Loyal 2 The Game
This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
When you're 16 years old and have college coaches sweating you daily and NBA scouts tracking your progress, it's hard not to get ahead of yourself.
Just ask Riverdale Baptist sophomores Michael Beasley and Nolan Smith.
Although Smith readily admits he's light years away from living up to Kobe Bryant comparisons and Beasley scoffs at being likened to Lamar Odom, the duo can't help but get wrapped up in the hype that surrounds them. Especially when there are whispers that they could eventually become the first pair of prep teammates to make the jump from high school to the NBA.
"We joke about it all day," Beasley says. "We say we're going to go to the league the same time, go number one and two. But we never really talk about it seriously. We just joke around about it."
As level-headed as he tries to keep his stars, Riverdale Baptist coach Louis Wilson knows those whispers are warranted. He knows NBA reps aren't regulars at Crusaders games to scout the cheerleaders.
"The potential is there," says Wilson, who coached NBA players Steve Francis and Rodney White in AAU ball. "I think the sky's the limit for both of them. They have the skills, and I think they have the fortitude to go as far as they want to go."
Of the two, Beasley is more likely to actually make the jump when the time comes.
Although Beasley — who reclassified from the Class of 2008 to the Class of 2007 before this school year and is now the second-ranked baller nationally in his class — has already committed to UNC Charlotte, he's not shy about his ideal destination.
"I don't want to keep my hopes up too high, but if I have the chance to go to the NBA, I'll go to the NBA," says Beasley, a SchoolSports All-American who averaged 20.1 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks per game this year. "But as of now I'm going to Charlotte."
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound left-handed power forward with an NBA-ready body is a true inside-outside threat on both ends of the floor. He collects rebounds like Alicia Keys collects Grammys and has a versatile offensive game.
"He's left-handed, but I tell you, he can do a lot of different things with his right hand, too," says Wilson. "He's very crafty around the basket. If you give him an inch, he'll take a mile and dunk it on you."
Smith's future, on the other hand, is somewhat dependant on natural forces. A pure shooting guard who weights in at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Smith's body is far from NBA ready. Doctors, however, expect him to grow another three or four inches based on his size-18 shoes. And if he does before graduating, the league could come calling.
The skills are definitely there, as evidenced by his 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals per game this year. Rated the nation's No. 4 recruit in the sophomore class by SchoolSports.com, Smith has a smooth jumper, is great in traffic, has 20/20 court vision and, according to Wilson, is most impressive on defense.
"To me, he has pretty much the entire package," says Wilson, who led the Crusaders to their second straight national Christian schools title this year. "If he continues to work, it's scary how good he can be."
While Beasley and Smith head toward the same destination, the paths they took to this point couldn't have been any different.
Although he's blessed with excellent athleticism and agility, Beasley admittedly didn't put his natural talent to good use until recently. Growing up more or less without a father, Beasley ran with the wrong crowd, goofing off in school and stumbling through his pre-teen and early teen years.
He spent two and a half years in eighth grade, attended a handful of middle schools and spent last year at IMG Academy — a private boarding school in Florida known for training world-class athletes — before resurfacing as a sophomore this year.
Although he plays hoops for Riverdale Baptist, Beasley won't enroll in the school until next year at the earliest. He is currently being home schooled while preparing for Riverdale's rigorous academic load and says he's learned more since September than he did in the previous three years combined.
"If I'm in a class with a lot of kids, I tend to goof off," Beasley says. "With home school, it's just me and the teacher. It really helps me focus on what I need to do. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, school-wise, so this is the consequence I've got to pay to be where I want to be."
Smith, on the other hand, grew up as a well- mannered hoop prodigy before enrolling at Riverdale Baptist this year after averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists per game as a freshman at St. John's last season.
Smith, who dunked for the first time as a seventh-grader, has spent his life following in the footsteps of his father, the late Derek Smith, who starred at Louisville, spent parts of nine seasons in the NBA and was an assistant coach for the Washington Bullets before passing away in 1996.
Thanks to his dad, the younger Smith was surrounded by NBA players and coaches as a youngster, learning fundamentals from pros at an age when most kids are relegated to NERF hoops.
"I've always had a ball in my hands," says Smith, who's looking at Louisville, Duke, Syracuse and Charlotte while keeping his NBA options open.
Beasley and Smith's paths crossed for the first time four years ago when they faced each other on the AAU circuit. They forged a bond through basketball right away and now consider each other brothers.
"It's funny," Beasley says. "Before I met him, I just thought he was an arrogant rich kid. But as our friendship has progressed, him and me started laughing all day. The way he grew up, he knows all right. By me staying with him all day, I'm getting into the habit of doing right."
"He's always a good person, always smiling," Smith says. "Mike has fun in life — he's never too serious, never frustrated by little things. I take that from him."
In addition to sharing dreams of making NBA history, the two share a bedroom under the same roof. They live with their D.C. Assault AAU coach, Curtis Malone, and his fiancée, Monica Smith, who is Nolan's mother. Malone will officially become Nolan's stepfather when he marries Monica this fall, but it didn't take legal bonds for a father-son relationship to form.
"Since my father is no longer around to talk to, I go to Curtis whenever I have something serious to talk about," Nolan says. "He's like a father, a coach, everything to me."
Beasley, meanwhile, has been staying with Malone on and off for three years because his mother, Fatima Smith, lives nearly an hour away from D.C.
"I know my father, but he wasn't there for me as a child," Beasley says. "[Malone] is the first big male influence in my life. Anything I need, he'll do it for me."
Right now, with the hype already snowballing to epic proportions, Malone might be the perfect guy to keep Beasley and Smith humble.
"Truthfully speaking, I had a kid in [Denver Nuggets guard DerMarr Johnson] who they were saying could be the first sophomore or junior to go out," Malone says. "I just don't want these kids to get caught up in the hype."