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BURLISON: A lifetime of prep phenoms

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
Frank Burlison is a senior writer for FOXSports.com. He wrote this piece for Dime magazine, one of our content partners. I consider it my good fortune that I was born, raised and still live in Southern California. Besides great weather, easy access freeway systems (honestly!) and movie theatres that can seemingly be found within a 3-point shot of any freeway exit, there is also ample opportunity to watch quality high school basketball.
Prep stars through the years
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    And not just "in season," either. There are spring leagues, summer leagues (and tournaments and camps galore) and even a tournament or two to be found on most any fall weekend, too. Thanks to all of those venues, I¿ve had a chance to watch just about every outstanding player or team to play in Southern California since the early part of the 1970s. I caught the fever while still a freshman in high school (forget the fact that I couldn¿t play a lick), tagging along with older buddies who had cars and checking out all the great tournaments and playoff games in Southern California. What a blast! Then I had the incredible stroke of luck to get hired by the Long Beach Press-Telegram while still a high school senior in 1973. And pretty soon I was getting paid to, among other things, watch and write about basketball games and players! Friday and Saturday night dates? I would coax my girlfriend (sorry, Terri!) to go with me while I covered high school games that featured future NBA first-round picks such as David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton from L.A. Verbum Dei and Reggie Theus of Inglewood. I was told by a couple of college coaches about a couple of national tournaments in Las Vegas and Phoenix held in July — and, naturally, I found my way there. By then, it had become an obsession. Not only did I want to see every really good basketball player from California, I wanted to see them all from up and down the West Coast to every point East. If a college coach — and I was meeting more and more of them from hanging out in gyms — told me about a hot prospect in Chicago, New York or Michigan, well ... I had to see the guy play myself. In July of 1976, I was sitting in the office of the late Lynn Archibald, at the time an assistant coach under Jerry Tarkanian at Nevada-Las Vegas. Who should stroll into the office but Bill Frieder, then an assistant coach to Johnny Orr for a University of Michigan program whose team had lost to Indiana in the national title game that spring. We started talking about the best players in the country and, naturally, Archibald and I mentioned Albert King of New York City and Eugene Banks of Philadelphia, easily the most hyped preps in an era when following high school basketball was still a relatively hyperbole-free pastime. "They¿re both really good," Frieder said, "but there¿s a guy in Lansing, Michigan who is better than both of them. "In fact, tell Jerry that you guys should recruit him, Lynn, so that you can go watch him play. He¿s that good. You¿ve never seen anyone like him." Naturally, I had heard of the player. "That¿s Earvin Johnson, right?" I popped up proudly. Frieder looked at me and grinned. "Yeah," he said, "but everyone in Michigan calls him Magic." The following April, as one of the original members of the McDonald¿s All-America selection committee, I took my first cross-country flight to go check out the Capital Classic in Landover, Md. And that¿s where I got my first in-person peek at Earvin — uh, Magic — Johnson. Frieder was right. And if that hankering to see every "hot" high school player in the country ever had a chance of being quelled, that possibility ended that very day.
    Tagged: Southern California, California, Indiana, Michigan

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