- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A horde of salivating college basketball coaches stalked the First Annual McDonald's Capital Classic in Landover, Md. last week. Their hunger was stimulated not by the sponsor's hamburgers but by the meat-market high school game between the U.S. All-Stars and the Washington Metro All-Stars.
This was not just any all-star game. The year's crop of high school seniors is perhaps the best of all time, the talent so abundant that Coach Chuck Daly of Penn, one of the droolers on hand, said, "No school will have a chance to have a dynasty like UCLA's." Maybe not, but there were a lot of coaches with dynasty in mind trying to get their hands on Moses Malone, a 210-pound, 6'11" center from Petersburg (Va.) High School. Malone may be the best big man to come along since Bill Walton. Howard Garfinkel, a New York superscout who runs a basketball camp Malone attended last summer, says that Moses is "the first kid that's been bigger than the camp itself. He's the best we ever had."
More than 250 colleges have approached Malone, who, as of last week was thinking seriously about North Carolina State, Maryland, Detroit and Houston. Inasmuch as Moses apparently can lead any team to the promised land, coaches could hardly wait for him to arrive for the McDonald's Classic in the Capital Centre. And the fact that he did not even show up for the practice sessions before the game did not bother the coaches. They could wait, and there were plenty of other players to relish.
Besides the local Washington talent, Promoter Bob Geoghan, who got McDonald's to put up $25,000 to sponsor the game, had lined up other good players by slipping around the NCAA rule prohibiting a college coach from picking a high school all-star team. Geoghan polled 15 college coaches for nominations, and then he let Morgan Wootten, the U.S. All-Star coach, select the players he wanted. Wootten is used to high-grade talent. He coaches at DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., and every senior on his teams for the last 13 years has received a college scholarship.
College coaches, assistants, scouts, recruiters, alumni and camp followers were all over the place the two practice days before the game last Thursday night. In fact, in their eyes, the game itself was virtually meaningless, the fourth act of a three-act play. "The game is for the fans," said George Raveling of Washington State, putting the proceedings in proper perspective. "From a recruiter's standpoint, you have to see the practice sessions. The players are working hard to make the starting team, and you get to see how they perform under stress conditions and how rugged they are physically." And Wootten was free with advice. When Indiana Coach Bobby Knight asked him to recommend a guard, Wootten touted "nobody but" Jim Wisman of Quincy (Ill.) High School. Before the game, Knight strolled through the team's hotel with his arm around Wisman. "Good luck tonight, Jimmy," he cooed. "If I don't see you after the game, I'll call you Sunday."
Everywhere the All-Stars went, coaches were sure to follow. When the players traveled to Washington on the special Big Mac bus, they just happened to bump into Maryland's Lefty Driesell at a Congressional luncheon, and Tennessee Assistant Coach Marty Morris touring the Capitol. Nor was any of the coachly interest in tourism surprising to the athletes. "It's not hard to wade through all this as long as you have people you can trust to help you, like my father and my own coach," said Rick Robey, a 6'10" center from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. "The coaches that spout the most are usually the ones that have the most trouble getting kids."
Malone missed the tour—and practice—to take exams in Petersburg. He is trying to reach the C average required for an athletic scholarship at an NCAA major college. Recently he dropped algebra for art to help improve his grades. On the court he has considerably fewer problems. "Moses will rewrite the 10 commandments of basketball," says Raveling, while Norman Sloan of North Carolina State adds, "Moses' speed reminds me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull—he thinks it, and he's suddenly there."
In his senior year Malone averaged 36 points, 26 rebounds and 10 blocked shots a game. Over the last two years he led Petersburg to a 50-0 record and two state titles. What fascinates college coaches is that Malone compiled his high scoring average this season even though the team made no extra effort to feed him the ball.
A shy, quiet 18-year-old, Malone lives with his mother, a nurse's aide, in a two-bedroom row house in the black section of Petersburg. In the living room are illuminated portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. Less than a block away is the Virginia Avenue playground where, at the age of 13, Malone decided to forget football and concentrate on basketball. "When Mo first started playing on Virginia Avenue, he was still growing fast and he was very awkward," says David Pair, a close friend. "They used to laugh at him and beat him all the time. Now when we have games there, we make Mo agree not to come inside. He has to shoot from outside, or we don't let him play."
Malone is very serious playing basketball. He is very serious when he's not playing basketball. His voice is so deep it sounds as if he begins forming words in his legs. When he speaks, he says what is necessary and no more. Many coaches have been distressed that he does not often respond to their questions or suggestions. "Some people mistake that shyness for stupidity," says Virginia Commonwealth Coach Chuck Noe, "but he's a lot smarter than some of the people who are recruiting him."