Decade’s Best: High School Player
What, you thought it would be somebody else?
by Ryan Jones
This is what his high school coach said:
“He had the best hand-eye coordination and the best reflexes I’d ever seen. He did things that you can’t teach.”
And this is what the scout said:
“He has the longest arms of any player I’ve seen. He has huge hands and can outleap anyone. In 20 years of doing this, he’s one of the top 10 prospects I’ve seen at his position.”
This is where I tell you that they were talking about LeBron James.
The high school football player.
This is where you know that the State Farm-sponsored fantasy would not have been so far fetched.
This is where you understand that he might’ve been one of the best high school football players ever if he hadn’t skipped his senior year to hoop.
This is where you know Bo and Deion might’ve had company.
This is where you appreciate how good he must’ve been on the court to pass all that up.
And this is what his other high school coach — the basketball one — said:
“The hype doesn’t bother me, because I think he is one of the top five players in the country.”
This is when LeBron was a sophomore.
This is something else the coach said:
“He’s a little bit like Magic Johnson, in that he can really pass. Then he’s a little bit like Kobe. And he’s got some Tracy McGrady in him, too.”
Again, a sophomore.
“As a freshman,” the coach said, “he averaged seventeen a game, and I told people around here, he’s the best player in the state. They looked at me like I was nuts. By the state tournament, they started to figure it out.”
This is some of what the coach was talking about: He scored 33 against No. 1-ranked, D1-signee-laden Oak Hill Academy.
As a sophomore.
This is why that wasn’t surprising: He went for 25 points, 9 boards and 4 assists in leading his team to a state championship.
As a freshman.
He was the state tournament MVP.
Again, a freshman.
This is what happened in the summer between his first two years of high school:
He played at Five-Star Camp back when Five-Star was still the ultimate prep proving ground. He played with the underclassmen, and then he moved up and played with the juniors and seniors. And he made the all-star teams for both age groups.
This is what Howard Garfinkel, Five-Star founder and grassroots hoops Yoda, said about that:
“In the 35 years I’ve had this camp, that’s never happened before. He totally dominated. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
And this is where I apologize for mangling the timeline.
Back to his sophomore year: Another state title. Another state tourney MVP. The first sophomore ever named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball. The first sophomore ever named first-team All-American by USA Today.
This is how disappointing his junior year was: His team “only” made the state title game. They “only” went 23-4.
He won his second Mr. Basketball award.
This is something a sports marketing “expert” said during LeBron’s junior year:
“High school athletes are not reaping endorsement money right out of the box.”
This is how many zeroes would be included in the sneaker deal LeBron signed about a year later: Seven.
This isn’t the point, really. But it’s worth remembering.
This is what he did against Oak Hill as a senior: 31 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and a dunk that ended up on a SLAM poster.
In a 20-point win.
This is what happened when LeBron played in a holiday tournament in L.A. a few weeks later: Tourney organizers sold programs for $10 a pop. Phil Knight sat courtside.
This is how many points he scored in his first game after the Ohio High School Athletic Association threatened to suspend him for driving a Hummer: 50.
This is how many points he scored in his first game after the OHSAA actually did suspend him for wearing a couple of throwback jerseys: 52.
That was against Westchester (CA) High, a top-10 team featuring future NBA defensive specialist Trevor Ariza. This was in Trenton, New Jersey. Nine thousand people paid to watch.
I sat next to Danny Ainge.
This is how many points LeBron scored in his final high school game: 25.
He team scored 40. They won.
This is the record of LeBron’s teams during his four-year high school career: 101-6. Two of those losses came to Oak Hill Academy. One of those losses was a court-mandated forfeit.
Because of the jerseys.
This is how many times LeBron was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball: 3.
This is unprecedented.
This is how many times LeBron was named USA Today Player of the Year: 2.
Also: Four-year averages of 25 ppg, 8 rpg and 5 apg.
Also: Four state title game appearances.
And three state championships.
This was fairly easy.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.