Not just child's play

Basketball: Le Shon Edwards, a 6-foot-4, soon-to-be eighth-grader from East Baltimore, already is attracting attention from colleges for his skills on the court.

July 24, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Not long beyond noon on a summer weekday, rain makes an East Baltimore rowhouse the main arena for a pair of 14-year-olds enjoying the break that comes when school lets out.

Le Shon Edwards and Vincent Breckenridge Jr. found few options beyond sinking into a pair of living-room couches. After a breakfast of Cookie Crisp, the two recovered from a long night of PlayStation and sounded off about the predicament of many their age: too young to drive.

"I wish we had a car," said Breckenridge, whose family has included Edwards in their household for the past four years. "We're like, `We can't wait.' Just talking about where we want to go. If my father isn't around, we go by bus."

While the two share typical childhood concerns, ties to a game give their lives a different script: Five days a week might find them on a basketball court, sometimes coached by Breckenridge's father, Vincent Sr., who has become Edwards' guardian.

But Edwards is the one who stands out on any of his teams. According to those who keep track of these things - most notably Clark Francis' Hoop Scoop - the 6-foot-4 forward is ranked fourth among the nation's basketball players in his age group, those to become eighth-graders this fall.

Already, Louisville and UCLA have sent introductory letters.

His summer league team goes to Orlando to play in the 14-and-under Amateur Athletic Union championships beginning Friday. The next weekend he is to play in Adidas' Jr. Phenom Camp in San Diego - Matt Miller of Severna Park's 3DO club, ranked 62nd, will attend as well - a showcase for the top pre-high school players.

In a tournament in Bel Air to qualify for the AAUs, Edwards was getting well above the rim at the end of a recent blowout victory for Carmelo's Choice. (The name was changed from Charm City Choice after the team received funds from Baltimore native and NBA standout Carmelo Anthony.)

But Edwards' too-small hands don't allow him to consistently convert dunk attempts.

"I wanted to get a dunk, just to show you I could," he said after the win over a Camden, N.J., team. What he showed was his ability to score from just about every area on the floor, using his advanced ball-handling skills to slither to the hoop and his range to hit three-pointers.

Watching the game was Fairfax Stars coach Curtis Symonds, who did not laud Carmelo's center, Laronte Leftwich - whose 6-foot-9 stature would ordinarily gain notice - so much as Edwards.

"He's got that in-and-out game, and that makes it difficult to play him," Symonds said. "This kid plays defense, is aggressive and makes plays. He's the one who makes that team move."

Basketball has been able to transport Edwards far beyond the Cherry Hill neighborhood where he lived until he met Breckenridge and soon moved in with the coach's family. Hardwood potential has propelled him along with teammates Leftwich and Breckenridge Jr. into Boys' Latin, a North Baltimore prep school.

The boys played earlier this summer in a league run by Boys' Latin, in addition to the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League.

Edwards and Breckenridge previously were schooled at New All Saints; Leftwich, 15, attended Highlandtown Middle.

"They wouldn't have brought them in if they thought they were that far behind [academically]," said Boys' Latin basketball coach Doug Nicholas, a former assistant at UMBC.

With only a few tutorial sessions at his new school, Edwards speaks of the move with great expectations. "We're going to a good school," he said, "and we think we can be better people."

Fast learner

Long before his basketball talent emerged, Edwards' size indicated potential.

Pamela White, then a 16-year-old, didn't know she was pregnant until Edwards was born. White, now 30, recalls that her unexpected newborn measured 25 inches and weighed 9 pounds.

Midway through elementary school, he entered puberty well before his peers, an incidence of one in every 10,000 youths. White had a 6-foot-tall boy who thought that he was a man, a 9-year-old hanging out with teenagers.

Police detained him in one instance - mistaking him for another neighborhood youth who was suspected of dealing drugs.

It was a coach at Patapsco Elementary who introduced him to Vincent Breckenridge Sr., a maintenance worker who has been involved in youth leagues for the past 14 years.

Edwards' previous training in the sport had been limited to one-on-one sessions with a relative. Breckenridge, 36, recalls that "his hand-eye coordination was above and beyond."

"He picked up on the game of basketball really fast."

As Edwards' game improved, so did his relationship with both the junior and senior Breckenridges. With his natural father taking a minimal role and White working long shifts as a supervisor at United Cerebral Palsy, the other family took much of the responsibility in getting Edwards to and from basketball events.

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