Good For You, Amare

Last year at this time, Amare Stoudemire was eyeing the Florida Mr. Basketball award. A year later, he's in the hunt for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Crazy isn't it?

Maybe on the surface it is, but Stoudemire is wiser and more advanced from a basketball perspective than most observers gave him credit for.

It seems like anyone and everyone who had ever formed an opinion about Stoudemire as a high school player talked about his problems or issues off the court. Rarely was he praised for what he could do in the painted area.

As a well-traveled high school senior, Stoudemire's world was filled with people and situations that could easily have brought him down. From his family situation to a relationship with a wayward minister, on the surface there seemed to be more reasons to plot his downfall than to track his rise to stardom.

Despite the distractions, investigations into his high school eligibility and overall negative vibes surrounding his off the court situation, Amare Stoudemire, the basketball player, actually flourished as a high school senior at Orlando Cypress Creek.

He flourished in the sense that his game continued to improve. Controversy swirled around him at the school. The question of the character of the characters that were around him consistently made headlines. Sure, he was averaging 29 points and 15 rebounds a game but that somehow never sank in with the basketball community.

Amare Stoudemire, so they would say, might not ever play a meaningful game outside of high school.

At last year's Jordan Capital Classic, Stoudemire's skill, strength and power made the rest of the participants look average. He conducted an open audition for the NBA scouts in that game and still people had their questions.

"What's his basketball IQ like?" scouts would question. "Can he score with skill in the NBA?" was another popular theme. "Can he actually keep the money he earns away from his posse?"

On draft day eight teams passed on him until Phoenix stepped up to the plate with the No. 9 pick. I distinctly remember being on the road last summer hearing some NBA guys talk about him. The theme was great talent but he didn't know the Suns' plays. Again, the doubters spoke with a louder voice than the believers.

Through all of this rarely did we hear Stoudemire complain about the bad publicity or unfair treatment he received while being under a microscope. No, all he did was stick with what he knew how to do best: score with power and rebound. Stoudemire is a great NBA prospect because he knows who he is and plays to his strength.

This kid thinks he can dunk on anyone. Always has. Since we first saw him it was clear his power was his greatest overall strength in his game. In an era where so many guys spend so much time trying to be someone they're not on the court, Stoudemire, despite all the distractions around him, never ever strayed from his strength.

So here we are, almost a year after his exit from high school to his arrival in the NBA. He's already scored 38 points in an NBA game and has a career-high of 21 rebounds in a game. The kid who supposedly had no one around him that could help set him straight figured it out on his own and he's made it look easy.

The kid who most pegged as being so wrong for high school ball turned out to be so right for the NBA. Good for you, Amare.

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