Surfside Gardens housing project in Brooklyn's Coney Island. He's still poor by most definitions (Otis is on veterans' disability) and still uses the buy-one-ticket-and-pass-it-back ruse to get into movies with his friends. At school he goes to classes like the other kids, still waits eagerly for the bell to ring.

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