Having shown his drive, Gay set to shift back to normality

February 22, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

RUDY GAY WANTS to get a learner's permit. He wants to plan for the prom, talk on the cell phone, hang out at the mall and get in more time on the PlayStation.

Rudy Gay is about to become a regular 17-year-old high school student at Archbishop Spalding again.

It hasn't been that way since last summer when Gay left the prestigious Nike camp in Indianapolis as one of the top-rated high school basketball players in the country. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith has stopped by, and so has Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. Gay made a visit to Maryland and flew up to Connecticut.

And oh, the phone calls. Just about every Division I coach in America tried to reach out and touch Gay. When a 6-foot-8 kid averages 25 points and 10 rebounds, people talk and they listen.

But in another week, Gay's career at Spalding will have ended, and he can start preparing for his freshman season at Connecticut.

Until then, he has some unfinished personal business.

"I wasn't concerned about missing out on usual things students do, because you have to sacrifice for the things you want," said Gay, an Essex resident. "Between trying to find the right college and preparing for the season, there hasn't been much time for anything."

"But I'm glad things are starting to wind down," Gay said. "Maybe now I can get that learner's permit. That bugs me, because my mom is always late picking me up."

Gay laughs. He has a warm sense of humor, which only few know. They only know Rudy Gay, national basketball phenom. They don't know about Rudy Gay, the Christian. Or that Gay likes going to the movies, listening to R&B and rap music (favorite singers are Jay-Z and Musiq), or may want to become a sportscaster.

Gay's mother, Rae Lynn, is director of a Head Start program in Baltimore City. His father, Rudy Sr., is in the landscaping business. Gay had the opportunity to schmooze with Michael Jordan for a couple of days at Jordan's camp last summer where he was a counselor, but the person he admires most is his late grandfather, Richard Austin, who taught him about keeping a family together.

Gay is polite, shy and humble, so much in fact, that he sometimes leaves church early because he doesn't really want to talk about himself or basketball.

He doesn't know what all this fuss is really about.

"I've always considered myself an average player, and still do most of the time," Gay said.

Until last summer, Gay was rated only slightly above average. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, he was the last of 400 players extended an invitation to the Nike camp. He never completed it because of a chipped tooth.

But Gay wasn't happy with his play before the injury.

"I was there, just trying to survive," Gay said. "I don't know if the talent was that good, but I just wasn't strong enough. I got pushed around and stuff."

Gay got the message. In the summer between his junior and senior seasons, he spent more time in the weight room, increasing his weight from 190 to 215. He worked on different parts of his game, especially inside. He also grew from 6-6 to 6-8, and his shoe size went from 12 to 14 1/2 .

"I think Rudy was underrated the first year he came out of the Nike camp," said Anthony Lewis, his Amateur Athletic Union coach at Cecil-Kirk in Baltimore. "If he hadn't gotten injured, there would have been that gradual progress instead of that jump-out kind of thing last year.

"Basically, it was maturity," Lewis said. "He refined his game. He worked on ball-handling, on an exploding first step and gaining a quicker release. He wanted to get better."

Gay is almost the total package. You hate to say it because it because it puts the kid under more pressure and scrutiny, but he has NBA potential. He's got the long arms and long legs, and the magical vertical leap.

During a recent game against No. 1 Mount St. Joseph, Gay had seven dunks. There was the windmill, the reverse under the basket, the breakaway and, for emphasis, the one-handed put-back.

Despite his height, Gay has the crossover, break-your-ankle kind of dribble that allows him to blow by defenders at the top of the key. He plays well with his back to the basket, and has a nice shooting motion.

A weakness?

Gay has to improve on his shooting from outside. But hey, that will come in time, too.

"Every time out on the court this season, I had to be ready because everybody wants to beat you," Gay said. "I hear trash-talking all the time, that I'm overrated, I can't do this, I can't do that. I've heard it all. But I think if they are that worried enough about me, and want to talk trash to me, then I'm on their minds."

But that's all just about over now. Gay is about to take another step. His career started at age 5 on the playgrounds of Edgemere and the hard courts of church league games in Turners Station. It has taken him to Dundalk Middle, where he dunked for the first time in the seventh grade, to two AAU teams, two high schools and through some of the best college coaches in the game.

But Gay hasn't changed.

"The most important thing I've tried to teach him is to put God first in your life, and make sure this is what he wants you to do," said Rae Lynn, who played high school basketball, as did Rudy Sr. "God won't ever leave you, he won't ever forsake you.

"I was looking forward to his senior year, and I wanted him to enjoy it," she said. "I didn't want him to feel the pressure of the recruiting process, didn't want it to be so stressful. I think we managed it well. We ... made a decision from within our family structure as a family ... And now Rudy can get back to a somewhat normal life, and work on getting that learner's permit."

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