Next In Line
This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
New York City is known for a lot of things — pizza, Times Square and the Notorious B.I.G., just to name a few. But in basketball circles, NYC is known for its point guards.
The City That Never Sleeps seems to produce playmakers the way Detroit cranks out cars. And this year's point guard model is the equivalent of an Escalade straight out of "Pimp My Ride," with chrome rims and a bumping sound system.
The latest heir to the throne previously occupied by Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair is Xaverian senior Levance Fields. Get familiar with the name, because you're going to be hearing it a lot in the future.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Fields might not have the speed of his aforementioned famous forerunners, but he has the one essential ingredient for any great city guard.
"In New York, if you're a great point guard, toughness is the one quality you're going to have," says ninth-year Xaverian head coach Jack Alesi. "They all have to be physically and mentally tough to survive.
"And the first thing I noticed about Levance was his toughness and determination. He has the heart of a lion."
That's the thing about Fields. He was never the can't-miss prospect. Nothing was ever handed to him on the court. In fact, he didn't play at all as a freshman due to a fractured left tibula and began his sophomore season on junior varsity.
He didn't stay there long.
Early in Fields' sophomore campaign, Xaverian's varsity scrimmaged Telfair's Lincoln squad. Telfair dominated and the Railsplitters rolled to an easy win. Alesi knew his team needed help in the backcourt, so he called up Fields, who had begun making noise on JV.
Fields went from broken leg to breaking ankles almost immediately. Two years later, he's being mentioned in the same breath as some of the best point guards in city history.
"I'm so happy that all my hard work paid off," says Fields, who is headed to Pittsburgh to play his college ball and is rated the nation's No. 83 recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com. "To be put in that category with all those other great guards is amazing, especially considering where I came from and what I've been through."
It never would've happened without the work ethic. As a sophomore, Fields had an average jump shot and was still learning how to run a team. Last year, the jumper was better and Fields became the leader Alesi wanted him to be. But as a senior, he took it to another level.
Fields, who has developed into a lethal outside shooter, acknowledges that he became more of a vocal leader this season. But to his coach, it's his leadership on the court that is most important.
"He worked real hard on his shooting, but most of what we talked about was leadership and making the players around him better," Alesi says. "If you're gonna be great as a point guard, you have to be a coach on the floor. As a junior, Levance reacted to things. As a senior, he's controlling them."
That's exactly what Fields likes to hear. He has taken his cue from North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton, whose up-tempo style appeals to the gunner in Fields. When he wasn't working on his jumper last summer, Fields was running suicides and getting in better shape so he could run all game long.
"I did a lot of running, so I'm always in shape," Fields says. "I don't want to ever be bending over and touching my knees during a game. I want to be like Felton at Carolina, real fast-paced, getting the ball and going, then coming back and picking up my man on D."
It all comes back to the heart Alesi loves to talk about. Though only 6 feet tall, Fields isn't afraid to go full speed into the paint and bang with guys nearly a foot taller. He will take the contact and keep going.
"Point guards come and go, but he's special in that he's a warrior," Alesi says. "I see him in the huddle during a first-quarter timeout and his jersey is soaking wet already. He goes at one speed the whole game and is tapping balls in over centers. He's as determined as anyone I've seen."
Fields has developed into a strong defensive player, but he's not going to pretend like it's his favorite thing in the world. The kid they call Lee-Lee plays defense because it's necessary to win. But like all great point guards, he loves having the ball in his hands.
"My favorite part of the game is offense — I'm not gonna lie and say defense," says Fields, who averaged 27 points, six assists and five rebounds per game this season. "Not just scoring, but I love to get the fancy assist. And not just any pass, but the kind that makes the crowd go ‘Ooooh.'"
That's a sound Fields has grown quite accustomed to hearing, especially during his senior year. He led the Clippers to their second consecutive Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan championship this season, then helped guide Xaverian to a 71-69 upset win over nationally ranked St. Mary's in the CHSAA Class AA state championship game. The Clippers' Cinderella postseason run finally ended with a 68-65 loss to nationally ranked Niagara Falls in the state Federation finals.
Now Fields will take his game to Pittsburgh, where he'll follow friend and former Xaverian teammate Chris Taft. The Panthers have developed a pipeline to New York, with four players from the city on their roster. St. John's made a strong push for Fields, and his choice came down to the Panthers and the Red Storm, but in the end he just felt more comfortable at Pitt.
Pittsburgh is a big-time program with lots of national exposure, and it presents Fields with a chance to move away from home and concentrate on school and basketball, something that playing for the hometown Johnnies might not have done.
"It came down to St. John's and Pitt, but I loved [Pitt's] campus and it seemed like the perfect fit with its tradition of New York point guards," says Fields. "It can become a Top 25 program, and I could get plenty of publicity there."
So after another outstanding year, the tricked-out Escalade is gassed up and ready for college. It's a new chapter for Fields and the conclusion of another chapter in the long book of great city guards. In a culture always looking for the next big thing, Fields has passed the mantle on.
No longer are we looking for the next Marbury or Telfair. The search is on for the next Levance Fields.