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"The company that makes the best pens is not the company going to lunch," says Brian. Touché.
Five minutes remain in the period, but no work is getting done. Students are walking around, glancing at the clock. In the back of the room, a heavyset, pasty-faced boy is sitting by himself. Justin wanders over, slaps him on the shoulder. "What kind of day you having, buddy?" he asks. They shoot the breeze for a few minutes, talk some basketball. When the bell rings, the heavyset kid is smiling.
Having met Justin, one looks forward to meeting his parents, to congratulating them on a job well done. So it is mildly surprising to learn that Tom and Anne Armour were divorced when Justin was nine. The three children—Justin has an older sister, Necole—stayed with Anne. Tom, a lawyer in Colorado Springs, has remarried. Both parents remain friendly. "Considering how some divorces end up, I guess we've been fortunate," says Justin. Both parents come to Justin's games, though they don't sit together.
Anne's constant companion since the divorce has been her work. She owns a popular café on Manitou Avenue. At 11:40 a.m. most weekdays, Justin and his buddies pile into a car and head for Anne's Cafe. Everything on the menu is good, but beware of the green chili stew; it's guaranteed to clear your sinuses. On this late January day, Anne comes out from behind the counter to chat, and she massages her son's shoulders. "Everyone in the country should receive a massage once a week," she says. "And the government should pay for it."
Even as mothers and sons go, these two are close. Earlier in the school year, one of Justin's teachers came to school in tears; her teenage son, who attends a nearby junior high, had spoken harshly to her. Justin sought the young man out and told him, "I don't ever want to hear of you showing that kind of disrespect for your mother again. Someday she's going to be your best friend."
On the way out of Anne's Cafe, Justin stops by a table of elderly men. Will Gomez, the local barber, notes that Justin's five-month-old crew cut has all but grown out. Another fellow at the table wishes Justin luck in tomorrow night's basketball game against St. Mary's, a Colorado Springs rival. "And Justin," he says. "I've got money on you guys!" Everyone at the table breaks up. Justin dismisses them with a smile and a wave of his hand.
Justin can't wait for the St. Mary's game, either. The 7-2 Mustangs haven't played in two weeks, and practice no longer offers Justin a challenge. "I have to admit," he says, "sometimes I think, 'Isn't it time for me to go to college yet?' "
It is a Herculean effort for Justin to remain patient with his teammates. He is, after all, one of the best basketball players to come out of this area in some time, and he didn't get that way by playing in Colorado Springs. Every Saturday morning, starting when Justin was in the eighth grade, Tom drove him the 65 miles to Denver, where Justin played for the Police Athletic League in the morning and at the Salvation Army Red Shield Boys' Club in the afternoon. "The first time we walked into the Boys' Club," Tom recalls, smiling, "Justin's eyes got wide." There were no other white kids in the gym. The summer he was 15, Justin stood 6'5" and was invited to play for the Big Orange, a Denver AAU team. As the only white member of the 10-man squad, he was nicknamed Token. "It was the most fun and most educational summer I'd ever had," says Justin. Halfway through it, Token was asked to play with the Big Orange's 17-and-under team.
Last summer, Justin started for the Denver-based Colorado Orangemen, who went 15-3 against other AAU teams around the country. The Orangemen's most impressive win was over the powerful New York Riverside Church club in the semifinals of the BCI/Slam-n-Jam Invitational at Long Beach, Calif. Justin's 16 points included a last-second, game-winning jumper. Earlier, he had been invited to the prestigious Nike Basketball Camp in Princeton, N.J.
From Nike camp to Manitou Springs is quite a drop-off, though Justin is too polite to say it. Back among the Mustangs, Justin muzzles his exasperation as some of his niftiest passes whistle through his teammates' hands. "Justin sometimes plays down to the level of his teammates, rather than pulling them up to his," says Ken Vecchio, the Mustang coach.