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A high road for a hot high-schooler

Everyone wants Bill Cartwright, but USF seems to have him a high road for a hot high-schooler

The clock says time is running out for college recruiters awaiting the third coming of Moses. In this case, Moses may be Bill Cartwright, the high school senior of 1975 that every recruiter would most like to lend a limousine. He is 7'½", cleans a backboard better than a detergent and is a straight-shootin' man, cut in the style of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Can he play? Yep, he's a monster.

This season's incubator superstar lives in Elk Grove, Calif., an agricultural community on the outskirts of Sacramento largely inhabited by hardworking people and cows. He is averaging 37 points and 23 rebounds a game, can dribble through a crowded bus and shoots the ball as if he has cross hairs on his fingertips.

Last year Moses Malone was the high school rage, right up there with sequined denims and rocker soles. There were mesmerizing tales of scouts crawling through shrubbery, hiding under beds and losing cars in his driveway. Malone was that good. Bill Cartwright may be, too.

At this time of year hardly a day passes that the mother of a high school senior with a galloping pituitary does not open the front door and see anywhere from one to one dozen scouts standing there, ready to go into their song-and-snappy-patter act. The difference, in the case of Bill Cartwright, is that his parents aren't buying any.

Since James and Marie Cartwright did not want to end up peddling their son Bill to the fastest talker, on Jan. 29 he made an early commitment to play for the University of San Francisco. For the last three years USF Coach Bob Gaillard, whom the Cartwrights respect, visited Elk Grove so often that his car almost learned to drive there by itself. "I probably made 50 trips and that estimate might be low," he says.

Gaillard was not being fuelish. Cartwright has a devastating jump shot, makes almost 80% of his free throws and, when the other team does not put up a human wall between him and the basket, jets to the hoop. Only once during his high school career has a team attempted to guard him man-for-man, and Cartwright scored 62 points in less than three quarters. Normally he is unable to get off a hook because there are so many opponents surrounding him he cannot sweep his arm up. His feet ache from being stepped on by the crowd of defenders that always follows him. Cartwright could still change his mind, but Gaillard is looking to the future without reservations. "The real bonus with Billy is he looks you right in the eye. He wants to learn and realize his potential. And he's humble," Gaillard adds.

Classmates at Elk Grove High say Cartwright could be elected student body president. His popularity is that of a sunny assistant crossing guard rather than that of a star who has been interviewed by TV networks. Among his best friends are the basketball manager and a member of the golf team for whom Cartwright caddies during tournaments. He dates the vice-principal's daughter, babysits his coach's kids and is a favorite autograph giver among Sacramento schoolchildren.

And he is just 17 and still growing. Physicians estimate he will sprout another inch or two. "My doctor told me Bill was going to be a seven-footer," says his mother. "He laughed when Bill was born; said he was as big as two babies."

Cartwright grew up to be one large kid on the farm where his father works. By the time he was eight years old he was big enough to drive a tractor, and when he was in the eighth grade he stood 6'6" and weighed 220 pounds. At that time he gave up being a baseball pitcher and a football tight end and field-goal kicker, and turned strictly to basketball. Cartwright wore ankle weights everywhere except to bed, did special agility drills, developed a routine of fancy moves and took 645 practice shots a day. As a sophomore he made the Sacramento all-city team and as a junior he was Northern California's Player of the Year. Now all-star game promoters ail across the country, every college coach and perhaps some pro teams would like to have him.

To keep at least some of those pursuers away, the Cartwrights and Bill's high school coach, Dan Risley, developed an umbrella defense. There were strict rules about when and how long recruiters and media people could visit, and you needed the FBI to get the family's telephone number. The only publicity hound at the Cartwright house is Bill's dog Buzzy. When the doorbell rings, he perks up thinking someone is there to take his photograph. "I never knew what to tell all those people who came to the door," says Marie Cartwright. Now she won't have to tell them anything.