From the Cradle to the Court

Lots of Pounding on Souls at This Prep Basketball Showcase

"Some of these students aren't used to sitting that long, and by the second hour they were ready to walk around and play basketball," Opochinski says. "Some students just put nothing into it."

THE WRITING ON THE WALL If the fancy Hilton hotel in Hasbrouck Heights, the first-class treatment, the speeches by NBA luminaries Bryant and George Karl, and the media circus don't tell ABCD participants that they are destined for stardom, the names in the gym certainly will.

Lists of former camp MVPs, a roll call of stars who have used the showcase as their stepping stone to the NBA, appear on long scrolls in each corner of the gym. Every time a player steps onto the court, he stares up at the names of Stephon Marbury, Tim Thomas, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady, each one a reminder of where the camp can take you.

But on the list is one name the kids may want to pay attention to: Leon Smith, the 1998 ABCD All-Star Game MVP, the anti-Kobe.

Smith bought into the hype and attempted to leap from a Chicago high school to the NBA, riding his strong ABCD performance into the first round of the 1999 NBA draft, where he wound up with the Dallas Mavericks. But after repeated clashes with coaches and management, Smith was waived. His next three years were filled with run-ins with the law, one suicide attempt, and several stays in psychiatric wards. He still hasn't played a minute in the NBA.

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