Since joining the Cecil Kirk Recreation Department's Amateur Athletic Union basketball program last May, Gene Pleyo says he is virtually rebuilding his game from the ground up.
"I've been with them for about two months now, and my shot has changed," said Pleyo, a recent Northeast graduate and the school's all-time leading scorer.
"I have a hanging shot. Before, I'd come off the dribble, jump straight up and shoot. That was fine in our county, but in city ball, you've got to work harder and think more to get open," added Pleyo, 18.
"You can't just come off of the screen and get your little set-shot. You've got to fall away, or you'll get your shot smacked and be sitting on the bench. I'm not forgetting all the basic teachings I've learned, I'm just adding some things to improve my game."
Pleyo, a first-team, All-County selection following Northeast's 1991-1992 season, is also focused on a more serious game -- the one dealing with accepting life on life's terms.
Although Coach Richard Bloom has big plans for him at Anne Arundel Community College, where Pleyo will enter this fall, Pleyo feels his reputation was "tarnished" by an incident that occurred with just three games remaining in his senior season.
One day back in February, Pleyo neglected to wear a tie to school. Unfortunately for him, it was the same day the Eagles dismantled Archbishop Spalding, 74-56.
Pleyo mistakenly violated a team rule that he had followed during three previous varsity seasons -- Coach John Barbour's rule stating that every player must wear a tie to school for the entire day before a home game.
Pleyo was forced to miss the entire first half and didn't play until 2:26 remained in the third quarter. His 14 points left him eight shy of scoring 1,000 for his career.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder later would surpass the milestone, but he missed the opportunity to accomplish it in the Eagles' final home game.
"I brought the tie to school, I just didn't wear it for three periods," said Pleyo, who graduated from Northeast earlier this month with academic honors.
"Gene has Division I ability," said Barbour, "and he has one of the best attitudes of any player I've ever coached."
So Barbour found it peculiar that college scouts and recruiters continually returned videotaped copies of Pleyo's performances, criticizing his "lack of speed," particularly on defense.
It didn't seem to matter that one of six school records held by Pleyo, career points (1038), was 42 shy of his Scholastic &L Aptitude Test score (1080).
Or that his consistency was as apparent on the court, where he holds school records for career three-pointers (118), assists (341) and games played (82), as it was in the classroom, where he maintained a 3.2 grade-point average.
"Here was a kid who had pretty good ability and was an excellent student. It just puzzled me," said Barbour.
"I suppose word got out about [the tie incident]. I didn't want it in the papers, but I felt I had to clarify what happened. And when someone asked me if Gene was a bad kid, I just told them the truth -- 'No!' "
Pleyo, who averaged 19 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists last winter, and shot 79 percent from the foul line, said he held no ill feelings toward Barbour.
"I'm mad at myself for making a mistake that I have accepted, and I'm going on with my life," said Pleyo. "But it's not like I did it because I'm a hellion or something. I didn't do it on purpose. But college recruiters find out about everything, and I think it gave me a bad reputation."
At least one coach, Glenville State's Gary Nottingham, is extremely interested in Pleyo.
Former Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year Uwone Jackson, a 1985 Northeast graduate, averaged in double figures for Nottingham at the West Virginia school. And Barbour has sent Nottingham a schedule of AACC's upcoming season.
"A point guard in junior college is usually the playmaker, and Mr. Bloom plays the style I like to play," said Pleyo. "I can't make any predictions, but I'm just going to do my best there."
Pleyo was the county's premier ball-handler last winter, but even that aspect of his repertoire has had to be revamped as an AAU player.
"Everything starts from the inside, driving to the basket and dishing it outside, so I have to dribble a lot quicker and a lot lower than I used to," said Pleyo. "I was intimidated at first because the game's a whole lot rougher physically.
"It's not unusual to come home from a game or practice with a bruised eye or some cuts on your body. I can dunk the ball, but that's not good enough here. They jump 20 times higher and go 20 times faster. There's a lot of pride on the line in this league."
Still, Pleyo says he's playing the best basketball of his life, despite the fact that he's the sixth man on the "B" team behind a starting unit of mostly sophomores and juniors.