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Seattle's Secret

NBA scouts are buzzing about budding Charles Garcia Jr., whose multifaceted game begs for discovery

First-year Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar thought he knew the kind of player he was getting when Charles Garcia Jr. fell into his lap last summer. As an assistant at Washington, Dollar had recruited the 6'10", 230-pound Garcia out of Riverside (Calif.) Community College to rebound, defend and fill the post role vacated by senior Jon Brockman, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings. Yet it turns out that Garcia, a friendly, artistic soul who goes by Chuck, has a whole raft of skills few people knew about, including a terrific 15-foot jumper, a solid three-point shot (he's 10 for 30 this season), a good handle and an exceptional ability to attack the rim off the dribble—all honed earlier in his career when he played point guard.

Thus equipped, Dollar has been using Garcia all over the court. After a 19-point, 10-rebound performance in a 92--71 loss to Harvard last Saturday at KeyArena, the junior was averaging 22.6 points—ninth in the nation—and 9.7 rebounds (32nd). Now his unusual profile and prolific numbers have NBA scouts flocking to the games of the 6--9 Redhawks, who are in the third year of a five-year transition back to Division I after a nearly three decade hiatus. The scouting website has Garcia projected as the 24th pick by the NBA in June. "He's obviously gifted," says one Eastern Conference scout. "You don't often see 6'10" run as well or handle the ball as well."

As recently as last summer, it looked as if Garcia might never appear on the NBA's radar. Coming out of Dorsey High in L.A., Garcia, who topped out at 6'7" as a senior, wasn't heavily recruited, partly because of concerns about his grades. After brief stops at Sacramento State and Diablo Valley, he played at Riverside for a season and a half before leaving for Yuba College in Northern California to focus on academics. Last November he signed with the Huskies, but in June he was informed by the university that he had not met Washington's standards for admission. "It felt like someone had taken my heart and crumpled it," says Garcia, who had met all the NCAA's academic requirements. "I thought my basketball career was over."

By then Dollar had taken over at Seattle, and he suggested Garcia apply there. He was accepted, and as soon as Garcia began playing open gym with his new teammates, Dollar, who had only seen his recruit play near the hoop, started hearing reports about his surprising perimeter skills. "He was bringing the ball up like a point guard," says senior guard Taylor Olson.

"It's freedom," says Garcia. "Most of my career I haven't had the opportunity to show all I can do."

The Redhawks won't be eligible to play in the NCAA tournament until 2013, so Garcia has no chance to repeat Elgin Baylor's feat of leading Seattle to the 1958 NCAA final. And since none of the Redhawks' games are scheduled to be televised nationally, he's probably the best player in the country you won't see—at least until June.

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UPWARD BOUND With the freedom to showcase his all-court skills, Garcia has seen his stock soar with the Redhawks.