Shooting star rises at Coppin Basketball: Antoine Brockington continues to recover from bad breaks and heartaches and has his eye on the NBA.

December 26, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

There's a new sports hero in town and no one cares that he still calls Philadelphia home.

Coppin State's Antoine Brockington has played his way into the hearts of Baltimoreans with a refreshing brand of go-for-broke basketball.

Brockington's fame has traveled beyond the world of basketball junkies and struck a responsive chord with the casual fans who love the excitement and innocence he brings to the court.

They get a kick out of watching this 23-year-old man play with the enthusiasm of a teen-ager, performing wondrous feats with the ball and shooting three-pointers as if they were going out of style.

The Eagles (3-4) have played at home just once this season; they take their show on the road again this weekend in the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. But Brockington's televised performances -- last March against South Carolina and Texas in the NCAA tournament, and earlier this month at Arizona -- have helped make the senior something of a folk hero around Baltimore.

When Brockington is in a mall around town, parents and their children whisper and point at him.

"That's him. That's Antoine Brockington. Let's get his autograph," he hears them say.

"It's hard to believe people think about me like that," said Brockington, the Eagles' shooting guard who ranks 10th in the nation in scoring with a 24.4-point average.

His success has come after bad breaks and personal heartaches.

There was the day in the summer of 1993 that he tossed two shoe boxes of letters from college recruiters in the trash because he was tired of hearing from the Philadelphia writers that he was too small (5 feet 11 at the time but now 6-2) to play the wing and couldn't get his shot off over bigger guards.

Southern California, South Carolina and Texas-El Paso were the big names in the shoe boxes.

Then on Sept. 12, 1993, in a recreation league game, Brockington broke his left wrist. The injury, which still bothers him when he gets hit on the wrist, forced him to miss most of his senior season at Northeast High after being chosen the Philadelphia city Player of the Year as a junior when he averaged 28.5 points.

"If I hadn't broken my wrist, I would have been able to work on my game more and might have gone to Temple and played for John Chaney like I always dreamed of," he said. "After I didn't go, I didn't have any thoughts about it. I just wanted to play against the schools who didn't pick me."

Next came an event that would cause Brockington and his mother, Carolyn Spelling, to make some tough decisions about his future.

On April 27, 1994 at the age of 19, Brockington became a father. His son, Antoine, is now 3.

"My mom's dream was for me to graduate from high school and go to college," Brockington said. "And she was disappointed when I became a father so young. It was tough on her. But she said she would help me out as long as I went to school. She always told me, 'If you make your bed, you have to lay in it.' " Little Antoine lives with his mother in Philadelphia and has a close relationship with his father.

"I'm a role model for my son," he said. "If I had stayed home and not gone to college, it wouldn't help him. I couldn't educate him or do certain things for him."

That summer after his senior year, Brockington was ready to forget about college and get a job. But former Coppin State assistant Nate Blackwell, now an assistant at Temple, saw Brockington play in the Sonny Hill League in Philadelphia and recommended him to Eagles coach Fang Mitchell.

Mitchell already knew Brockington's father, Ike Cahoe, and didn't need to be persuaded to give the youngster a scholarship, even though he didn't have a jump shot.

"He was finishing on his shots when I first saw him," Mitchell said. "That is something in today's society you don't see that much. And he was very quick to the basket. I knew we could teach him how to shoot a jump shot."

Still, things didn't go smoothly when Brockington arrived at Coppin for a three-day orientation on Aug. 20, 1994. He took a cab from the train station, and when the driver dropped Brockington off at the bottom of the campus on North Avenue he warned, "Be careful around here. Don't take any rides from anybody."

Brockington told the cabbie not to worry: "I'm used to it. I'm from Philadelphia."

But that didn't lessen the loneliness Brockington said he felt as he walked across campus to his dormitory room.

"I didn't think this place was for me," he said. "I went to my room and sat there from 10 in the morning to 7 at night before I had to check in for orientation. They told me I'd get used to being here. But I still wanted to go home and I met Kareem Lewis [now a 6-7 senior center on the team] and he didn't like it here either."

The plan for Brockington was to go home and get a job, and Lewis wanted to transfer to a college nearer his Brooklyn home.

Both stayed, however, even though they were ineligible to play as freshmen because they didn't meet Proposition 48 academic requirements.

Now more than three years later, pro scouts marvel at Brockington's skills on offense. The Seattle SuperSonics have been following Brockington most of the season, and Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause watched him play Dec. 16 against Florida A&M at the Coppin Center.

Krause would not assess Brockington's chances of making it in the NBA, saying: "I don't make a habit of commenting on prospective players."

Mitchell, however, spoke about what his star needs to advance to the NBA.

"The scouts want to see if Antoine is willing to work hard enough on defense to handle the bigger players who will be isolated on him in the low post," Mitchell said. "That is a necessity."

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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