Words by Justin Walsh
Before our main event, let’s lay the groundwork with a situation…
Demetrius Walker was once named the next LeBron James. He was 14 years old; he had a personal chauffeur; he was home-schooled by a tutor in middle school, and his coaches told him he was more physically gifted than LeBron. He had letters from everybody.
You know that Sonny Vaccaro guy, the one who orchestrated the Brandon Jennings to Europe deal, the recent Jeremy Tyler skipping his senior year of high school to play in Europe? Even he said it was too soon. “Everyone wants him to be the next LeBron, and how can you be sure of that this early? We have set up a situation where a kid can go to college on a full ride and be deemed a failure. That’s what we are doing by starting it at 7th grade.” What happened to Demetrius? He didn’t grow an inch since that time, he was no longer one of the top 100 players in the country, he went from getting boxes of letters from Duke, UNC, UConn and others to committing to Arizona State. He couldn’t take the pressure.
One might ask, What does Demetrius Walker have to do with Dwayne Polee? The response is eerie. Dwayne Polee didn’t just get D1 offers in middle school; he committed to USC in middle school. This was before he even thought about high school. He was barely removed from the days of recess and jungle-gyms. His father Dwayne Sr., an ex professional basketball player, was lambasted by parents for “manipulating his son into taking a game too seriously for his age.” The father insisted that he had no intentions of living out the glory days on his son. Time passed, the media died down.
A while later, Dwayne Sr. was hired as Director of Basketball Operations at USC. Media cried foul. Fans of rival schools were heated. The situation looked off. Tim Floyd assured the media, the fans, the nation that Dwayne Sr. was “more qualified than 90 percent of the coaches in the country.”
At first, one might roll their eyes into the back of their head, wondering how this happened. Then we are reminded. Danny Manning committed to KU only two days after Larry Brown hired Danny’s father, a truck driver, to the basketball staff. Bill Self hired Mario Chalmers’ father Ronnie as Director of Basketball Operations after Mario committed to the Jayhawks. (Two KU titles that couldn’t happen without a packaged deal, which incidentally are not illegal). Dajuan Wagner, the cat who dropped 100+ in a single game in high school, brought his father on with him to Memphis. John Calipari gave Milt Wagner the Director of Basketball Operations position there too. He didn’t have a college degree.
Packaged deals happen all the time. They are not against NCAA regulations. Polee Sr. being a graduate of Pepperdine and having an NBA resume, albeit a short one, makes this less Manning and more Hackett. Oh, I haven’t told you about Rudy Hackett, father of USC’s former PG Daniel. He was an All-American who played professionally in Italy—he was named strength and conditioning coach.
During all this, Dwayne kept playing basketball. He could dunk from the free throw line as a freshman in high school. He could easily slap the portion of the backboard above the white box. His vertical is 45 inches—a legitimate 45 inches. Over the past year, he’s been developing a midrange game, a more polished handle and better defensive presence. Dwayne has not fallen off. Dwayne has not gone the Demetrius Walker route. He has also grown since 8th grade.
At 6-6, Dwayne is the most physically gifted player in the country. His vertical leaping ability is unmatched by any player most scouts have ever seen. In the past season, Polee and the Westchester Comets won the state title. Going into his senior year, he isn’t living in the hype machine—his college decision decided and his father keeps him level-headed. Dwayne is allowed to focus on his life and not the life some hope he leads, probably for the best—nobody wants him to be the next LeBron James. Like Weezy said “I’m just Dwayne bein’ Dwayne.”
SLAM: You’re coming off a state title, what’s on your mind these days?
Dwayne Polee: Getting a state title was great, but I’ve gotten past it now. I’m now focusing on this spring and the upcoming summer. Right now I’m practicing and working out every day to improve my game.
SLAM: What are you focusing on, from a skills standpoint, this summer?
DP: I think one thing I need to work on is ball handling—sometimes I don’t dribble close enough to my body. I also want to improve my jump shot.
SLAM: Any specific drills to attain that?
DP: Right now I’m working out on just those parts of my game four times a week, and I play everyday—I’ll be going to big tournaments and camps as well.
SLAM: Are you working out with your dad, Dwayne Polee Sr.? [Dwayne Sr. played for the Clippers during the ‘86-87 season.—Ed.]
DP: Yes, I am. He played basketball obviously, so I trust him to make me a better basketball player.
SLAM: That’s good. What tournaments do you have coming up in the near future?
DP: I know in a week or two I’m playing in a tournament at Cal-State Dominguez. That’s all I know for sure right now. I just play basketball, I’m told what tournament’s coming up and then I go from there.
SLAM: Going back to your season that just ended at Westchester—You sunk a game-winning shot against cross-town rival Fairfax. How was that, to sink a game winner in a playoff setting, ending your rival’s bid for a state title run?
DP: That felt so good. Because, outside of just wanted to beat Fairfax, we wanted to go to State Regionals. We hadn’t been there in a minute. So I was just excited, but mostly to have an opportunity to go to state—the rivalry is important, but the state title was the main goal. To get there, we had to go through Fairfax, so that’s how I see it.
SLAM: During the season, Westchester faced criticism, all the while Mater Dei was racking up hype on ESPN. Do you take pride in the fact that even though they were ranked in the top 10 nationally, they couldn’t even win their state tournament, and Westchester did?
DP: You know that felt good. Because, nobody can say anything about us now. Anytime somebody tries to say something, we can just point to that state title. The thing is, we had been playing well all year—nobody really noticed it, but we’d been playing good basketball all year. I guess that says something about how they put a bit too much into the history of the team. Like, Mater Dei always had that reputation of being good, so I think people just gave them credit based on that. We had to earn our reputation this year. The hardware speaks for itself.
SLAM: This past season, you seem to have taken a concerted effort to dunk less in games. Is this your way of showing you aren’t just a dunker?
DP: Yep. That’s basically it. I just wanted to show other parts of my game, what I could do as opposed to what everybody knows I do without trying. I wanted to prove I had more balance in my game, and not be known as that guy that just dunks all the time.
SLAM: What skill do you think you showcased the best this past year to the scouts that they might not have seen until your recent decision?
DP: I’ve been more aggressive. I feel like sometimes in the past, and I’m sure scouts have noticed to, that I’ve been playing passive. Part of that was because the demands of me for the team weren’t always as high, but this year we needed that, so I’ve been more aggressive.
SLAM: Are you excited to finally be a Trojan after you graduate in 2010?
DP: Yeah, I’ve been waiting for some time. I’ve been committed for a while. I’ve been getting everything in order on the court in basketball and off the court with academics to prepare for the next level.
SLAM: You committed to USC before you set foot on a court in high school. What kept you from falling off under all that pressure, much like a Demetrius Walker?
DP: My dad just told me I shouldn’t let up, instead to work harder. So I was working harder after I committed. My dad kept me level headed and told me to make sure I focus on basketball and school, not what the rankings say or what other people think I should be doing. He just told me not to worry about the commitment process, having everybody calling the house nonstop. I think one of the best things he did for me at that point when I first committed was to stay focused and grounded.