As reports of basketball hero Carmelo Anthony's appearance in a controversial DVD disc flew throughout the city yesterday, a dozen children darted around on the worn blacktop at the Mount Royal Recreation Center where the NBA star's talents were nurtured.
Teenage boys playing a game of five-per-side flag football called to mind similar games played nearly a decade ago by the young Anthony.
Darrell Corbett, a recreation instructor at Mount Royal, said he coached Anthony "since he was in sixth grade."
"Most of the kids feel like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Corbett said. "It's like when you become popular, everyone wants to know you, but you have to be leery of people you have around you."
Although he has not seen the DVD, in which Anthony is seen standing next to a man who appears to be threatening people not to tip off police about drug dealing, Corbett said he heard about it on the radio.
Corbett hopes that the more unsavory implications of the DVD turn out to be false and that "it doesn't give people the wrong impression about Carmelo. He is a talented young man who does work hard and wants the best for himself."
Corbett, who considers himself a strict disciplinarian, says he never had trouble from Anthony.
"As a kid growing up, I know that this isn't Carmelo. He's not into stuff like that or into that kind of scene," he said. "He's a humble kid, works hard, he's determined and knows what he wants to do."
Corbett says that was the person he last saw in June, before the former Syracuse and present Denver Nuggets player left for the Olympics in Athens.
"He was doing the photo shoot for Jordan Magazine, and he wanted come back to Mount Royal," Corbett said. "He took [photos] with his teachers, of his classroom. He wanted to let everyone know he grew up in Baltimore."
Corbett said he expects Anthony to rebound from the situation.
"Everybody has to take responsibility for what happens in their life," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes; everybody has bad days."
Many of the youngsters either had seen or were aware of the DVD and seemed to think that the controversy is being blown out of proportion. They declined to give their names.
A 10-year-old boy knew without being told why a Sun reporter was visiting the recreations center.
He seemed to think that even asking about the DVD was a criticism of Anthony and a form of "snitching." A 12-year-old girl acknowledged being aware of the DVD but said she hadn't seen it.
Corbett said his biggest concern for the star athlete "is to be careful who he's around, because everybody's not your friend."
"To come from where Carmelo came from is huge, and for kids who don't know if they can make it in Baltimore to the next day, Carmelo is that gleaming light."