Calera's Drake 'a highlight waiting to happen'

Calera (Ala.) High School's George Drake, the reigning Alabama Class 2A Player of the Year, averaged 27.2 points per game and shot 59 percent from the floor in a memorable junior season in 2003-04. "He's a highlight waiting to happen," says Coach Robert Burdette. Two SEC schools have offered Drake, but a couple of others are trying to get involved.

In the course of an outstanding coaching career, Calera (Ala.) High School basketball coach Robert Burdette has already had the good fortune of mentoring one marvelously stupendous backcourt player. In the early 1990's, Burdette coached 6-1 guard Darryl Wilson, who went on to become Mississippi State's all-time leading three-point shooter and led the Bulldogs to the 1996 Final Four.

So when Burdette mentions he is currently coaching a player that reminds him in many ways of Wilson, it's time to sit up and pay attention. The player he refers to is senior George Drake, the reigning Alabama Class 2A Player of the Year. Over a memorable junior season in 2003-04, the 6-4 guard averaged 27.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists. He shot 59 percent from the floor, 41 percent from 3-point line, and 79 percent from the free throw line.

"He's a highlight waiting to happen," says Burdette of Drake. "He's led us to the state championship game the last three years in a row. His varsity record here is 90-14 over three years, so Calera High School has had some success. And a lot of it is because of George Drake."

Drake's abilities have thus far drawn the interest of schools such as Alabama, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Auburn, UAB, Southern Mississippi, and most recently Boston College. Alabama and Vanderbilt have offered.

The highlight of Drake's summer came July 15 in Montgomery, when he led the North to a blowout victory in the Alabama High School All-Star game, a showcase for the state's rising senior prospects. Drake played only 19 minutes, but made the most of them-- his 12 points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal were enough to earn him the game's MVP trophy.

Despite the fact that the game coincided with the Nike Peach Jam and Showtime National Championship camps, at least four SEC head coaches went out of their way to be present for the game. Among them were Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, Alabama's Mark Gottfried, LSU's John Brady and Auburn's Jeff Lebo.

"It was typical George Drake," Burdette said. "He was 6-for-11. He's almost always going to shoot for a high percentage. For us last year he was 59 percent from the floor. He's going to give the ball up when he needs to.

"He can defend people. He's a good rebounder from the guard spot. I think that's why people like him, because he can do a number of things.

"Athletically, he's 6-4, 205 pounds, very, very gifted athletically-- runs the floor well, and has tremendous vertical jumping ability. He's got lateral quickness that allows him to guard people on the defensive end. He's a pretty good package as far as his physical abilities are concerned.

"One of the things people like about him is that he's not a one-dimensional player. He doesn't just shoot it, or he doesn't just take it to the basket. He shot about 41 percent from the 3-point line. He's got an intermediate game, where he can make those 15- or 18-footers. Off the dribble he creates his own shot.

"And he's big and strong enough to get the ball all the way to the basket."

Though Drake was the tallest member of last year's Calera team, Burdette deployed him mostly on the wing. Yet Drake demonstrated his versatility in a memorable game against Pelham, in which he ended up playing all five positions-- the point guard, the shooting guard, the 3, the 4 and the 5.

"He ended up with 48 points that night-- but then he's also got 13 rebounds, and he shoots 11-of-14 from the line. It was such a complete performance, that it was just amazing," says his coach.

The college coaches who've contacted Burdette project Drake as a dandy 2-guard at the next level.

"He's physically strong enough to slide over and play the 3 some," Burdette said. "He has the body to do that. He's not a 6-4, 180-pound kid... he's 205 pounds, and he can guard people at that 3-spot who are 6-5 or 6-6, even though he's a natural 2-guard."

The summer camp circuit can make or break a prospect in the eyes of college coaches, and the camps were not particularly kind to Drake. He attended the NBA Players Association camp in June and the Nike Camp in July, but those, along with the North-South All-Star Game, were his only appearances of the summer.

"One of the things that has hampered George a little bit this summer is that he's been hurt," Burdette said. "He's dealt with a sprained ankle, and it seems like every time he gets to feeling pretty good, he'll tweak it a little bit. He actually got hurt at the Nike Camp the week before, so even at the All-Star Game he wasn't 100 percent.

"He had some other opportunities, but the injured foot has really held him back. He would call and say, 'Coach, I don't have any explosion. I don't have any quickness.' We-- his parents and I-- felt it best that he try to get that thing well."

The other reason Drake may be a bit under-recruited at this point is that he has consistently shunned AAU basketball, said Burdette.

"When people come and see him play, they realize he didn't have to play AAU. That's just not his personality. Not that he doesn't like to play, but he just doesn't like that atmosphere.

"Anytime I say anything about George Drake, I always have to start with character. He's an outstanding person, and I think that's what makes George what he is. He's very coachable, and a very well-rounded person from a social standpoint.

"Coach Stallings at Vanderbilt and Jeff Jackson, who's done most of the recruiting of George, would really like to have him at Vanderbilt. He's already qualified academically, and they're in a situation where they can't go out and recruit just anyone. He fits with them. He fits with the character of their team. They would really, really like to have George in Nashville."

Burdette is on a first-name basis with Alabama's Mark Gottfried as well.

"[Alabama has] recruited him hard, especially during the season. They offered him back in February. I haven't talked with them as much of late. I've probably dealt with Phillip Pearson more than Mark. As far as I know, the offer is still there, and it's a matter of George deciding what he wants to do."

Mississippi State showed Drake some early interest, but has apparently cooled a bit (the Bulldogs have never offered). UAB has scheduled a home visit to talk with Drake, and Auburn (under new coach Jeff Lebo) is trying to get involved late in the process.

"[Auburn's] Coach Ellis recruited him throughout the year," Burdette said. "With that coaching change, Coach Lebo has tried to move in late and get in for a home visit.

"I see George as a kid who's going to stay relatively close to home. He likes family. He's not interested in going somewhere far off, like a Kansas, or a UCLA."

Those colleges who have overlooked Drake may one day live to regret it, assures Burdette.

"People will someday come to know the name George Drake-- because of the way he is both on and off the court. A lot of people won't recruit him, and they're going to have to play against him one day." Top Stories