Center of attention: Focus tires Wallace Recruiting over, he seeks respite

July 26, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- Rasheed Wallace wants to go to the mall.

He wants to see a Clint Eastwood movie. He would like to shop for oversized clothes, or go to a rhythm and blues concert.

But he can't.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to being called the top high school player in the country," said Wallace, USA Today's Player of the Year as a 6-foot-11, 225-pound center/forward from Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High.

"The advantage is that it brings notoriety and prestige to your community," he said. "The disadvantage is that everything you do is under a microscope. I'm a little worn down by it all."

Here for the U.S. Olympic Festival, Wallace is showing signs of wear. The bounce in his step is gone. He answers questions in short, quick sentences. He's getting frustrated on the court, which rarely happened during the regular season.

Media interviews? They're starting to irritate him.

"He just survived one of the biggest manhunts of the season," said Steve Steinwedel, the University of Delaware coach who is coaching Wallace on the East team in the Olympic Festival basketball tournament. "Rasheed needs some space."

Wallace seemed to be distracted Saturday night when his team lost, 129-120, to the North. Wallace scored the first three times he touched the ball, but committed his third foul early in the second period and was forced to the bench for most of the game.

Wallace finished with 17 points, but was not a factor.

"A rare night," said Steinwedel.


Wallace is a power forward in a center's body with the ability to shoot accurately from outside. He averaged 16.6 points, 15 rebounds and 7.2 blocked shots this past season. He also shot 67 percent from the field and 71 percent from the foul line.

Gratz was 110-9 during his four years at the school.

"He has the potential to be the next great big man in the game after Shaquille O'Neal," said Tom Konchalski, who publishes High School Basketball Illustrated. "There isn't a big man in his class who runs as well as him, is as agile and has such good hands and skills at blocking shots. He can be a great, great player."

Most of the major colleges around the country thought so, too. He eventually narrowed his choices to North Carolina, Howard, Georgetown, Villanova and Temple.

This was how intense the recruiting was: The first day a school could make telephone contact with Wallace was July 1, 1992. The first call came from Massachusetts at 12:05 -- a.m.

Here's more: Coaches from Georgetown, Kentucky, Temple and Villanova were in the stands when Wallace played in a pickup game against college players at Temple.

As soon as the game ended, Wallace bolted for the door and squeezed into his mother's car and left for another game. The coaches jumped into their cars and followed. Twenty-five minutes later, the motorcade arrived at another gym and two more coaches were waiting.

The entourage moved into a closet-sized corner of the gym, where the temperature was 90 degrees, to watch Wallace play.

"At that point, it was just beginning to get bad because they couldn't talk to me personally yet," said Wallace. "Now, imagine how bad it became once they could meet with me in person."

Wallace chose North Carolina in late April, joining forward Jerry Stackhouse and guard Jeff McInnis, both from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, to give the defending national champion Tar Heels a superb recruiting class.

"It's the best place where I felt the most comfortable," said Wallace. "It's a system where you don't have to be the one player the team depends on to score every night. The points are spread out. I think I can go in and rebound and help the team win."

Tar Heels coach Dean Smith, who was at the East practice Friday, said: "They were outstanding in high school, but I'm never one to predict how they will continue to grow. It's really unfair. So often people have unreal expectations and it's totally unfair."

Wallace thought the fanfare would die down once he signed with North Carolina, but it has not.

He went sightseeing here briefly, and ended up signing autographs outside the Alamo.

"Somewhere along the line, we must all remember that he's only 18," said Smith.

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