This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Whenever Dwyer senior shooting guard Alonzo Gee has a lot on his mind, he invariably ends up at the courts along Windsor Avenue, near his house. If he needs time to think things through, Gee heads for a basketball court.
"Basketball takes my mind off of everything," says the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Gee (pronounced JEE). "It's something you just do to get away."
It's understandable that a guy rated the nation's No. 25 shooting guard in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com and headed for the University of Alabama on a full scholarship next year might have a lot on his mind.
Like, for example, how a quiet, unassuming kid who took a back seat to talented upperclassmen his entire career could turn himself into an on-court leader after a breakout summer that transformed him from a relative unknown on the national scene into a blue-chip basketball commodity.
"As a leader, you've got to give the rest of the team somebody to look up to," says Gee, who averaged 15 points and seven rebounds per game as a junior on a state championship team with two college-bound guards already in its backcourt. "It wasn't natural for me to be that guy, but I realized if I want to be recruited and win another state championship, it's gotta be this way. I gotta be that guy."
It wasn't long ago that Gee was just another guy. He played a key role in the Panthers' run to the Class 5A state championship last season but was a definitive understudy to All-State guard Corey Young, who is now a freshman at Carson-Newman College (Tenn.), and Leemire Goldwire, Florida's 2004 Class 5A Mr. Basketball and now a freshman point guard at UNC-Charlotte.
With talent like that on the Panthers' roster, there were only so many backcourt minutes to go around. But instead of resenting his relegation to late-bloomer status, Gee is quick to praise his good fortune, insisting that he benefited far more from having star role models than from having to play a starring role before he was ready.
"It was so helpful playing with a couple of players who had the talent and who got me motivated to play hard," says Gee, who will turn 18 on May 29. "They made me work hard, and it really paid off."
No kidding. As recently as last July, Gee was still only considered a mid-major college prospect. That's when he broke out on the national stage and led his AAU Tallahassee Wildcats to the adidas Showtime National Championship title, earning tournament MVP honors in the process. The rest of his summer went pretty much the same way, highlighted by his selection to the adidas Super 64 All-Tournament team.
"I told him when he came to high school that he had the ability to be the best we've ever had at Dwyer," says Panthers 13th-year coach Fred Ross, 52, a former DeLand High and Stetson University guard. "Now, this is a very humble kid. His first three years here, he learned a lot from talented players around him. He soaked it all up. Then he just had a great summer last summer."
Still, you have to wonder: What's the big deal all of a sudden? Did Gee's game elevate or did the people who matter just finally notice him?
"I think people finally saw the kind of player I am over a lot of minutes," says Gee, who came off the bench for Dwyer as a freshman before becoming part of a backcourt rotation as a sophomore. "Over the summer, recruiters realized that I could shoot and that I'm a big guard. They saw that I go to the rack real strong."
So, here we have the reluctant leader. The guy who sometimes just needs to be alone with his thoughts and a hoop. And we're supposed to believe that this mild-mannered kid, who serves up helping after helping of humble pie, is actually a killer on the court?
"Hey, on the court I don't have no friends," says Gee.
He sure plays like that, showcasing a game that makes Ross comfortable inserting Gee anywhere on the floor from the point to power forward. In an overtime clash against Jacksonville's Ribault High earlier this season, Gee shot 6-for-6 from the floor and scored 13 points in the extra session to put the Trojans away.
"He took over the game, and he's capable of doing that every time out," says Ross, who had twice coached Dwyer to the state semifinals before last year's championship season. "But he gets his teammates involved. He's very good with the ball in his hands. He's got great moves, he gets to the basket and he can shoot the 3-ball. Mostly, he creates shots off his dribble. He makes two moves, and the next thing you know, he's slamming down a dunk."
Of course, when an elite player's stock suddenly rises, particularly the way Gee's has skyrocketed virtually overnight, the pressure to deliver each and every night takes a corresponding leap. It is pressure that Gee, evidently, was somehow prepared for. Perhaps thanks to those long, lonely hours along Windsor Avenue.
"I'm not feeling too much pressure," says Gee.
"I think it's because I'm very focused on one thing: I want us to win another state championship. I just feel like anybody who really judges my performances is just jealous for what I did. That just makes me work harder."