THE SEAT PLEASANT
(Md.) Activity Center, a low-slung brick building just northeast of Washington,
D.C., doesn't look all that special. It sits on a block littered with empty
beer bottles and shares the neighborhood with bail-bond offices and run-down
restaurants. Not long ago, two gunshot victims staggered to the front door,
bleeding and desperate for help after a robbery gone bad. The 30-year-old gym
at the Rec, as everyone calls it, has two side-by-side courts surrounded by six
basketball goals (only two with glass backboards), the original scoreboard and
four small rows of bleachers.
But inside is
someone remarkable: Taras (Stink) Brown, the Rec's 43-year-old coach, a
neighborhood treasure, with wire-rim glasses and a passion for teaching hoops
fundamentals. One day last summer Stink cleared out the left side of the Rec's
small glass trophy case and filled it with mementos commemorating the rise of
his first star pupil, Kevin Durant: a pair of his size-18 shoes, the SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED and other magazine covers he appeared on as a Texas freshman last
season and the Seattle SuperSonics cap he wore at the NBA draft in June. The
minishrine is the first thing a visitor sees upon entering the Rec, the first
thing Michael Beasley saw on Christmas Eve, when he stopped by to hug Brown,
the man he calls "my first coach, who taught me the game."
"You got my
side ready yet?" asked Beasley, another Rec alum, nodding toward the right
half of the trophy case.
on you," came Stink's reply. "Just keep working."
In a country
where one in 10,000 high school players makes it to the NBA, what are the odds
that Durant and Beasley, two 11-year-olds on the same Rec team, would both go
on to become MVPs of the McDonald's High School All-American game? Would both
sign with Big 12 schools? Would both put up such remarkable scoring and
rebounding numbers, that Beasley, a 6'9" forward at Kansas State, may well
join Durant as the only freshmen ever to be named national player of the
Stink ponders the
odds. Shakes his head. Grins. "One in a million?" he guesses.
being conservative. He knows as well as anyone that Beasley's story isn't so
simple, knows that before Beasley could proudly wear his Kevin Durant Sonics
jersey around the K-State campus, before two childhood pals could reunite at
the pinnacle of global basketball, they had to go their separate ways.
BE EASY. In the
neighborhoods where Beasley grew up, along the corridor between Washington and
Baltimore, the expression means Be cool. Relax. Have fun. B-Easy is Beasley's
nickname, not to mention his all-purpose mission statement. B-Easy's carefree
attitude draws raves from his D.C.-area buddies like Durant (who says Beasley
"brightens everyone up"), Duke's Nolan Smith ("he'll ride the
handicapped [carts] around the grocery store") and North Carolina's Ty
Lawson ("his room was full of SpongeBob stuff"). B-Easy explains
Beasley's M.O. as a real-life Bart Simpson, whose childish pranks were the main
reason he attended seven schools in five states from grades eight through 12.
And B-Easy also describes his playing style, a breathtaking efficiency that
generates extreme stats—at week's end he was the only player in the country who
ranked in the top 10 in points (fifth, 24.2 per game) and rebounds (first,
13.5)—with minimal wasted movement.
So effortless is
Beasley's game, in fact, that some observers criticize him for playing without
effort, calling Beasley the next Derrick Coleman. "I took that as a sign of
disrespect," Beasley says. "The only Derrick Coleman I saw was in his
last few years with the 76ers. I was like, No, no, no! I don't want to be that.
I work. But then I saw [footage of] him in college [at Syracuse], and I'm like,
A'ight, cool, the college Derrick Coleman."
of Beasley are less ambiguous. "He's a child prodigy," says DePaul
coach Jerry Wainwright, who worked directly with Beasley on U.S. youth national
teams the past two summers. "It's like somebody took the best parts and
sewed them together: his hand-eye coordination, his running speed, his hands.
He could palm a manhole cover. He's really a point forward, not much
different—other than in body length—from Kevin Garnett. They can both guard
smaller guys and big guys, step away from the basket and pass and