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Young man with a BIG future

Orlando Cypress Creek's Amare Stoudemire, 19, is the center of attention as a 6-foot-10, 240-pound phenom destined for the NBA.

By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 4, 2001


ORLANDO -- Amare Stoudemire's story is not his own.

It is the story of the troubled family that spawned the 19-year-old, NBA-caliber prodigy. It is the story of a father who died in his sleep, of a mother putting her life back together after two decades of legal trouble, and an older brother in prison.

It is the story of the nation's consensus No. 1 prep basketball talent and future first-round NBA draft pick, and the adults drawn to his prodigious, and lucrative, talents.

It is the story of the reverend and former adviser, now serving his latest stint in prison for bribery.

It is the story of the youth coach with connections to Adidas and the University of Memphis who once took in Stoudemire.

It is the story of the Nike representative who gave Stoudemire's mother $100 while she was in jail, endangering his high school eligibility.

It is the story of the public relations specialist who passed out press kits and business cards to reporters at the Nike summer camp Stoudemire starred at.

These stories and more have been told time and again, on HBO's Real Sports and ESPN's Outside the Lines, and in countless newspaper articles.

"It makes you mad," Stoudemire said. "But that's all right man. Life goes on."

But what about Stoudemire? What's his story?

"They don't know his heart," said his mother, Carrie. "They don't know he's a loving guy. They don't know he's been really, really hurt by all this. They don't know nothing about him. All they know about him is he's gifted, all they can see is what he's going to be, they don't know him at all."

Orlando Cypress Creek coach Earl Barnett said: "No one actually knows who Amare Stoudemire is."

Who is Amare Stoudemire?

Everyone who knows basketball knows this: The center stands 6-foot-10 and weighs 240 pounds. He wears size 16 Nike Foamposites. Mentally and physically, he towers over the high school game. He benches 245 pounds and has a 36-inch vertical leap.

His athleticism allows him to play above the rim on both ends of the court. He can take off from the top of the key to dunk or block. He is unstoppable within 15 feet of the basket. He is so quick he can strip the ball from a player half his size. His intensity during practices and games never wavers; he screams and shouts and struts whether he's swatting a junior varsity shot or dunking in a varsity game.

In short, he is awesome.

Last year high-schoolers Kwame Brown went No. 1, Tyson Chandler No. 2 and Eddy Curry No. 4 in the NBA draft. But Clark Francis, editor of the Hoop Scoop Online, said Stoudemire could have been taken over all three.

"I'd rate him higher than those guys," Francis said. "I don't know if he's as skilled, but he might be more naturally talented, more explosive around the basket, and he wants it more."

He certainly doesn't lack confidence.

"My goal, as far as basketball goes, is to be the greatest player of all time," Stoudemire said, "and people fail to realize that, so I'm working hard every day until I become another Michael Jordan, another Julius Erving, another Bill Russell-type of ballplayer."

Desire and self-assurance set Stoudemire apart.

"Michael Jordan told me, "Every time you step onto the court, you play hard, and if you don't, that's how you get injured,' " Stoudemire said. "I've had this type of confidence ever since the age of 14."

Stoudemire averages 19.8 points and 12.3 rebounds for 2-2 Cypress Creek. "He plays with an aggressiveness that is just out of this world," Barnett said. "He has a tremendous work ethic. It's like he's a man in a boy's body ... except I don't know how many boys are 6-10."

Stoudemire said he plays the way his father, Hazell, would have wanted him to play.

"I have no fears in life, period," he said. "I can achieve anything I put my mind to. Those are the last words my dad ever told me."

Like most recruiting gurus, analyst Rob Harrington of PrepStars.com has Stoudemire ranked No. 1.

"(He's) one of the most explosive and aggressive big guys you'll see around the basket," Harrington said. "He's one of those players, every time he touches the ball, people get excited because something might happen."

What hasn't happened to Stoudemire?

Born in Lake Wales, Stoudemire was 12 when his mother took him and his brothers to New York. Two weeks later, his father died of a heart attack. His mother has been in and out of the criminal justice system, mostly for theft-related charges, since 1974. His brother, Hazell Jr., 24, was a prep basketball star at Bradenton Southeast but is serving three to nine years in a New York prison on drug and sexual abuse charges.

On the court, Stoudemire's life has been just as chaotic. He has attended six schools in two years and sat out his junior season because the Florida High School Activities Association declared him academically ineligible.

Through summer school and night classes, Stoudemire regained his eligibility for his senior season, said he has a 2.5 GPA and will take the SAT in January. His coach said Stoudemire is on schedule to graduate. Rebuilding his life hasn't been easy. Consider the cast of characters it has included:

Travis King, whom Stoudemire and his younger brother, Marwan, lived with for 16 months. It was with King that Stoudemire decided to attend a camp sponsored by Adidas (for whom King coaches) and to give an oral commitment to Memphis (with whom King is associated). King brought Stoudemire to Orlando and was accused by HBO of trying to use him to obtain an Orlando coaching job, a charge King denied. Stoudemire later broke with King.

George Raveling, the Nike representative and former Southern Cal coach who gave Stoudemire's mother $100 while she was in a Polk County jail. He said it was his own money and had nothing to do with Nike. Stoudemire later switched summer camps, from Adidas to Nike, but he said it was because he was looking for new competition.

John Adkins, one of Stoudemire's former youth coaches who later posted $1,000 bail for Carrie Stoudemire. Adkins, a Nike-affiliated coach, said he did it as a favor to the family. In August, the FHSAA cleared Stoudemire to play after deciding that Raveling's and Adkins' actions benefitted Carrie Stoudemire, and not her son.

Marc Little, the Jacksonville-based publicist who showed up at the Nike camp, passing out press kits and his business card to reporters. Little said he was working for free, and Stoudemire said the publicist is close to the family.

The Rev. Bill Williams Jr., the Orlando contractor who became a Stoudemire adviser after the latter's break with King. Williams once testified to the FHSAA that he was Stoudemire's legal guardian. But Stoudemire later said he was unaware that Williams had served three prison sentences. In May, Williams went back to prison to serve a 41-month sentence for bribing the Tampa Housing Authority planning director in 1995. Stoudemire said the family broke off all contact.

"The worst part was Reverend Williams," Stoudemire said. "Because I kind of figured he was a down-to-earth type of guy, and it turned out he's not."

Carrie Stoudemire, 46, is harsh on those who were once involved in her son's life.

"They didn't really care for Amare as a regular child," she said. "They just saw what he was going to be. They didn't love him for who he was, but what he could be."

Those days, Stoudemire said, are long over.

He, his brother, Marwan, and their mother have been reunited, and the family lives in an Orlando apartment where she works and counsels teens on substance abuse.

"It wasn't a pleasant trip, but God found a way," his mother said. "I've seen this coming, it was just a matter of getting out and getting together with my family and getting those others out of the way. They were taking him for a joyride."

So what else is there to know about Stoudemire?

"I try to have fun with everything I do," he said. "People forget I'm still a kid, even though we have all this quote-unquote "business' going on."

He doesn't mind the pressure of being the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit. "It feels good, to tell you the truth," he said. "But you have to make sure it doesn't give you a big head. A lot of players who become No. 1 in the country say, "Oh, I can come to practice late and just shoot around because I'm No. 1.'

"You've got to work on being No. 1, because you may be No. 1 at this level, but at the next maybe you're just in the top 50."

In fact, Stoudemire almost enjoys his notoriety.

"As a matter of fact, it's been kind of fun," he said. "Because I love signing autographs."

Stoudemire has brought Cypress Creek into the spotlight with him. Last season, Barnett's first, the team went 15-13 for its first winning record in the school's 10-year history. Attendance has risen from averaging 100 a game to about 1,000. Video cameras follow Stoudemire all over the court, and fans trade NBA scout sightings.

Stoudemire said the chances are "50-50" he will declare for the draft, but he is hoping a college will try to recruit him. He gets no recruiting letters whatsoever, and has asked his coach to call around and let coaches know he is available.

But he changes his mind, like any teen. One week Stoudemire said Memphis is "hands down" his choice, the next he said "it's wide-open."

But since age 8, what never has been in doubt is his dream to play in the NBA.

On his right bicep is tattooed STAT -- Standing Tall And Talented. On his left, Stoudemire dreams of tattooing the NBA logo and this inscription:

"Many are picked," he said, "but few are chosen."

-- Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report, which uses information from other news organizations.

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