Up Close: Rodney Purvis, Part I

RALEIGH, N.C. --- The shelf life for high school accolades in college basketball is pretty short. Your reputation might get you through the first day of practice but after that the clock resets. You've got to prove yourself all over again.

No one knows this better than Upper Room Academy coach Avie Lester. When Lester was a freshman basketball player at N.C. State in 1986, he remembers coach Jim Valvano explaining to him and the other freshmen their place on the college basketball totem pole.

"'There are five McDonald's All Americans sitting in this room,'" Lester recalls Valvano saying. "'The best player at their high school, the best player in their district, is sitting in this room. So what's going to make you different?'"

Lester thinks of that speech whenever he sees 2012 guard Rodney Purvis play. He sees the talent. He sees the potential. He sees the attention -- and that's why he pushes Purvis. He wants to make sure the 6-foot-3 guard doesn't peak at age 16.

"I always tell him and the other kids, don't get comfortable where you are," Lester said. "Just because a college recruits you and offers you a scholarship, when you step on campus, there might be four of you there."

At the high school level Purvis has the tools to score almost any time he touches the ball. He has great quickness and bounce. He's strong. He can get to the rim whenever he wants. But Lester knows that's not good enough.

At 6-foot-3, Purvis is going to have to play point guard at the next level. There's no way around it. So while he can score 30, 40, 50 points in a high school game by taking it to the rim every play, it doesn't do him any good in the long run.

He's shown flashes of point guard skills but he has to prove he can do it consistently.

"I don't want him to play two-guard for us just because it helps us and then four years down the line he didn't develop well enough to be a point guard," Lester said. "I want him to be a complete player."

Purvis knows it, too. When he watches film of himself he sees a talented basketball player with some pronounced tendencies.

"When I catch the ball, I'm real hesitant (to shoot) because my first instinct is to try to get to the basket," Purvis said. "Now people are just coming out half way and forcing me to shoot it. I just really don't feel comfortable shooting it but I will. I'm getting more confident."

That added confidence isn't an accident. Lester forces Purvis out of his comfort zone and makes him adapt. It's been that way since they met each other two years ago.

When Purvis was on the eighth grade team at Upper Room, Lester wouldn't allow him to shoot layups after they got up by more than 15 points. Either Purvis shot a jumper or he didn't shoot. That philosophy didn't make Lester popular back then but it forced Purvis to work on a pull-up jumper he utilizes today.

This season the challenges involve the honing of Purvis' point guard skills. In practice Purvis goes through every drill as a point guard. In games, Lester creates more obstacles to force Purvis to progress.

During Upper Room's first game of the season, Purvis was dominating a bigger Quality Education Academy team but his teammates were struggling. At haltime, Lester challenged Purvis to get his teammates involved and the junior responded, dishing out six assists to go with his 27 second-half points.

Lester's big-picture thinking has rubbed off on Purvis, too. The junior is studying game tape more closely and working to more thoroughly understand his weaknesses. Early this season Purvis has noticed himself attacking the basket from the same spots on the floor every possession.

"Throughout my basketball career I've been pretty ball dominant and people talk about how I don't really move when I don't have the ball in my hand," Purvis said. "So I really started to pay attention when I was watching film of myself and I saw how bad it looked to just be standing somewhere not moving."

This was an aspect of Purvis' game Lester pointed out before the season but it took Purvis seeing it for himself for it to set in.

"I really understand what he was saying now," Purvis said. "It's hard for the defense to adjust if you're switching and going to different spots every time. It helps me out even more."

Lester says the next step for Purvis is to learn how to catch and shoot. When Purvis can run off two screens and hit a spot-up jumper, that will add another spot on the court he can score from.

"If you can take him off the dribble and you can find teammates and you can run off screens and spot up and shoot, that's a hard player to guard," Lester said.

While Lester is determined to make Purvis a complete player on the floor, he's stayed out of the recruiting fray off it.

Purvis has received scholarship offers from Duke, Xavier, Louisville, Va. Tech, Ga. Tech and Wake Forest. And the North Carolina staff let him know last week that it plans to ramp up its interest. But even though Lester has experience being recruited by high-major schools, he's taken a hands off approach to Purvis' recruiting process.

"When he walks through the door, I don't want him thinking about his recruiting. I want him thinking about school," Lester said. "If he asks me something, I'll be more than willing to give him advice on it. But I don't want him to have to deal with that when he comes here."

Check back tomorrow for Part II of InsideCarolina.com's on-location feature …

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