For years Seattle had just one elite summer traveling program, run by celebrated Mercer Island High coach Ed Pepple. In part because players were expected to pay their own expenses, which were close to $1,000 a summer, Seattle's inner city was only sporadically represented. That began to change in 1994 when Francis Williams started his own team with $8,000 donated by Jim Heckman, the owner of Sports Washington magazine, and gear donated by Adidas. A few years later Williams merged his squad with Sonics coach George Karl's Friends of Hoop foundation and the Rotary Boys and Girls Club program started by Dan Finkley and Daryll Hennings. When the resulting team, starring O'Dea standout Doug Wrenn, walked into a gym in Southern California to play in a spring tournament, former Black Coaches Association president Rudy Washington told Williams, "I had no idea you had that many black kids in Seattle!"
In 1999 Rotary and Friends of Hoop amicably split into separate programs. Even as other traveling teams have cropped up—Williams estimates that there are 20 to 30 of them in the area—Rotary and Friends of Hoop, both now sponsored by Nike, continue to showcase the best talent. The coaches, Hennings at Rotary and Jim Marsh at Friends of Hoop, maintain a harmony with each other and with area high school coaches that is inconceivable in some other places. Aside from organizing schedules with high school coaches to avoid conflicts, Hennings and Marsh have agreed not to recruit each other's players, though moves do happen. A few years ago Dotson moved from Rotary to Friends of Hoop, with Hennings's blessing. "Rotary had a glut of talent, and Aaron fit in so well with us that it was a perfect marriage," says Marsh. "What made it so nice is that Darryl was as excited as I was for Aaron's success."
At one of Rotary's standing-room-only games in Las Vegas in July, Nate Robinson found a spot to watch along the baseline, where he stretched out so close to the action that a referee had to shoo him back a few steps. After a particularly thunderous dunk by Joshua Smith, Robinson jumped up and bumped chests with him. "That's the kind of thing kids in Seattle are growing up around," says Washington State's Bone. "Nate is right there, he's accessible, he loves those kids. When I ran into him later, the first thing he asked was, 'How's my guy Reggie Moore? Have him give me a call.' What NBA guy does that?"
Mentoring seems to be in the Seattle pros' DNA: Many of them assist players coming up, just as people once helped them. Their guidance, which can range from quick text messages to significant investments of time, is often inspired by school affiliation. Kentwood High's Smith is a laid-back soul who resists playing pickup because "the guys are too scrappy," but he jumps when Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, a Kentwood grad, calls him to go work out. "The older guys see themselves in us," says Smith. "They want us all to make it."
When then Sonics guard Gary Payton showed up at one of Terry's high school games, it made an impression on the younger player. "When a guy who you look up to is watching you and later says, 'Great game,' how does that make you feel?" says Terry. "I remember that feeling, and I wanted to give that to Nate, Jamal and the others."
So when Robinson was a star guard at Rainier Beach, Terry once gave him an NBA ball and continued to encourage him. After Robinson was drafted in 2005, Terry bought him five new suits. In turn Robinson (and Crawford, who was also with the Knicks at the time) provided Washington guard and Tacoma native Isaiah Thomas with a home-away-from-home in New York City when Thomas was attending prep school in Connecticut from 2006 to '08. Robinson also attended Louisville's games at Madison Square Garden to give Terrence Williams pep talks. Williams, in turn, nags Washington guard Venoy Overton, a junior who graduated from Franklin High, to get into the gym more often. "Whenever he sees me, he asks, 'When was the last time you worked out?'" says Overton. "If I say, 'Yesterday,' he says, 'Why not this morning?'"
Once day last summer Terry had Siva meet him at a track at 6 a.m. "The first morning he said, 'You really do this?'" recalls Terry. "He made it through the workout, and the next day he called me and said, 'Let's do it again!'" The next week Terry invited Siva to Dallas to work out with him. Was it any surprise that Louisville coach Rick Pitino declared Siva his best-prepared freshman at the beginning of this season?
Siva, in turn, has shepherded a flock of Seattle high school underclassmen, including promising sophomore guard Rio Adams of Franklin High. "I call them my little brothers," says Siva, who has a tattoo of 206 over the Space Needle on his left arm (page 66). "I take them to work out with me or to eat. I take them to their games. It's a sense of responsibility and brotherhood we have around here."
Terry doubts that other cities' hoops communities are so familial. "A lot of guys in the NBA are so competitive [that] they think, I don't want this guy from my town to be better than me," he says. "But [we do, and] that's the reason we come back and give back. We know we're not going to be able to dribble forever. Somebody has to carry on the legacy."
Says Garfield coach Ed Haskins, "It's an incredible thing to watch. Brandon Roy, Jamal, [former Garfield and UW guard] Will Conroy, even Spencer Hawes, who came from Seattle Prep—all those guys at one time or another have said, 'If you need anything from me to help him out, let me know.'"