Q+A: Manchild’s Marcus Gradney
A conversation with the director of a new Schea Cotton documentary.
SLAM: Is it safe to say Schea helped evolve the prep AAU system into what it is today?
MG: Oh! Schea was the entire reason AAU basketball got so crazy in California and all over the nation. Period. Think about it, you’ve got a guy in 9th grade, who everyone thought was so much older, but he wasn’t. Players would look at him and think, “There’s no way we can be playing him.” Before we even got to high school, Schea was 10 years old playing with 14-year-olds and killing! Schea was so explosive off his first step by 8th grade that he was just throwing down in-game dunk contest-style slams. Anyone on the West Coast during the Schea Cotton era was trying to play like him. He was a legend before he even made it to high school. He was a trendsetter. Before him, teams were sponsored by local churches and community groups. Nike had Schea in Nike everything. And I mean everything. There’s a story going around that Nike sent a trailer full of socks to [AAU Coach] Pat Barrett’s home—a trailer full of them! It was just crazy.
SLAM: People get caught up in the fact that, by most standards, he didn’t pan out. Would you say—
MG: I don’t think he didn’t pan out. I think the media got tired of talking about him at an early age. They had said all they could about him. When Schea got hurt, it made room for people like Baron and others from his class to stand out even more. My first cut of the documentary was completely hyping him up. But I turned away from that. I didn’t want people to take that as, “oh that’s just a legend blah blah blah.” So I toned it down a bit. He was NBA good. There’s no question about that.
SLAM: So you’re saying there was a media bias that prevented Schea from advancing more?
MG: It is what it is. I don’t think you can blame the media for a kid’s downfall. But when he got hurt, the attention definitely shifted. The good reporters kept talking about him—[J.A.] Adande, [Frank] Burlison, [Bill] Plaschke—they all wrote a bunch of articles on him. After high school, his journey was just different. People think he fell off after he got hurt. But he dominated in prep school. Then he went to Long Beach City College and was California Ju-Co POY, averaging 26 PPG and 7 RPG. Then he goes to Alabama and averages 15 PPG and 4.5 RPG and makes 2nd team All-Conference. But he still wasn’t drafted? He put up better stats in the SEC than most people and still wasn’t drafted. I can’t explain it.
SLAM: Schea’s problems with the SAT seemed to be the snowball that turned into an avalanche. It led to him being more of a collegiate nomad than a player. How does the lack of continuity factor into all this?
MG: In the documentary, Schea and his parents both address the SAT controversy. They also talk about why he left Mater Dei and all that. These are the questions that people don’t know the answers to, but they will. I have to call BS on that nomad stuff, though. Michael Beasley went to four high schools. Amare [Stoudemire] went to six. There’s Brandon Jennings, Mailk Story and so on. No one was following these guys when they were in middle school. I’m talking about an 11-year-old child, whose team is sponsored by Nike. At 14, the heads of Nike were at his house eating with his parents. These new guys who made it didn’t have that. There’s no pamphlet for how to be a superstar at 12 years old. It’s so much easier to say he was a bust as opposed to saying teams just didn’t want to draft him, for whatever reasons. The numbers don’t lie throughout his whole career. On draft day, Schea was 21 years old. He was in one of the top conferences, the SEC, averaging 16 a game, and you’re saying he didn’t deserve a draft slot?
SLAM: Then, why? As the maker of this documentary and a first-person witness to Schea’s game, why do you think Schea didn’t make it?
MG: That’s a good question. What do I think happened? Nothing happened. Schea never did anything differently from any other player that deserved blackballing. Who knows? Because there’s no way coaches didn’t know who Schea was. He earned his name, his reputation. People always say this and that but Schea never got caught smoking weed, taking money, getting drunk, stealing, none of that! He didn’t do anything wrong. People will always say, “Oh Marcus, you’re biased,” but it’s not about that. He lived in this bubble for years. The kid needed a break. I can’t put my hands on it. I have no concrete answer to give you. There were factors, but no determinant factor. The sum of the equation, it just doesn’t add up.
SLAM: So what’s the most important thing people can take away from this documentary? What should today’s players take away from this documentary?
MG: Hopefully, they take this away: It doesn’t matter how big you are. Being labeled a “sure-shot prospect” doesn’t mean anything. If you piss the wrong people off, you might not make it. This kid [Schea] was supposed to be second coming, but it just didn’t happen. I always use Derrick Williams as an example. He wasn’t ranked anything coming out of high school and now he’s the No. 2 pick in the Draft. They need to stop believing how good they are. Stay in the gym, hit those books harder, and they shouldn’t have any problems. Either, you’re really good and they’ll take the baggage—in most cases. Or you have no baggage and you’ll make it. Period. Schea was really, really, really good and they still didn’t take it. Nothing is promised. When you are being told at 11 years old, by credible people, that you’re going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft in eight years. that’s going to mess your head up. Hopefully, the players just learn humility. It’s also for the parents though: Stop going crazy when your kid is ranked in high school. Stop believing the hype. The way to make it is to work hard. Always, period. I know—we know—the system is messed up. It needs an overhaul, but until that happens, just stay humble and work hard.