After Andrew, this should be a breeze

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 31, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Most basketball recruits spend their final days before college wondering if they'll get more party invitations than points per game.

On Aug. 24, Felton Scott sat trembling inside his home in Florida City, Fla., wondering, "Am I going to live? Or am I going to die?"

Hurricane Andrew was howling, and the 18-year-old Scott was huddling with his mother, Betty Jackson, 52, and brother, Clarence, 21.

The windows broke.

The living-room roof tore off.

The rain poured in.

"It was trying to get us," Scott recalls. "We were running from room to room, trying to find a place to survive."

Far away in Baltimore, UMBC coach Earl Hawkins was watching the news reports, worrying about his prized recruit. All summer, he feared the kid might slip away. But not like this. Not in real life.

"When it hit, I knew where it hit, I knew he had to be caught up in it," Hawkins says. "I was hoping there wasn't any devastation to his home or family. Several days passed. He finally called us. He said it was just property damage."

Just property damage?

Nearly every household item needs replacing, from washcloths and towels to the stereo and VCR. Scott's mother is living in a trailer with no phone, waiting for an insurance company to repair her four-bedroom home.

The hurricane left 41 dead, $20 billion in damages and 160,000 homeless. Yet all things considered, Scott considers himself "blessed." He'll be dribbling a basketball when UMBC opens practice with the rest of the nation's college basketball teams tomorrow.

He's a quiet, lanky kid, 6 feet 4 and 170 pounds. At Homestead High, he was an all-state guard in basketball and an all-state wide receiver in football. In his spare time, he high-jumped 6 feet, 4 inches.

Ask him to list the schools that recruited him and he responds haltingly.

Ask him about the hurricane and the words come pouring out.

"We knew it was coming. We just didn't expect that kind of disaster," he says. "You can't describe it. It was like my life flashed before me. I thought I was going to die."

The nightmare lasted two hours.

The family covered the roof with plastic, the windows with plywood.

A few days later, Scott left for college.

Even now, he worries about his mother, who returned to her job at a local hospital two weeks after the hurricane, then required time off because of a series of dizzy spells Scott attributes to stress.

The irony is, Scott could have attended the University of Miami on either a football or basketball scholarship, but he didn't want to stay close to home. Clemson, Florida State and Iowa also recruited him for football. Penn State, Temple and Georgetown pursued him for basketball.

How, then, did he wind up at UMBC, a school that has had one winning basketball season since 1982?

For starters, he refused to make an early commitment to any of the big-time schools. His desire was to play basketball. But Georgetown and Penn State filled their guard slots before he could reach his decision.

Georgetown coach John Thompson then recommended Scott to his friend Hawkins, and the Penn State coaches echoed Thompson's endorsement. At first, Hawkins couldn't even persuade Scott to visit UMBC. By the time Scott agreed to enroll, it was too late for him to sign a national letter of intent.

That's why Hawkins fretted all summer.

"To be honest, from what people told me, he doesn't belong here," Hawkins says. "I've never seen him play other than on film. But they said he could become an ACC-Big East type of player with a couple of years of work. We feel we have a good one -- the caliber of [Towson State's] Terrance Alexander, maybe a little better."

Now if UMBC can just find some way to help Scott's family, a happy ending will be in sight. Scott can receive a maximum of $500 from the Big South Conference through the NCAA's needy student fund, but UMBC can't provide any direct assistance beyond his scholarship.

Still, the family's needs are so great, the school is considering a special fund-raising drive, according to Wilbur Hicks, the assistant vice president of student affairs.

For Scott, anything now is a bonus.

He survived.

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