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The Sky's The Limit
Alexander Wolff
November 29, 1993
Tar Heel Rasheed Wallace heads a squadron of first-year big men who, because of their remarkable range and mobility, promise to take the game to new heights
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November 29, 1993

The Sky's The Limit

Tar Heel Rasheed Wallace heads a squadron of first-year big men who, because of their remarkable range and mobility, promise to take the game to new heights

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The new kids have talent, gobs of it, and that's the happy problem. Raveling practically unraveled while wooing Jones. Over the final two weeks before last May's signing date for recruits, he wrote the Jones family roughly 90 letters each day (page 96).

At Artesia High in Lake-wood, Calif., fans had a nickname for Jones: Earthquake 7.0, in reference (with a little rounding up) to his height. But if he had his druthers, Jones would rather register on the fun meter than on a seismograph. "I always wanted to be a point guard," says Jones, who writes songs and plays keyboards for a rap group called 3Wayz. "I don't want to take only turnarounds and jump hooks. Out on the wing other teams are going to have their biggest man on me, and I'm a whole lot quicker."

Operating from the wing has virtually become school policy at Duke, where back-to-the-basket big men went out with Mike Gminski in 1980. So limited a role would be far too confining for Beard, a 6'9" former soccer player from Grant Hill's alma mater, South Lakes High in Reston, Va. Like Beard, the 6'11" Newton was a good enough athlete to distinguish himself in another sport, but since he was Canadian, that game was ice hockey. Newton is more of a classic big man than Beard, in build and disposition, but he nonetheless chafed under the walk-it-up style favored by his high school team in Niagara Falls, Ont. Beard and Newton will take their places in Duke's long line of skilled big men: first Mark Alarie, then Danny Ferry, then Laettner and now even Parks, who arrived in Durham petrified to look at the basket but who has since developed a face-up jumper and first step to be proud of. "Why do we call them guards, forwards and centers?" says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose motion offense has never featured rigid distinctions. "They all run up and down the court. They're not, like, third basemen. They're just players."

There are players, and then there's the 6'11" Griffith, who stood 6'10" as an eighth-grader when the college recruiters first began coming around. By the time he had finished his four seasons at Chicago's Martin Luther King Jr. High, the team had won two state titles with undefeated seasons. His mother, Elaine Griffith, wrested control of her son's recruitment from powerful King coach Landon (Sonny) Cox, and when Rashard's low scores on the qualifying ACT test threatened to put him on the shelf for his freshman year, she paid for the college-board prep course that helped him make the grade.

At 265 pounds, with the ability to bench-press 280, Griffith would be wasted playing outside the arc for the run-and-shoot Badgers. "He really does have the disposition to dominate the paint," Wisconsin coach Stu Jackson says. "He gets his perimeter fulfillment from playing H-O-R-S-E and joking around in practice." But Griffith feels he needs that "perimeter fulfillment" nonetheless—and Jackson envisions him eventually burying threes in games.

Like Griffith, with whom he shared the MVP award at Magic Johnson's Round-ball Classic in April, Wallace has a mom who closely monitored her son's recruitment and led the cheers when he met his Prop 48 test-score requirement on his final try. Then Jackie Wallace and her son turned the college-application process on its ear. She asked 10 front-running schools to fill out a detailed questionnaire so Rasheed could better decide if they were the right school for him. She also tape-recorded every coach's visit to her Philadelphia home. But where Rashard won't be drifting outside for a few seasons yet, Rasheed could show up anywhere for North Carolina this season. It scarcely seems fair for someone who stands 6'10", but Wallace has a 31-inch vertical leap, runs a 4.5 40 and earned letters in cross-country and track at Simon Gratz High. Bob Kurland he ain't.

Needless to say, Tar Heel coach Dean Smith probably thought he had the prize recruit of the season. Then he ran into NBA television analyst Hubie Brown at the U.S. Olympic Festival in San Antonio in July. "Sorry, Dean," Brown needled Smith, "but you got the wrong guy." Like everyone else at the festival, Brown was dazzled by the 6'11", 215-pound Camby. At the Capital Classic a few months earlier the UMass signee had scored 19 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked six shots, winning the MVP award even though he played on the losing team. (Perhaps he wouldn't have been on the losing team if he had played more than 22 minutes.) Then he blocked 21 shots in three games at the Olympic Festival as Wallace's backup, causing a number of players to ask, "Where'd you come from?"

The short answer is Hartford. The long one is a bit more complicated. Camby began his high school career at Conard High in suburban West Hartford as part of a voluntary busing program, and he played two seasons there. But several games into his junior year, he transferred to Hartford's Public High because he missed his cityside friends. At Public he had to sit out the rest of that season and all of the next because of state transfer rules. Credit the Minutemen, true to their moniker, for having mobilized early and recruited him as a ninth-grader. Camby grew about 10 inches between his freshman and senior years, and UMass's early interest made it easy for him to resist the importunings of four Big East schools that tried to muscle in on UMass late in the game. According to Xavier coach Pete Gillen, Camby is "the biggest sleeper since Rip Van Winkle." Big, yes, but Camby won't be a back-to-the-basket center. (Seeing a trend here yet?) "What he is," says UMass coach John Calipari, "is an athletic big forward. He'll play low. He'll play high. He's a good passer."

Down at Arkansas there's only one other creature on campus bigger than Robinson. Every day, the Razorbacks' 6'11", 255-pound newcomer makes a point of dropping by to visit the Truth, teammate Corey Beck's 8'6" python. "Don't want him on my bad side," says Robinson.

No recruiters trying to get on Robinson's good side were permitted to visit his home in Emeryville, Calif. Nor did Robinson, who scored more points than any other player in state scholastic history, officially visit any school other than Arkansas. He signed early with the Razorbacks last November. "I just looked at the way Coach [Nolan] Richardson coaches the game, and it spoke for itself," says Robinson. "It's instinct and reaction. He doesn't put any shackles on you."

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