The sound of a bouncing ball echoes through the empty gymnasium. Kevin Green is working on his jump shot. Alone. The floor is his. His last class ended 10 minutes ago. Practice doesn't begin for another half-hour.
Outside, a brisk wind blows the few remaining leaves to the ground. Inside, Kevin sets up a chair at the free throw line, snatches the ball off it, pulls up for jumpers. He is doing his best to simulate the conditions of a game. Catch and shoot. Catch and shoot.
Drops of sweat form on his forehead. His feet beat a steady rhythm. Catch and shoot. Catch and shoot. It is a familiar sight at Loyola College, where Green, a junior, presents a daily portrait of a young man hard at work.
He is usually the first player on the court for practice. He is often the first student at the study hall arranged for athletes. There is about him an air of serious intent. "This," says Tom Schneider, Loyola's coach, "is a young man who wants to succeed."
It all appears so easy for Kevin when he is on the court shooting jumpers, the world his oyster. "I've always been able to shoot a basketball," he says, and the 973 points he has accumulated in his first 54 games at Loyola bear him out.
To assume that his success has come easily is wrong, however. He has endured heartbreak, snubs and skepticism, been forced to grow up before his time. "All of which," Schneider says, "is why it is a great story if he succeeds here. As a player and student."
Let's cut right to it. His parents divorced. His mother raised eight children in a house in West Baltimore. She ruled. She taught her kids to do the right thing. She turned Kevin into a homebody. "I get homesick just being up here in another part of town," he says.
When the time came for him to go to college, he chose to stay near his mother and family. It was during that summer before he started at Loyola that his mother got the news about having cancer. A woman who seemed larger than life was, in fact, not. "I hadn't been here two weeks when she died," Kevin says.
Sitting in the bleachers in an empty gym, he picks his words carefully. He still can hardly talk about it. "It really hurt," he says. "But I knew she would have wanted me to go on, keeping playing, keep going to class."
Rich Zvosek, who recruited Green for Loyola and now is the head coach at St. Francis of New York, remembers sitting in their living room. "She was a great, strong lady," he says. "You could just tell she wanted so much more for her son than she'd had."
That Kevin would go to college was assured; he scored a fair number of points on a championship team at Dunbar High School. But few colleges recruited him. Everyone else wanted the other man in the backcourt, high-scoring Sam Cassell. Only UMBC was disappointed when Kevin made his choice.
"Sam never passed Kevin the ball," Zvosek said, "so maybe a lot of people didn't realize how good he could be. But if you watched practice, there was a lot to like. He had that jumper. And he was always the last player to leave the floor. A very hard worker."
In the end, Kevin became the first kid to go from Dunbar to Loyola -- not just the first athlete, but the first student, period. More than a few people wondered if he was up to the task scholastically, and if the move from urban to suburban would fit.
"They wondered if I could cut the mustard in class," he says without rancor at the insult. "Hey, I came here for the academics." And about the drastic change in environment: "It hasn't been easy. But you adjust."
Certainly, his mother would be pleased at how well it has worked out. Kevin has declared sociology as his major, and even talks about getting a graduate degree. "He doesn't miss class, doesn't miss a study hall, doesn't miss a tutoring session," Schneider says. "He works at it, period."
His play on the court has been as much a revelation, if not more of one. Primarily a jump-shooter at Dunbar, his game is expanding all the time now. He can score in traffic and find the open man, and his defense is getting better. Hours in the weight room have added necessary bulk.
An all-conference selection for a 4-22 team last year, he will be among the best players in Baltimore this winter, a scorer who should heat up a lot of cold nights. "He knows how to play, has a real feel," Schneider says. "If he keeps working this hard, he possibly could earn some money somewhere one day."
Kevin smiles at the proposition. "Every kid dreams about the NBA, and I'm no different," he says. "But it's more important to me to follow through with the books. I'm getting my degree first. If the other works out, great."
He has played for four coaches in high school and college, endured the worst kind of hardship, chosen a course that literally no one one before him had attempted. His response is to work, strive, put a chair on the floor and shoot by himself. The lesson is as old-fashioned as the sound of sneakers squeaking on a gym floor.
"There's a lot of something inside him," Schneider says. "I don't ,, know if it's all the adversity he's faced. I don't know if anyone that age can overcome that kind of adversity. But it seems like he gets a lot of strength from it. He's sure doing some things that a lot of people didn't think he could."