Rasheed Wallace Rashard Griffith
For the last year just about every college basketball coach in the country has been repeating two words: Rasheed, Rashard. Rasheed, Rashard. Rest assured these coaches aren't conjugating Arabic verbs. Rather, they are probably weighing the relative merits of the two giants who bestride the nation's high school hoops scene. Starring for Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High, which at week's end was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today, is 6'11" senior center Rasheed Wallace. One consonant, two vowels and 750 miles away, 7'1" senior center Rashard Griffith is starring for second-ranked Martin Luther King High in Chicago, another unbeaten team.
Rashard, Rasheed. Rashard, Rasheed—it's a marquee mishmash destined one day for the NBA. "These are clearly the two premier big men in their class," says Bob Gibbons, who publishes The All-Star Sports Report, a recruiting newsletter. For mnemonic purposes you can best tell these two pleasant 18-year-olds apart by their second syllables. Sheed rhymes with speed, shard with hard, and those words pretty well sum up their games. A bundle of slender limbs, Rasheed has quick feet and the reach of Plastic Man. On defense he plays near the foul line, where he disrupts the passing lanes, yet he still was averaging 16.3 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots a game at week's end. At the other end of the floor, he was averaging 16.8 points. Tom Konchalski, who publishes High School Basketball Illustrated, rates Wallace a 5-plus on a 1-to-5 scale, a mark that he had previously given only to Billy Owens, Kenny Anderson and Alonzo Mourning.
Outweighing Rasheed by 45 pounds, at a hulking 265, Rashard is a power player who operates strictly out of the low post and was averaging 25.4 points, 14.6 rebounds and 4.4 blocks for King, a team so stocked with all-stars that league opponents threatened to boycott their games (SCORECARD, Feb. 22). Once, an Indiana assistant coach went so far as to check out Rashard during a period in the spring when recruiting high school players is not allowed. It wasn't an NCAA violation, however. Rashard was only in the eighth grade at the time.
Rasheed and Rashard met for the first time at last summer's Nike All-Star Camp in Indianapolis. A wave of hype attended their initial encounter on the court. When the game went into overtime, everybody at the camp gathered to check out the action. Alas, there wasn't much to see. Hobbled by a sore right ankle, Rashard couldn't keep up with Rasheed, who had his way at both ends of the court.
Off the court the finesse player, Rasheed, has tastes that tend toward softer fare, from movies (adventures like Raiders of the Lost Ark) to music (mellow groups like Dc La Soul) to food (cereals like Crunch Berries, Froot Loops, Trix and Fruity Pebbles). Rashard, on the other hand, favors a tougher image, preferring Scarface, Ice Cube and meat and potatoes. Rasheed says that the person he would most like to hang out with is Shaquille O'Neal, but here Rashard reveals that he, too, has a romantic side. "My dream," he says, "is to meet—and kiss—[actress] Halle Berry."
Given the lofty circles that schoolboy hotshots travel in these days, the two have already had chances to rub elbows with NBA superstars. Rasheed counts among his finest hours those spent watching a college game on TV with Charles Barkley after a Philadelphia sportswriters' banquet last year. "I said some guy should have dunked, and he got on me," recalls Rasheed. "He was like, 'What do you know about dunking? You can't dunk unless you put some weight on.' "
Rashard met David Robinson two years ago at a Chicago health club, and the Admiral lectured him on the virtues of playing hard at all times. That pep talk inspired Rashard to play his way to the top of the ratings for juniors-to-be at the 1991 Nike camp. His poor showing last summer, however, dropped him as low as No. 16 in one ranking of college prospects. Says Rashard, "I go to the gym, lift weights, do squats, curls, shoot jumpers and say, 'This is for Number 15, this is for Number 14.' I do a hundred push-ups every night. I feel like when they're sleeping, I'm working."
Both players grew up in single-parent households with strong mothers who have stayed deeply involved in the recruiting process. (Rashard will attend Wisconsin, while Rasheed is choosing from among Temple, Villanova, North Carolina and Georgetown, although he has yet to reach 700 on his SATs and may have to sit out his freshman year.) Elaine Griffith, a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, named her son after former NFL wide receiver Ahmad Rashad at the request of her grandmother, who had just seen Rashad score a touchdown on TV when Elaine telephoned to ask for advice on what to name her child. Jackie Wallace, a caseworker with the Pennsylvania Welfare Department, had one son named Malcolm and another named Mohammad when Rasheed came along. "It wouldn't sound right if she had called me Fred or Chris," says Rasheed.
Rashard, Fred. Rashard, Fred.... Nope, for the sake of future hoop matchups, that wouldn't sound right at all.