A STAR IS BORN
Gerald Wallace has suddenly rocketed to the top of recruiting
Four months ago, national recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger had
never heard of Gerald Wallace. Last week at the Adidas ABCD camp
in Teaneck, N.J., Oettinger called Wallace one of the finest high
school prospects ever. "He is the best combination of athletic
ability, basketball skill and intangibles that I've ever seen in
a wing forward," says Oettinger, who has been sizing up talent
for 23 years. "I once wrote the same words about Michael Jordan
as a wing guard. Wallace runs the floor, hits the three and plays
every possession like it's his last. Nobody has put on a show
like him in nearly two decades."
So where has Gerald Wallace been hiding? In little Childersburg,
Ala. (pop. 4,579), where he honed his game in late-night
shootarounds at a park with his mother, Alice, his most
passionate fan and most relentless critic. "I might score 40
points in a game," Gerald says with a smile, "and all my mom
asks me about is the free throw I missed in the first quarter."
While Wallace averaged nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and four
steals as a junior at Childersburg High last season, he didn't
register a blip on the national radar until he participated in
an AAU tournament in Memphis in April. There, playing his fourth
game in a 10-hour span, he scored 24 points against blue-chip
prospect Darius Rice of Jackson, Miss. Wallace then earned the
MVP award at another AAU tournament, in North Carolina in May,
after which Bob Gibbons, another recruiting maven, promoted
Wallace to No. 1 on his prospects list, saying that he "may be
as good a prospect as I've ever seen."
Despite playing the ABCD camp with a painful pulled muscle in his
back, the 6'7", 205-pound Wallace was still the most dynamic
player on the court, dazzling onlookers with his leaping ability
and drawing comparisons to his idol, Vince Carter. Says Wallace,
"I've always thought that I was one of the best players in the
nation, but I was just waiting to be found."
Wallace's story recalls that of Tracy McGrady, who jumped from
nowhere to the head of his class during a phenomenal summer in
'96. McGrady skipped college, and Toronto made him a lottery
pick, but Wallace insists he isn't ready for such a giant step.
Until he began playing AAU ball last summer, he had never
traveled farther from home than the 40 miles northwest to
Birmingham. He doesn't like to read the glowing recruiting mail
that has doubled over the last two months--until the Memphis AAU
tournament he was being recruited only by Alabama, Auburn and
UAB, but now schools from all over the nation are
interested--and he is the kind of unassuming kid who begged his
mom to let him take a job this summer with the local Water
Works, Sewer and Gas Board, cutting grass for the minimum wage.
It probably won't be too long before Wallace will be getting a
"None of us would have believed that he would get so much
attention so quickly," Alice says. "The boy may be a big deal up
in New Jersey, but down here in Childersburg, he's still just
Gerald to us."
Louisville Legacy Case
A SON OF A GUNNER
In stark contrast to Gerald Wallace, DaJuan Wagner has been a
player to watch ever since he was an eighth-grader at Morgan
Village Middle School in Camden, N.J., and was the subject of a
feature story in the local Courier-Post. The recruiting letters
began overflowing his mailbox a year later. "You have to grow up
a little faster when you're Milt Wagner's kid," says Milt
Wagner, who as a high-scoring guard led Louisville to an NCAA
title in 1986 and played 13 pro seasons in the NBA and overseas.
"My son has been in the spotlight since he can remember, but
he's used that pressure to blossom ahead of his time."
DaJuan was so precocious that at age five he played rec-league
ball in a division for 10- to 12-year-olds. At Camden High he
averaged 27.3 points and nine assists as a freshman on the
varsity, prompting the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook
to rank him among the top five high school players in any class.
As a sophomore last season Wagner scored 35.3 points a game and
was so big an attraction that Allen Iverson drove over from
nearby Philadelphia three times to see him play. After one game
Iverson told Wagner, who is often compared to him, "Little
brother, you got game."
Known around his neighborhood as the Messiah (he has the
nickname tattooed on his left biceps), Wagner was one of only a
handful of soon-to-be juniors invited to last week's Nike camp
in Indianapolis. There the 6'3", 180-pound guard scored 50
points in one game with his repertoire of powerful drives and
rainbow treys. His eventual college destination may well be
decided in a classic bluegrass blood feud. Camden High is a
traditional pipeline to Louisville, having sent Milt Wagner,
Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls and current Cardinals star Nate
Johnson, but DaJuan was suspicious last season when Louisville
announced plans to retire his father's jersey. "The timing
didn't seem right to me," DaJuan says. "I asked my dad, 'Why do
you think they want to retire your jersey now when you finished
playing 13 years ago?'"
Meanwhile, Kentucky is reportedly courting one of Wagner's
Camden teammates, 6'6" senior forward Arthur Barclay, who has
lived with DaJuan and DaJuan's mother, Lisa Moore (she and Milt
never married), for the last four years. Barclay, who considers
DaJuan a brother, is a cousin of Art and Valerie Still, who
starred at Kentucky in football and basketball, respectively.
The Wildcats may be angling to land Barclay--a relatively
marginal prospect who averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds at
Camden last season--in hopes of getting Wagner in a kind of
package deal. Wagner says he will follow Barclay wherever his
friend goes to school.
"If DaJuan picks Kentucky, I may not be allowed back at
Louisville," says Milt, who played in Europe and Israel for the
last nine seasons but recently retired to follow his son's
career. "DaJuan has Louisville in his heart, but he's his own
man, and he'll go to school wherever he wants to go."
A Minimum Age in the NBA?
COLLEGE COACHES SOUND OFF
Are we headed toward a day when basketball players will be
carded before they can enter the NBA? Last week the league's
commissioner, David Stern, floated a proposal that would
establish 20 as a minimum age for players. The idea was a hot
topic among coaches at the major summer camps last week. "I
believe the NBA has finally gotten its wake-up call," says
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "These days, the minute any
high school kid has a good game, he starts thinking about
declaring for the NBA. The league needs to give these kids a
game plan so they can all just relax."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun supports the idea but would like
to see the NBA take it a step further, to age 21 or the
completion of a player's junior season in college. "There are
3,000 kids playing college basketball each season, and maybe 50
of them will make the NBA," says Calhoun. "Most kids just aren't
as good as they think they are." He thinks that the longer kids
stay in school, the better the chance they'll face the reality
that they're not going to the pros and will instead stay and get
Any new rule would require approval from the NBA players'
association. At a union meeting last week in the Bahamas, a
group of player reps said they would not support the minimum-age
plan. But that stand may be subject to negotiation.
While most of the high school stars at the camps were against a
minimum age for NBA eligibility, and most coaches were for it,
at least one coach sees Stern's proposal--and the underlying
notion that teenage hoopsters need to be protected by such
rules--in racial terms. "Why are people perpetuating these myths
only about basketball players?" Temple's John Chaney says. "When
black kids see these white high school dropouts in other sports
like tennis or figure skating making millions of dollars before
they turn 18, they'll ask themselves, Why is the NBA screwing
us? David Stern's statement is stupid and asinine and
perplexing, and the idea is the dumbest one I've heard in my
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Even playing hurt, Wallace drew comparisons to Vince Carter with his exploits at the ABCD camp.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP Louisville is hoping that it will get to see the second coming of a Wagner.