This article appears in the December 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Detroit Country Day junior Alex Legion met up with Chris Webber this summer to work out and talk some hoops.
C-Webb's presence would leave a lot of young ballers awestruck, but Legion was too busy getting an earful of trash talk from Webber, a Country Day grad who played for the Yellowjackets before starring at Michigan and in the NBA.
"He wasn't very happy," says Legion, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard who's rated the nation's No. 14 recruit in the Class of 2007 by SchoolSports.com. "He said we've got to pick up the tradition. He said to stay humble and keep working and everything will fall into place. I know that he's watching. Everyone is saying we should win the state title."
Legion has quite a legacy to live up to. During the past two decades, the Yellowjackets have produced NBA stars Webber and Shane Battier, both of whom won three consecutive state titles from their sophomore to senior seasons (Webber from 1989-91 and Battier from 1995-97).
Legion is the latest superstar recruit to come through the program, but unlike Webber and Battier he failed to win a state title his sophomore season as Country Day was edged, 64-62, by Detroit Renaissance in the Class B state quarterfinals last season.
Legion is keen enough to realize that people expect him to lead Country Day to a state crown, but he's mature enough to not let the pressure get to him. Instead, he'd like to create his own path, not force himself to be like Webber or Battier.
"There's a little bit of pressure since [Webber and Battier] both won three state titles," says Legion. "But I wasn't concerned about following their footsteps. I'm more concerned with making my own."
And that's just fine in the eyes of Kurt Keener, who's now in his 28th year as head coach of the Yellowjackets. Keener, who entered this season with a career record of 496-148, coached both Webber and Battier to those state crowns and knows a thing or two about talented players. Which is why you tend to listen when he speaks about his latest star pupil.
"Alex has that type of phenomenal talent," says Keener. "I always thought I was blessed to have two once-in-a-lifetime players in Chris Webber and Shane Battier, but now I'd have to put Alex in that category, too."
Legion started getting serious about the hardwood in the fourth grade thanks to his mother, Annette Williams. Williams starred at Detroit Northeastern and West Texas and was the first female hoops player from Detroit to play overseas, according to Legion.
"I was always interested in basketball, and my mom got me into the game," says Legion. "Once she saw that I had an interest, she pushed me to get better."
So Legion ended up joining the Detroit Shockers AAU program, coached by his godfather, Tim Green (Legion now plays AAU ball for the Hurricanes, coached by Green). Legion lit up the scoreboard on the local scene and then took his game to another level against the country's top players at AAU Nationals.
After performing well in middle school on the AAU circuit, picking the right high school was key to Legion's progression as a player. Country Day seemed like the logical choice because of its history of hoop success.
Legion started as a freshman for the Yellowjackets but endured some growing pains. Prior to high school, he was used to regularly putting up 30 points against middle school opponents. As a freshman, however, he found it tough to consistently put up big numbers against varsity competition as Country Day went 14-8 and lost in districts, something that is unheard of for the Yellowjackets.
Although Legion still averaged an impressive 15 points and six rebounds per game as a freshman, he wasn't satisfied. So he went to work on his game, and it showed last season. Legion was named to both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News Class B All-State teams after averaging 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game and leading the Yellowjackets to the state quarterfinals as a sophomore.
"It was an adjustment going up against older kids," says Keener. "I think there were times he got frustrated on how to handle it and how to trust his teammates. As a sophomore, he got much better at dealing with it. We lost a lot of close games when he was a freshman but began to win those games when he was a sophomore. He was maturing as a player."
That maturation has led to an all-around game that's rivaled by few players in the country. Legion has the handle and court vision to play the point and the scoring touch and driving ability to play the two, which is why he considers himself a combo guard.
"To me, he's really hard to defend," says Keener. "If you play off him, he can hit the 3-pointer. If you crowd him, he's going to go right by you for a dunk. If you double him, he's able to find the open man. It's like picking your poison. I think coaches have a real dilemma when trying to find ways to guard him."
Legion is also more physically mature than most players his age, something he attributes to the work he puts in during the offseason. He works out four to five days a week with Stan Edwards, the father of former Michigan football standout and current Cleveland Browns rookie Braylon Edwards. Legion also runs cross country during the fall and track in the spring, which helps with his endurance on the court.
Legion's skills and work ethic led college coaches to go crazy like Young Jeezy trying to recruit him. He committed to Michigan over Michigan State, Illinois, UCLA, Virginia and North Carolina, but he ‘s not worried about college right now. He's more concerned with leading Country Day to a state title and focusing on his academics.
That last part is no joke, either. Legion is serious about his studies and prepares for each game by doing his homework. He knows basketball might not work out and wants to have something to fall back on.
"I want to major in political science," he says. "I've always been interested in U.S. history. If things don't work out, I want to go into politics. My sister, Nicole Burns, [works in the state legislature] and she got me interested in politics. I want to change the world and my community through basketball or through political means."
Because Alex Legion wants to create his own path, not just follow what others have done before him.