Seeking storybook ending

Anthony takes city roots to top

Syracuse: Towson Catholic and the rec programs of the forward's youth bask in their Melo being in the Final Four.

Final Four

April 05, 2003|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN COLUMNIST

The pipeline from the recreation program to the high schools was already working when Syracuse star freshman forward Carmelo Anthony was only 10. Nick Wise called Darrell Corbett who called Towson Catholic High School's Mike Daniel.

No one knew then that the road would lead to Syracuse, the NCAA Division I Final Four and possibly to the National Basketball Association, but they knew Anthony might be special.

"Coach Wise [at Robert Marshall Recreation Center] said come down and look at this kid. He thought Carmelo was going to be tremendous one day. I guess he was about 10 or 11 years old. He was just a long, skinny kid who couldn't stand up right," Daniel said.

"But right away, you could see the kid had a knack for scoring and he was always trying to do things he couldn't do, like go behind his back or go to the rack hard," Daniel said. "Even then, you thought if you put some strength in that body, gain some maturity, he was going to be one hell of a player."

The evolution is almost complete. Once an 8-year-old who spent his days and nights on a playground court behind a convenience store in the drug- and crime-infested neighborhood of Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, Anthony will lead the Orangemen (28-5) into tonight's semifinals against Texas in New Orleans.

He is one hell of a basketball player, college basketball's national Freshman of the Year. Anthony has averaged 22.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 36.4 minutes for a team predicted too inexperienced for a serious run for the national championship.

But locally, former teammates and coaches knew Anthony could carry the Orangemen or any other college team, and they'll be cheering for him tonight at tip-off around 9.

"I always watch him play," said Derek Wise, a junior on TC's basketball team. "Of course Syracuse is going to win. Why? They got Carmelo Anthony, that's why."

"I'm going to make sure I'm home watching it," said Charles Griffin, the Owls' 6-foot-4, 234-pound swing forward. "Maybe I'm biased, but I think Syracuse is going to go all the way. They got Melo."

Melo is short for Carmelo, Anthony's nickname. Around Baltimore, he has become another local basketball product makes good. As the nation watches tonight, fans will marvel at his all-around game, the crossover dribble before kissing a short jumper off the glass. Or the quick drop step before the baseline jam.

They'll be slightly surprised at how he reads the court, the passes and the strength in the hands as he snatches another rebound.

But not in Baltimore.

Former teammates and coaches see another side; a prankster, an easygoing player who always wore different tennis shoes. He was just another one of the boys, but one who escaped the dangers around him.

Avoiding the crime

"He used to hoop with my brother," said Darren Hopkins, a TC player. "I knew him from rec ball. He was always on the court. He would play until it was dark or until everybody left. There was always a lot of violence and crime around there. We stayed away from it by hooping all the time."

Griffin grew up in the same neighborhood.

"It was rough, real rough," said Griffin. "We [Griffin and Anthony] never talked about that kind of stuff. But if you lived there, it's just something you see. I've known Melo since he was 8. He was good then, he could always handle the ball."

That's one of the reasons Wise made the phone call to Corbett. Besides the talent, he wanted Anthony to play against 10-year-olds instead of 8-year-olds. Wise also wanted to get Anthony in a different environment.

Enter Corbett.

He is an official at Mount Royal Elementary-Middle School during the day, basketball coordinator at night. Corbett and Mount Royal turn out local high school players like General Motors produces cars. Kenny Minor (Dunbar), Darnell Hopkins (Towson Catholic), Keith Jenifer (TC/ Virginia), Marcus Johnson (Mount St. Joseph) and Will Thomas (Mount St. Joe) just to name a few.

They practice only once a week, but play as many as five games on any given weekend in numerous leagues throughout the city as well as Baltimore and Howard counties. But Corbett isn't just about basketball.

Oh, no.

Discipline is the key. If a player is having trouble in school or gets suspended, he doesn't play. And if he doesn't listen to the coach ...

"He was silly and immature," said Corbett, who coached Anthony from age 10 until his freshman season at Towson Catholic. "If you're coming here for discipline and skill, then this is the place to be. Basketball is about life, it's about rules. If you can't play by the rules, then you're going to cheat. That's not what we're about.

"At one point, Carmelo was told to take his ID and get out because he didn't want to play team ball, he didn't want to play defense," said Corbett. "We finished the game with four players. We won and he sat on the bench the whole time, never walked out the door. He learned that lesson."

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