So here they sit
like schoolchildren being guarded by their teacher. They talk and occasionally
step onto the court to shoot around.
Austin Peay was Rodney's and my decision. Whew, it's some place," laughs
the irrepressible Williams. "My mom and I tried to find it on a map for
three days. Excitement? Oh yeah. We go downtown on Saturday nights there and
watch the grocery trucks unload."
Odums met Fly
when the two of them played on the same team in a NYC summer tournament and
combined for 75 points. Odums plays guard at Austin Peay and does not mind
feeding his old playground friend turned superstar.
the Austin Peay season assist record because of me," says Williams.
"I'd hit one basket and then bam! bam! Danny would nearly kill me with
passes. I couldn't get away from him. I'd have to shoot from 35 feet to get rid
of the ball."
reputation, somewhat unfairly, is not a good one. "Preenish,"
"cocky," "a troublemaker," are terms that frequently pop up in
the press. And yet in games Williams simply plays the way he always has, the
way he learned as a scrawny, bowlegged kid in the playgrounds of Brooklyn. His
coach, Lake Kelly, suspended him at halftime of the NCAA regional consolation
game for arguing in the locker room. "You know," says Williams,
"the coach thought I was messing around. He was uptight, really excited. I
don't blame him but, you know, I'd already scored 22 points and, man, I was
helping out on this 6'9" dude. Do you think I was messing around?"
The word is out:
the big game today is at The Hole, the graffitied sunken court in the midst of
the Van Dyke apartments. Fly lives across the street in an old three-story
project, an architectural atrocity designed with all the esthetic appeal of
prefab bomb shelters. Lloyd Free, the Most Valuable Player in the NAIA
tournament, from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., lives just down the way.
Free was unable to call his mother to tell her about his MVP award because
phones are luxuries his mother and most of his neighbors do without.
of eight lives on welfare. "I don't think he's ever seen his dad," says
Parker. "What total poverty. This has to be one of the worst places in the
"The point is
to keep playing, not to let yourself be overcome by the dope and crime and ail
that. [Anthony Harris mentions that dope isn't too big a problem in his
neighborhood anymore. "All the junkies have been shot."] Lenny Wilkens,
one of my best friends, was never sensational here in the streets, but he kept
playing and now he's All-Pro. Jim McMillian the same way. I discovered him when
he was 12 in a park game. He wasn't that good but he had the best attitude I've
ever seen. The absolute best."
Earlier in the
week at a game at Riis Park in Queens, Ed Searcy of St. John's had commented on
how the city players communicate with each other. "It's just like a
grapevine the way everybody knows where to show. We travel all over the city
for games. Somebody will say, 'I hear they're runnin' at Foster today,' and
that's where everybody turns up."
" Bedford-Stuyvesant is on the way out," says Parker. "The old
playgrounds—places like Kingston and Madison Street—are finished, all beaten
up. Too much junk and glass. Players come crosstown now."