Saturday, August 16, 2008

Homeschooled J.J. Redick: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

By Brendan Lowe

February 10, 2006

ROANOKE, Va. – A Duke University student from the backcountry, a basketball player who practices pilates and poetry, a white guy with an affinity for tattoos and Tupac Shakur. During the past four years, Duke senior guard J.J. Redick has proven stereotypes stick to him as well as defenders.

As the instigator of the Maryland-Duke rivalry that has prompted some of the most violent riots in the university’s recent history, Redick has dealt with some of the worst insults and offenses pelted on a basketball player, yet they have left him unfazed.

“It is not difficult to block out the crowd and sometimes play along with the crowd, especially during warm ups,” he said in a statement e-mailed from Duke. “Once the game starts, it is easy for me to just focus on what is going on in the game.”

As he makes his way to the campus that has inextricably linked his name with an expletive, Redick will muster all of the confidence he is so well known for as he faces Maryland for the last time.

However, best friends and coaches from his hometown in Roanoke said there is another side to Jonathan Clay Redick. Off the court, the average guy’s grandstanding goes quiet like a raucous rival crowd hushed by one of his long-range three-pointers.

“He’s always been extremely confident on the court and sure of himself,” said Billy Hicks, the Cave Springs high school basketball coach four of the five Redick children have played for. “That doesn’t mean he’s a cocky person off the court. He’s far from it. He’s a very giving, loyal person off the court.”

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13 A tattoo on Redick’s chest.

Redick’s youth has the aura of a fairy tale. After he watched former Duke forward Christian Laettner receive the pass from Grant Hill, turn, and hit the winning jumper against University of Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Region, Redick announced to his parents he was going to play basketball at Duke.

Fast forward to his adolescence. In the spring of 2002, Cave Springs found itself poised to play in the state championship without its champion. Redick, who had committed to Duke before his junior year, had injured his foot in the semi-final game, and while the team prayed at dinner before the final, it was very unlikely he would play. Redick’s father reminded him of the line from Philippians 4:13.

“On a 1 to 10 pain scale, [Redick] said it was a 9,” Hicks said. “He got down on his knees in the locker room before the game and he said, ‘Lord, take away the pain for 32 minutes.’ He went out and played and scored 43 points, and we beat a 28-0 team that was much better than us at every position but his, and we won the state championship.”

Redick still recites the passage before each free-throw attempt.

Tom Hagan, Ryan Hergrueter and Daniel Payne, seniors at the University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and William and Mary, respectively, and Redick’s best friends, attribute his resoluteness to his family and his faith.

Redick’s mother, Jeanie, homeschooled him through fifth grade, and his father, Ken, who averaged 5.5 points per game for Ohio Wesleyan University, coached some of Redick’s youth teams.

Jeanie and Ken, whose past work as a potter led to Redick’s middle name of ‘Clay,’ declined to comment for this story.

By all accounts, the Redick family is tight-knit, brought together by their shared athleticism. Barring injury, all five of the Redick children will have played Division I-A basketball or football.
“You look at the whole Redick family, and the best athlete is the little girl,” Randy Meck said of Abby, a 6’0” freshman basketball player.

Not being the best is nothing new to Redick. Though he played on the same Amatuer Athletic Union team as more naturally talented players, including former Terrapin John Gilchrist, Redick unlocked the key to his success — literally. After Hicks gave his guard a key to the gym, Redick was shooting 500 jump shots a day.

“Even now, if he’s home for two nights, he’ll be in this gym for two nights,” Meck said.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” — Joshua 1:9 Another tattoo on Redick’s chest.

To slow down Redick, Terps fans have thrown everything they have at him, including batteries, spit and sexual suggestions about his mom and sisters. While Payne said his friend is unshaken, comments about family cross the line.

“He hates that his family had to go through all that and they have to hear all this stuff,” Payne said. “If he had a chance to talk to Maryland students, he’d say chant all you want, but to keep it on me, keep it on Duke, leave his family alone.”

Hicks believes fans’ vitriol has forced Redick to become more withdrawn. The expressive outlet of poetry helps, Hicks said — Redick counts rap artists Tupac and Nas as his biggest influences — as does the loyalty of his three best friends, who have been a unit since junior high.

Hergrueter, a economics and business major who walked onto the basketball team at VMI, recalled an evening five years ago when Hergrueter was spending the night at Redick’s. The two were shooting hoops on the family’s gravel road around 10 p.m. when they decided to make 10 straight free throws before going to bed. Predictably, Redick made his 10 in about two minutes, Hergrueter said. For some reason, Hergrueter, the 6’6” center on the Cave Springs state championship team, was having great difficulty consistently making free throws. Redick encouraged his friend until he finally completed the task three hours later.

“He would not leave my side,” said Hergrueter, who added, “I would totally consider J.J. my brother in a way.”

Redick’s loyalty to Cave Springs runs deep, his friends said. Hicks said Redick makes sure to attend at least one Cave Springs game during each winter break and that he has brought nearly everyone he played with on the state championship to a game at Duke.

That hometown love was shaken recently when a fan at the Virginia Tech-Duke game in Blacksburg on Jan. 26 held up a sign reading “Cave Springs Hates J.J.” Afterward, Hergrueter, who attended the game, said Redick emerged from the locker room surrounded by four police officers.

Despite the run-ins with opposing fans over the years, Hicks believes Redick will ultimately benefit from attending Duke. He still remembers verbatim what Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told him while he recruiting Redick.

“He said, ‘If J.J. comes to Duke, he will not be a good player, he will be a great player. When he leaves, he will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at Duke, and the fans will adore him.’

Sean Glennon: It Began at Age 9

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 15 -- Sean Glennon made himself wait up. Sure, he was only in third grade, and, yeah, the clock crept toward 11 p.m. But Glennon had his routine, and he was going to stick with it, bedtimes be hanged.

He loved football and wanted to be a quarterback someday, and he realized work had to be done for that to happen. Every night, he did 100 sit-ups, 50 push-ups and 10 pull-ups, only his small arms couldn't handle the pull-ups alone. His father, John, had to help him.

So Glennon sat in his room -- the posters of Emmitt Smith and Michael Jordan hanging in the background -- and waited for his father to come home from a late dinner with Sean's mother. Finally, around 11, John arrived in Sean's room, where a small pull-up bar stretched across the door frame.

Glennon hoisted himself up as his father held him, and they started counting, all the way to 10. Then, and only then, would Sean go to sleep.

"He knew," John Glennon said. "He had a plan, even at a young age."

Glennon is 20 now, and everything is still going according to plan. After an offseason of competing with Ike Whitaker and Cory Holt for the chance to start at quarterback, Coach Frank Beamer announced Sunday that Glennon had won the job. Glennon, a redshirt sophomore, earned the role thanks to an accurate arm, deceptive athleticism and sound decision-making. But he also won it because of the same driven work ethic and meticulous attention to detail he has always had.

"I guess it's just how I was born," Glennon said. "I just like things in order. I like knowing where things are. Even now in college, I hate messy rooms."

His major is finance, so technical that it suits him perfectly. Growing up, Glennon always had the cleanest room in his house. He made his bed every morning from the time he was 5 years old, with no pleading from his parents.

John Glennon would find lists Sean made of his 20 favorite football players, ranked in a constantly updated order, lying around the house. And that wasn't enough; Sean Glennon would ask everyone their favorite football players. He asked houseguests. He asked opposing base runners from center field during Little League games. He knew his list; shouldn't they?
"He sees life in black in white," John Glennon said. "He just has a very analytical mind."
But one not devoid of passion. When Glennon lost a game of cards or Monopoly as a kid, he would throw a tantrum. If he lost a shooting contest before a basketball practice in high school, he stayed mad the whole practice. He sometimes wakes up his roommate, wide receiver Justin Born, in the middle of the night, screaming at his television because he lost a video game.
"He's one of the most competitive guys I know," Born said.

That nature helped him become a star at Westfield High, a school that was brand new when he arrived and a Virginia state champion when he left. When colleges came calling, Glennon studied the quarterback depth charts at each possible school, sizing up who was there and when they would leave. He left no scenario overlooked.

It came down to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and he chose the Hokies because he sensed in Blacksburg a family atmosphere, to him an important part of a football team. John's career at ExxonMobil forced the family to move three times during Sean's childhood. He lived in Texas, New Jersey, Texas again and finally Centreville in ninth grade.

At each stop, football became his social outlet, the place where he met all his friends. He met Born and Virginia Tech wide receiver Eddie Royal at Westfield. Royal and Glennon became fast friends, a relationship forged by endless hours of throwing and catching during the offseason. Royal came with the Glennons when they visited Wake Forest and North Carolina on recruiting trips.

They room together with Born now, and they bought dogs together, a pair of puggles that drive Born crazy.

"He's just Sean to me," Royal said. "I don't know how to put it into words."

Glennon's chemistry with Royal carried over from Westfield, something Glennon strives for with all his receivers. Though he can be fiery, John Glennon never once saw Sean admonish a teammate over a mistake.

Funny, then, that he earned the chance to win his starting spot because of a teammate's dismissal. Marcus Vick would be Virginia Tech's starting quarterback, likely a front-runner for postseason awards, if not for his pattern of misbehavior on and off the field.

When Virginia Tech dismissed Vick, Glennon changed his mentality. He focused on starting and becoming more of a leader. Always a proficient lifter -- he can bench press 350 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds -- Glennon spent even more time in the weight room. He stayed in Blacksburg over the summer, throwing passes to Royal and hitting the weights.

"I think it's a bittersweet feeling," Glennon said. "I actually really liked Marcus. I thought he was a good guy, and a very good player. I loved watching him. I didn't want to see him go like that. But at the same time, it opened up a door for me."

He understood the chance to lead his own college football team, to realize the dream he had nurtured since grade school. And now, Glennon is waiting no more.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The making of Kevin Durant

The making of Kevin Durant
Path to basketball stardom was set long before he became a Longhorn.
By Kevin Robbins, Mark Rosner
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SUITLAND, Md. — Basketball waited for Kevin Durant on the far side of a football field. When her youngest son was 7, Wanda Pratt enrolled him in the Boys & Girls Club in Capital Heights, Md., across the Anacostia River from Washington D.C. The fee she paid entitled Durant to every sport the club offered; so when football season ended, Pratt gave his name to the basketball coach. And Durant reported to the gym.

The coach knew nothing about Durant. But he recognized a born basketball player when one appeared on his court. "He was the tallest kid on the team," Pratt said.

Eleven years later, Durant stands 6-foot-9. With his arms outstretched, he is seven inches wider than he is tall, projecting the appearance of a windmill with four blades. The gentle facial features of his boyhood remain. But the rest of him, which continues to grow in all the right ways for a basketball player, has evolved into something Dr. James Naismith likely never imagined in 1891, when he wrote the 13 original rules of the game.

Durant can play all five positions on the court better than most of the population can play one. His dominion is rare for someone engaged in a team pursuit. Like Roger Federer in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf, Durant excels in every discipline of his sport, so much so that his weaknesses, like playing defense at the frenetic college level, are merely relative. Unlike a point guard whose genetics limit his height or a center whose genetics limit his range, Durant was blessed with the architecture of a prototype: if you have five Kevin Durants, you have a complete team. One that rebounds, dribbles, passes, blocks shots, defends and scores.

But forces beyond physiology conspired to lead the 18-year-old freshman swingman and NCAA player of the year candidate to the University of Texas. One of those forces is the National Basketball Association, which instituted a new regulation for 2007 that requires players to turn 18 before they can pledge their names to the draft. Without that rule, Durant might be playing for the Portland Trail Blazers right now, earning millions of dollars as a lottery-pick rookie with a shoe contract and his image on "NBA 2K7." The rest of the forces are the people from his past.

The evolution of Durant as a player began with his mother, who took him to the Boys & Girls Club so he would have something to do between school and dinner. Others entered his life at the crucial times. Many remain. Each left a remnant, a fleck of something that — held up to light — glows.

"He had people around him who helped him remain committed," said Pratt, who views her son's success as validation and culmination of blind commitment. "It wasn't easy. But he persevered. Out of all of this, the one thing he knows for sure is that hard work pays off. He's living proof."

Sometime during that first basketball season in Capital Heights, a grandmother of one of Durant's teammates approached Pratt. She told Pratt about a coach at a nearby activity center. He came from the neighborhood. He knew the game. "She suggested that he (Durant) play for coach Brown," Pratt said.

Pratt recognized the name of the building where Taras Brown molded his young teams. She often saw the Seat Pleasant Activity Center, a low brick building in a stand of evergreens across from the Amoco station on Addison Road, when she took her sons to visit their grandmother.

Brown coached the Prince George's Jaguars, an Amateur Athletic Union team that practiced at the activity center. Now 43, Brown remembers seeing Durant for the first time and noting his unusual height, frail build, enormous feet and flailing stroke. Like many boys his age, Durant shot the ball from his shoulder. It was the only shot he had.

Durant played the center position until he turned 10, when Brown took him aside and said, "Next summer, you're playing the wing." Brown and Durant spent the winter in the Seat Pleasant gym. The coach put him through shooting drills, passing drills and dribbling drills.

An AAU official walked in one day and found Durant in the gym, running and dribbling up and down the scuffed-up court with baby-blue three-point lines, making layups. No one else was around.

Durant's grandmother brought supper to him at the activity center. He ate a bite or two, left the plate and sauntered back to the bin of old, smoothed balls. Durant did his homework in the study room, napped behind a curtain in the gym and practiced until past dark. Brown gave Durant a quotation to remember: Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. He made Durant write it 200 times on a piece of notebook paper.

Brown refused to let Durant play in pickup games at the activity center. The coach thought pickup basketball induced bad habits and poor defense. Instead, Brown made Durant do his drills.

Or he hauled him to the L Street hill, which begins at Balsamtree Drive and rises into the Maryland sky. The L Street hill is known by generations of Seat Pleasant basketball players as Hunt's Hill. It connects two other streets in a grid of thoroughfares flanked by modest homes owned by middle-class public servants who work for the federal government. From the top of the L Street hill, you can see the Lincoln Memorial and the flag atop the U.S. Capitol. But Durant saw farther still. He and his teammates ran up the L Street hill, reached the lamppost, turned, walked backwards down the hill and sprinted up it again. Some boys ran it once or twice and retreated, wheezing, to the comfort of their video games, but not Durant. Neighbors saw him so often they poured him tea when they saw him resting between laps up the hill. The exercise was agonizing, Brown admitted. He sometimes let Durant rest at the top and gaze at the regal domes of the federal buildings of Washington in the distance. Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.

"He wouldn't quit," Brown said. "I would give Kevin days off, and he'd show up at the rec. He wanted to live in the gym."

Brown taught Durant three moves. They formed the foundation of his emerging skill as a threat to score from any point on the court. One was a pull-up jump shot. Another was a two-dribble jump shot. The last was a baseline drive, from which Durant's options were many.

When other coaches inquired about his newest wing player, Brown would say dismissively, "He ain't got but three moves." He neglected to describe the quality of those moves. But certain secrets live very brief lives in the small world of AAU basketball.

P.K. Martin organized the Jaguars and other teams in the Potomac Valley AAU, a sprawling organization that puts 2,700 children from 8 to 14 years old on 180 or so basketball teams. "I've done this for 30 years," Martin said. "How many Kevins have I had? One."

Martin and Brown encountered a coach's dream that pivotal year when Durant was 10. The Jaguars had two tall and powerfully built players in Chris Braswell and Michael Beasley, now seniors in high school committed to play Georgetown and Kansas State. The Jaguars needed another low-post player like Durant needed to learn Sanskrit. The Jaguars needed guards. Durant learned the wing position three years after his first season in basketball. Then he learned to be a long, wide and conundrum-creating guard who could see and shoot over the top of every defense in youth basketball.

Initially, Durant's mother wondered if her son would score enough as a point guard. Martin assuaged her concerns. "Don't worry about how many points he scores," he said he told her. "Don't worry about how many rebounds he gets. If you want to see what separates him from the other kids, watch how he runs."

Born basketball players run roughly the same speed for three steps, Martin likes to say. Durant was different. "His next five to seven steps are in separate gears. It's like the first step is at one speed. The second step is at another speed. By the third and fourth steps, he's flying. He'll rebound the ball, kick it out to the wing and practically beat the (opposing) guard down to the other end. That's those coast-to-coast layups Taras used to make him do," Martin said.

Durant played with the Jaguars until he was 14, old enough to move to the Blue Devils, a Washington select AAU team so steeped in talent it frequently entered tournaments in older age brackets because the competition in its own division paled by comparison. AAU veteran Rob Jackson, who coached the Blue Devils, took Durant on a recommendation from Brown. Durant was good but not exceptional.

"He wasn't really the best player out there at the time," Jackson said. "He wasn't on anybody's radar." In his first season, Durant was a reserve for the Blue Devils' second team, which fed players to the elite travel team that roamed the basketball geography from April to September, competing in tournaments that exposed players to college coaches. Durant played shooting guard and the small and big forward positions for the Blue Devils' feeder team. He learned more about how to play with his face to the basket in the faster game of 14- and 15-year-olds. And when Durant returned to the Blue Devils after his freshman year in high school, he was a ballhandler in a rebounder's body. He had grown from 6-3 to 6-7.

"Now you're looking at a 6-7 guard who can make an impact," Jackson said. The move to the travel team meant Durant joined future North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson in the Blue Devils backcourt. "You talk about getting the keys to a Rolls Royce," Jackson said. Durant reminded Jackson of Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, players big enough to venture close to the rim and coordinated enough to rip three-point shots in a scrum. Those rare players know how to properly catch a pass, initiate the shot with their knees and impart the perfect rotation with perfect arc on a perfect line — simultaneously.

And Durant had something more: desire. He had talent. But he wanted to work hard, too. "Every 20 years I might see one player with that kind of passion for the game," Jackson said. Durant spent his first two years of high school at National Christian Academy, a private school in nearby Fort Washington, Md., where future college players such as Patrick Ewing Jr. wore the same white button-down shirt and navy tie as every other boy in the school. The coach there, Trevor Brown, had seen Durant with the Jaguars when the team had Durant, Braswell and Beasley.

"Wow," Brown said, recalling the day he first saw Durant and the Jaguars. "These dudes were pros. This was eighth grade, and these dudes are pros." Durant spent the first half of his freshman season on the junior varsity squad, where he played all five positions. Then Brown promoted him, making Durant one of three players in Brown's career at National Christian to play varsity as a freshman.

Brown had never seen a player devote himself so much to basketball. Durant practiced and drilled on the maroon rubber court at National Christian, and when he finished he found a ride to the Seat Pleasant Activity Center — Durant has never earned a driver's license — to practice and drill some more. "That kid was driven," Brown said. Durant had no other pursuits. He was basketball; basketball was him. The people around him were basketball people. And his parents recognized early that something in his character responded well to reinforcement at home. His coaches assumed roles the parents of many players never would allow. They were Durant's greatest allies and, when they needed to be, his fiercest critics. His parents wanted it that way.

Once, at halftime of a tournament game in Virginia, Durant's mother watched her son struggle on the court with the Blue Devils. She found coach Jackson. "You need to get in his ass," Jackson said Wanda Pratt told him. "You coach my son." Durant split his early high school years between the Blue Devils, who played in the spring and summer, and National Christian, which played in the fall and winter. Durant led National Christian in scoring as a sophomore. He played center on defense. "He was our tallest player," Brown said. He switched to guard and small forward on offense, "because he was our best shooter."

Crowds of 500 attended games in the sanctuary-turned-gym to watch Durant, and some people had to stand on the stage to see. Solicitations from college coaches began to collect in coach Brown's mail slot. The Eagles posted a record of 27-3 with Durant at the unorthodox guard/small forward/center position. It was the best record in the history of basketball at National Christian Academy. That was the year National Christian traveled to Milford, Del., to play in an invitational tournament called the War on the Shore. Dozens of college coaches attend the annual tournament, played in November. For many coaches, the War on the Shore is their first look at the new crop of underclassmen trying to play their way into a college uniform. Texas assistant coach Russell Springmann went that year to examine someone else. But the sophomore small forward for National Christian caught his notice. Springmann liked small forwards and big guards: hybrid players who not only add dimensions to a team but invent new ones. Springmann saw Durant loft a three-point shot from the corner.

"I didn't see much of the game, to tell you the truth," Springmann recalled. "But that was the one thing that stood out." He wanted to know more about the intriguing young player who not only acted like a guard and forward and a center but was. Springmann produced a sheet of paper: a so-called player profile, the standard form that launches the recruiting journey of every player who becomes a Longhorn and the many others who do not. He wrote Durant's name and put the piece of paper away. He called coach Brown at National Christian a short time later, which is how Texas became the first major basketball program to express interest in a player who would later be able to choose to play wherever he saw fit.

Before his junior year, Durant visited Oak Hill Academy with Ty Lawson and Jackson, their coach for the D.C. Blue Devils. They traveled 360 miles from Maryland to a remote village called Mouth of Wilson, Va. Snug in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, Mouth of Wilson holds scarcely more than a few vacant brick buildings on U.S. 58, a wide stretch of the New River and Oak Hill, a 129-year-old Baptist school with about 140 students in grades eight through 12 and the most dominant prep basketball program in modern history. The modest Turner Gymnasium at Oak Hill functions as a Petri dish from which the future of the NBA springs. Carmelo Anthony played at Oak Hill before a season at Syracuse, a national championship and an All-Star career in the NBA. Ron Mercer, the sixth pick of the 1997 NBA draft, once scored 41 points in a game for the Oak Hill Warriors. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks holds the Oak Hill record for points in a season. Dallas Maverick Jerry Stackhouse won the Nike player of the year award in 1993 at Oak Hill. Warriors head coach Stephen Smith met Durant, Lawson and Jackson at the gym that day in 2004. Durant entered the gym, looked up at the rafters and saw six banners declaring Oak Hill the national champions of high school basketball. He noticed the jerseys from the best college basketball programs in the country — Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Connecticut among them — suspended from the cinder-block walls. He bounced a ball. It thumped on the same polished wood floor that 133 boys who eventually played Division I basketball once ran. Durant looked young for his age, Smith recalled. "I don't think he even shaved," he said.

In a workout, Smith assigned Durant to defend Josh Smith, a 6-9 senior who would, at the end of the year, skip college altogether to become the first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks. "Here's Kevin, 15 years old, going against a first-round draft pick," Stephen Smith said, remembering the workout. "It was fairly even, to be honest."

Durant joined the Oak Hill Warriors as a junior with his longtime friend and teammate Lawson. He started every game for Oak Hill. His parents agreed to send Durant to Oak Hill because Oak Hill is Oak Hill. "I had always heard about Oak Hill," said his mother. "Every kid wanted to go to Oak Hill." If coach Smith wanted her son, Wanda Pratt reasoned, who was she to interfere? "I said, 'Man, this is big,' " Pratt said.

With Lawson, future Syracuse starter Eric Devendorf and Jamont Gordon of Mississippi State in the backcourt, Oak Hill's coach employed Durant at the power forward position, where he trailed on breaks and caught passes beyond the three-point line, free to shoot or dribble and drive. "He can run with the best of them," Smith said.

He was imperfect. Durant dissolved at times from the ebb of the 32-minute game. Smith said he occasionally noticed that Durant floated through periods: not a liability, but not entirely engaged. "I don't know if he got bored out there or what. There were times I would go, 'Kevin, man, just take the game over. You've got the ability to do that.' "

A few minutes in Portland, Ore., secured Durant's legacy at Oak Hill. The Warriors were in the semifinal game of an invitational tournament. Oak Hill was losing late in the fourth quarter to a nationally ranked team from Portland. The team needed a jolt from within. Smith motioned for a timeout. He was desperate. Smith called a rare offensive set: five-out motion, a formation that demands players drive to the basket. "Kevin makes a three," Smith said. "Then he gets to the basket and gets fouled, and it's a three-point play. Then he makes another three." Durant scored again. He cobbled nine points before his coach could realize what happened. "And lo and behold you turn around 40 seconds later and the game's tied," Smith said. "I mean, boom! I think he only had 12, 13 points for the whole game. But he scored them all at the end." Durant rebounded a missed shot from the Portland team. It sealed the game and, by Smith's account, the season.

Oak Hill won 34 games that year and lost two. Durant led the Warriors, which sent nine seniors to Division I basketball teams, with 19.6 points a game and 8.8 rebounds. He sharpened his ascent to the summit of high school basketball. And he had another season to go.

"As the year went on — his feel for the game, the way he saw the floor — he got to be so much better as a total player," Smith said. When he first watched Durant in that workout with Josh Smith, the coach wondered how good this quiet, reedy but pliable player from Maryland could be. Was he college material? Certainly. An NBA player? Probably. But a king of the court, born to reign? After the game in Portland, Smith knew. "Yes."

Durant took his official recruiting visit to Texas at the conclusion of the 2004-2005 season. Springmann, the Texas assistant who saw Durant as a sophomore at the War on the Shore, had seen Durant play at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas and gone to Oak Hill before his junior year to watch Durant practice.

"Every chance I had to watch him, I did," Springmann said. His persistence impressed Durant and his parents. When Durant's father called Springmann to arrange the visit, the Texas coach praised the closeness of the Longhorns to head coach Rick Barnes, the new Denton A. Cooley Pavilion next to the Erwin Center and the recent successes of the program, including a trip to the 2003 Final Four. He reminded Pratt that Barnes let players do what they do best. Brad Buckman was 6-9; he roamed the perimeter. P.J. Tucker was 6-5; he played inside.

"The one thing I can promise you is that your son's going to be cared for," Springmann said he told Wayne Pratt. Durant and his father came to Austin in May.

They met Todd Wright, the strength and conditioning coach. Wright brought Durant into his training room. He watched Durant's gait and how his long, lean muscles functioned. He studied his posture. He took measurements. He analyzed the way his joints worked. "When he started to move, I couldn't believe it," Wright said. "I've never seen anything like it." Wright noticed problems in Durant's body. There was tightness in his ankles, back and left hip, which Wright detected by looking at how his right arm swung when he walked. Yet Durant somehow managed to be one of the best 16-year-old players in the world, someone who could rise 17.5 inches above the rim with one step. Durant reminded Wright of T.J. Ford, the Texas point guard on the Final Four team. Like Ford, Durant practically sprung from the ground, as if his frame were loaded on springs.

"His electrical system is high-powered. That is an incredible gift that so many people do not have," Wright said. "It's not power. It's the ability to repeat power." Wright longed to have a chance at Durant. At making someone so good even better. Wright wanted to put Durant in the stretch cage to loosen his ankles and hip. He imagined how he might bolster Durant's stamina by making him eat breakfast, a meal Durant routinely skipped. Wright took inventory of the equipment in his room: the vibration plate, the dumbbells, the medicine balls, the pulleys that strengthen the core. He visualized Durant at work in the gym. "The bottom line is, physically, he's just scratching the surface," Wright said, recalling his first impressions of Durant. "That's the scary thing. I can't wait to see what he turns into in two or three years."

That night, Wright and the other coaches took Durant and his father to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House. An NBA playoff game was on TV. Barnes cajoled Durant throughout the meal. At the time, the Texas coaches believed Durant would likely commit to North Carolina. But something happened that night over steaks on West Sixth Street. Springmann felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Wayne Pratt. Pratt pointed to his son, who sat across the table next to Barnes. They were laughing hysterically. "That's what I'm looking for," Pratt told Springmann.

Soon after, Durant committed to Texas. Parade Magazine named Durant a second-team All American as a junior at Oak Hill. But the heaviest pile of honors —'s second-best prospect in America, an MVP title in the Jordan Classic, the World Select and Nike Hoops Summit and the McDonald's High School All American teams — cascaded onto his shoulders after his senior season at Montrose Christian School. Durant's parents moved him home to live with them in their apartment, where they could monitor their son's final, crucial year of high school. They chose Montrose, a small academy in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Rockville, Md.

"It was a very structured school," Wanda Pratt said of Montrose. As National Christian and Oak Hill had done the three years before, Montrose offered enough financial aid that Durant's father, a police officer for the Library of Congress, and his mother, who works for the postal service, could afford the private-school tuition. Like National Christian and Oak Hill, Montrose sacrificed nothing when it came to basketball. Head coach Stu Vetter patterned his program after the college model. Players for his Montrose Mustangs wear coats and ties on game days. They learn the proper way to sign an autograph. They know which fork to use, when; they learn the correct way to pass salt. They practice their handshake. They play all over the country. They win wherever they go.

Vetter produced Cory Alexander, Jason Capel, Linas Kleiza and Dennis Scott, among other college and NBA players. Montrose routinely lands in the national high-school polls. And when Durant arrived as the top small forward in the nation, USA Today had the Mustangs ranked No. 1.

Vetter immediately changed the way Durant played defense. He moved Durant a step farther from his man. With his abnormally long arms and astronomic reach, Durant could give himself space and still swarm the ball.

"We taught him to play position defense," Vetter said. The staff at Montrose faced deeper issues than Durant's defense. Durant needed to qualify academically to play NCAA basketball. "We had to map out a program for him," Vetter said. "It was a monumental task." Vetter assigned head assistant coach Josh Hutchison to guide Durant through his year at Montrose. They met before study hall. They made plans for the day, the week, the semester, the year. Durant sat in the front row when he went to composition, senior English, anatomy, Bible and drama. His coaches made him. He brought his homework on the road. He once skipped a tournament in Japan because he'd missed too much school for games. "He put his head down," said Hutchison, now a graduate assistant at Towson State in Baltimore. "He did his work." Durant took the subway from Suitland to Rockville, an hour-long trip.

He sometimes spent the night with Taishi Ito, the Montrose guard from Japan who lived nearby with a member of the Baptist Church. Ito liked to go to the gym an hour and fifteen minutes before school. So Durant went with him. "Sometimes we played one on one for fun," said Ito, a 6-0 freshman for the University of Portland basketball team. "It was so weird. Whenever I play against big men, they play inside. But Kevin, he could shoot. He'd give me some move and shoot outside."

The one-year plan for Durant included preparing him for the rigors of Big 12 basketball. Another Montrose assistant, David Adkins, arranged chairs and trash cans on the Montrose court. He made Durant scramble around the obstacles with his hands up and his shoulders low. If his shoulders got too high, Adkins made him stop and start again. Even with the high center of gravity of a towering ectomorph, Durant was able to get low and move nimbly. It was like every part of him was elastic. "Kevin's so physically talented, he can do things you can't teach," Adkins said. But Adkins, who played at Radford, could teach Durant the difference between basketball in high school, where most players will never touch a college floor, and basketball at Texas, where everyone on the floor was some variation of a high-school star.

"When we got him, he wanted to get to Texas, and we laid out a plan," Adkins said. "We wrote it down: This is what you have to do to be able to go to Texas." Durant averaged 23.6 points and 10.2 rebounds a game for the Mustangs. In his final game, Montrose met his old team, Oak Hill. The undefeated Oak Hill Warriors led by 16 with the fourth quarter left to play. After a flurry of blocks, net-snapping jump shots and rim-rattling dunks, Durant ended the game with 31 points. And he left the court for the last time as a winner. Ty Lawson, his former AAU teammate and a senior point guard for Oak Hill, could do nothing but admire what Durant had done. "Once he got hot, I knew it was going to be trouble," Lawson said.

Durant graduated with his classmates at Montrose. He accepted his diploma in the sanctuary as his coaches and parents watched. "It was a very, very proud moment to watch Kevin walk across the stage," said Hutchison, the Montrose assistant assigned to supervise Durant's academics. The plan had worked. Going back to when a mother took her young son to the Seat Pleasant Activity Center after his first season of basketball, the people responsible for shaping Durant waited to see what would happen at Texas. The evolution continued 1,500 miles away.

Durant gained 10 pounds during his first two weeks in Austin. He ate breakfast. Wright, the Longhorns' strength coach, designed a plan to strengthen him where was weak and loosen him where he was tight. By the end of summer, Durant carried 225 pounds. He practiced with his new teammates at Cooley. He led fast breaks. Sometimes he passed, sometimes he shot. He slashed. He converted layups with both hands. He looked like an All-American. He had just turned 18. With the departure of all three of his starting forwards from the year before, Barnes had lost the best rebounding margin in America. That left him with three freshmen who could play inside: Matt Hill, Dexter Pittman and Durant.

The season began with uncertainty. Durant missed seven of his first eight shots in the Longhorns' first exhibition game against Lenoir-Rhyne College. Most were from the perimeter. "I was a little nervous," said Durant. "In the first half, I just wanted to take shots just to take them." Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 9, Durant scored 20 against Alcorn State. It was a Texas record for a freshman's first game. All of his skills were on display that night. Durant drove, dunked, converted three-point shots and made no-look passes at one end of the court. He produced three steals and two blocks at the other end. Only 4,132 spectators were there, fewer than half the team's season-ticket holders. Many seemed more interested in the Rutgers-Louisville football game on the flat-screens in their luxury suites than they were in Barnes' new swingman. The audiences came later.

On Dec. 20, nearly 12,000 saw Durant score 28 points against Arkansas, most of them under or not far from the basket. Durant now stations himself inside for at least part of every game. Barnes figures no matchup really works against Durant. He is much quicker than most big men and too tall and long for the guards. Durant scored 29 during a 10-point loss to Gonzaga. He did it with drives, perimeter shots, a jump-hook and 10 free throws. But Barnes was dissatisfied that Durant settled for three-point shots when isolated against bigger, slower players. As the Longhorns left the court during a timeout, an annoyed Barnes met Durant and barked, "Take him!" "No big man can guard him," Barnes said after the game. Few can. Few have.

Durant notched 37 points in Lubbock against coach Bob Knight's disciplined Texas Tech players. It was his third 37-point game in January. He scored 24 in the second half and 18 in the last 11 minutes. Jumpers. Drives. Shots in the post. Shots from the arc. Shots from every point on the court. Durant matched the conference record with 23 rebounds. He blocked a shot. He stole the ball three times.

He'd written it down. Two-hundred times. Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.

In Lubbock, Barnes told reporters: "You saw the best player in college basketball give maybe the best performance in college basketball this year." What you saw in Lubbock is what you didn't see.

One day, Durant went to talk with his mother. He was 11, maybe 12, as Wanda Pratt remembers it. Her son was a Jaguar for the coach at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center, where he ran ladders instead of playing pickup games and spent hours with Hunt's Hill instead of PlayStation and instead of going home for a nap, slept behind a curtain in a gym. Yes Kevin? I want to be a basketball player. Are you sure? I'm sure. Then commit to being a basketball player. Commit, the mother told her son. You think about that. Come back and tell me after you have. "He did," Wanda Pratt said. "The next day." What you saw in Lubbock was what his mother told him next. She spoke for more people than she possibly could have imagined. "Then I'm going to help."