Simon Gratz center Wallace has tools, but more so the mom, to reach the top

Bill Tanton

January 14, 1993|By Bill Tanton

"Bill Spotts," says Lake Clifton High coach Charlie Moore jokingly, "has become the Don King of basketball."

There's an element of truth in that. Spotts, a Baltimore insurance man, has become the top promoter of hoops in our town -- just as King has long been the world's pre-eminent promoter of boxing.

But King has been known to stage an occasional turkey. Spotts delivers what he promises.

A year ago, when Spotts put on the first Charm City Classic at the Towson Center, he said several of the best teams in the country were in the field.

He also said that Rodrick Rhodes, of St. Anthony's High in Jersey City, N.J., would soon be a top Division I college player.

Well, our own Dunbar High won the mythical national championship last year, playing the two toughest games of its undefeated season in the Charm City tourney, and Rhodes already is a star at No. 1 Kentucky.

Tomorrow night and Saturday Spotts will put on the second annual Charm City Classic, again at Towson State. Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High, ranked No. 1 nationally, is in the field along with Baltimore's Dunbar, Lake Clifton, Southern and Towson Catholic, St. John's Prospect Hall of Frederick, Dunbar of D.C. and St. Anthony's of New Jersey.

The player Spotts is touting this time as a sure college star of tomorrow is Gratz's Rasheed Wallace.

Wallace is said to be the most highly recruited player to come out of Philadelphia since Wilt Chamberlain graduated from Overbrook High 40 years ago.

"Have you ever met Wilt?" I asked Rasheed.

"Two years ago," he said, "when they retired his number [13] at Overbrook High."

"Did Chamberlain say anything to you that day?"

"No, I just got his autograph."

Wallace has it all -- the size (he's 6 feet 11), the coaching (Bill Ellerbee won a national championship at Gratz two years ago), the attitude ("Rasheed is a great player because he has allowed himself to be coached. He's listened," Ellerbee said) and, most of all, the mother.

That's right -- the mother, 42-year-old Jackie, a single parent who a social services case worker for the state of Pennsylvania and who is on top of every move Rasheed makes.

Jackie Wallace is an athletic 5-11 1/2 woman who never played basketball herself in high school, but did throw the javelin for the track team.

When I first encountered Jackie and her budding star son, they were shadow-boxing in the lobby of the Sheraton-Towson.

Jackie was feigning anger over something Rasheed had teased her about. She was throwing half-hearted punches in the direction of her son's head, towering a foot above her. Rasheed, smiling sheepishly, held his hands up, blocking mom's blows.

"She's a great mom," said Ellerbee, who graduated from Simon Gratz in 1960 and played college ball at Cheyney State. "Jackie is the reason Rasheed is the kind of young man he is. He has good habits."

Technically, Ellerbee describes Wallace's game this way:

"Rasheed is an all-around player. He can do everything. He knows the game backward and forward. He's a student of the game, and that's what puts him ahead of other 6-10 and 6-11 kids."

Or listen to Baltimorean Tom Strickler, who runs a high school recruiting service.

"I was a really, really big Sam Bowie fan when he came out of high school in Lebanon, Pa.," Strickler says. "This kid is better. Rasheed is a great anticipator. He's a natural shot blocker. He has a solid, mid-range jump shot and he's very athletic."

Some 100 colleges expressed interest in Rasheed Wallace. He has narrowed his choice, to be announced in April, to four schools: North Carolina, Georgetown, Villanova and Temple.

"If Rasheed goes to Temple or Villanova [both in Philadelphia]," I reminded his mother, "it'll save you a lot of travel over the next four years."

"That's all right," she said. "I think going away and being on his own is an important part of growing up. Of course, he doesn't have to go to the University of Hawaii to do that."

It sounds to me as if Wallace will go to Georgetown. He and his mother visited the Washington school last weekend and had dinner Saturday evening with Hoyas coach John Thompson. Was Jackie impressed?

"Oh, I was impressed when we met Coach Thompson the first time, when he came for the home visit," she said. "Coach Thompson is a people person. He really cares about these kids. That's very important to me. I'm prouder of my son's character than of his basketball."

Wallace and Gratz will play Charlie Moore's Lake Clifton team at 7 p.m. tomorrow, after Towson Catholic and St. John's Prospect Hall open the tournament at 5.

Dunbar, ranked No. 10 in the country this week, will play coach Bob Hurley Sr.'s ninth-ranked St. Anthony's team at 9.

Saturday it will be Southern High of Baltimore against Washington's Dunbar High at 5, Lake Clifton vs. St. Anthony's at 7, and Baltimore Dunbar, led by another top college prospect, 6-7 Keith Booth, against Simon Gratz at 9.

Tickets are still available at the Towson Center (830-2244) and at Ticketmaster locations. Last year 2,000 persons were turned away on the final night.

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