Sunday, September 30, 2012

Your Way-Too-Early 2012 Heisman Predictions

Yeah. We just finished week 5. Some teams haven't played more than one game yet. But everyone wants to know.

Who will win the Heisman?

Last year, it wasn't much of a debate. Robert Griffin III had thrown one more touchdown pass than incompletion. RG3 battled with LaMichael James and Andrew Luck until the end, but eventually beat out the NFL's best architect/quarterback combo by a hefty 280 total voting points.

This year, it's a bit different. Preseason favorite Matt Barkley had two bad games in a row, and other program-reviving candidates have emerged. Here are your way-too-early 2012 Heisman predictions:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (Sr.)
Looks like West Virginia and this Miramar (FL) product were a perfect fit in the pass-heavy Big 12 after all.

Riding the momentum from his seven touchdown, 401 yard performance last year in West Virginia's 70-33 throttling of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Smith has put up better-than-RG3-type numbers through for 8th-ranked WVU through his first four games:

20 touchdowns, 0 picks, 83% completion rate.
Oh yeah. He also completed 45 of 51 passes for only 656 yards and 8 touchdowns against Baylor last week.
Dana Holgorsen loves to chuck it, and Smith has shown he's more than comfortable in the air-raid offense in his second year. If that serves as any indication, he'll continue to put up the gaudy stats he currently is. The experience factor should also help with voter familiarity, as he is coming off a year where he threw for over 4300 yards and 31 touchdowns.
And if you look at recent Heisman history, a record with one or fewer losses and big-time stats = Stiff-Arm Statue. (See Sam Bradford-'08, Mark Ingram-'09, Cam Newton-'10)
His schedule won't be easy though, as the Mountaineers travel to face Texas in two weeks and have to host K-State, TCU, and Oklahoma. Keep an eye on the Oct. 20th match-up against the Wildcats and Collin Klein. Based on what he's done so far, he's almost guaranteed to finish in the top 3. A good showing against Klein - another top-5 Heisman candidate - could do enough to convince voters he should win the award.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (Sr.)
Speak of the devil.
No, he doesn't have eye-popping stats, but Klein is the Eric Crouch-type candidate of this year's crop. Already with a signature victory against Oklahoma this season, Klein just needs to keep playing 'Snyder-ball' offense, killing the clock by making good decisions running the option. However, a loss could seriously damage his stock, as his stats will not hold up against the other candidates with one or two-loss record. K-State will have to go through Texas, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor in the rugged Big-12 this season. Should he win all those games, it will be an interesting race between him and Geno Smith.

3. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State (Sr.)
This highly-recruited, once-enigmatic signal-caller has now become a star.
After learning behind the Vikings' Christian Ponder for a couple of years, Manuel now looks very comfortable for Jimbo Fisher and has become more dynamic than Ponder ever was. And he's doing it for a top 5 team. After accounting for 482 yards while assisting FSU's 35-point explosion against Clemson in the 2nd half two weeks ago, Manuel played solid against a scrappy USF team to improve the 'Noles to 5-0. He's not Cam Newton, but to him the comparisons will come due to his size and the remarkable athleticism in that 6'5" frame. Of the top three candidates, he has the best team and likely the easiest path to the BCS National Championship Game. Manuel's main mission? Avoid disappointment. Yes, FSU fans -- I know, it's happened 3 years in a row. But aside from Clemson, the ACC is weak this season. Still, he has to avoid trap games. Miami, Virginia Tech, and Florida are all potential candidates to upset FSU in the regular season. If E.J. can keep FSU's record unblemished and continue to spread the ball out to all the freak athletes on his roster, an appearance in the National Championship game would look awful good to voters.

4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (Jr.)
Has anybody realized Georgia has a top-five team and the best quarterback in the nation's toughest conference? I have.
Murray is headed toward his 3rd straight great statistical season, this time with his best team yet. After coming out on top in a 51-44 shootout against Tennessee last week, Murray has completed better than 73% of his passes in 3 straight outings. The main thing Murray has going for him is that he's a proven commodity. After two straight 3000 yard seasons in the SEC, college football is now familiar with him. The only reason I can't expect Murray to win the award is because of the NFL's college football's powerhouse -- Alabama. I could see Murray leading the 'Dawgs past South Carolina this week and Florida on October 27th. But should they meet 'Bama in the SEC Championship Game, there's no way he can pull it off. The Tide is too strong.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Andrew Wiggins - The Next Lebron James

By Matt Fisher on August 12, 2012
Ok, it's official. Andrew Wiggins is the most prodigious player in high school basketball.

No, I can't confirm this, I don't run a recruiting website, and I can't say I've seen him play in person either. But this Canadian baller and his 44" inch vertical have proved to be simply too much for anyone at the high school level.

Some might say everybody's favorite mormon, Jabari Parker, is better than Wiggins right now, and that's also a valid argument. Not only was Parker the 2012 National Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior (a feat accomplished by only Lebron James, Brandon Knight, and Greg Oden), but he's started for Chicago's Simeon since his freshman year, something former Simeon star turned NBA MVP turned ACL-tear-victim Derrick Rose didn't even do.
He's got three state championships and lost just one game last season (to Findlay Prep). His advanced ball-handling ability for a 6'9" forward, Paul Pierce-ish Carmelo Anthony-type body and feathery shooting touch mixed with his sometimes Magic-esque "How the hell did he see that" court vision is enough to make a god-like BallisLife YouTube highlight mixtape. And along with holding the Simeon single-game scoring record, Parker's a great citizen, as evidenced by his assumption of water-boy duties for Simeon's JV squad. Plus, his favorite player is Oscar Robertson (how many high school ballplayers even know who that is?), showing he's a student of the game.
He'll be a fan favorite at every level, and might end up being the NBA's poster boy for responsible yet dominant young players. He's also got a longer Wikipedia page than Wiggins.

But there's something special about this Toronto-born superathlete. He's a couple inches shorter. He isn't quite as strong as Parker either. They have different games though.
Wiggins has the body of a young Kobe -- a lanky two-guard with long arms and springs in his legs. Entering the NBA as an 18-year old, Kobe was 6'6", 193 lbs. Wiggins as a high-school junior? 6'7", 190 lbs.
And it's Wiggins -- not Parker -- with the jaw-dropping YouTube videos. Last month during a scrimmage at the LeBron James Skills Academy, Wiggins took from outside the key on the right baseline and got so high he looked like he could've done a front flip over the rim. The kid he was trying to dunk on quickly realized "Crap, this will be all over the internet if I don't foul him right here" and he smacked Andrew on the right arm to send him to the line.
Well the play still found its way there -- as the USA basketball team was in attendance, sitting against the wall behind the basket.
As soon as Andrew got Blake Griffin-high, LeBron -- expecting a Kendrick Perkins/Mozgov/Pau Gasol moment -- jumped out of his seat.
He then walked around in front of his chair for a couple seconds, scratched his head and laughed; doing his best to mask his egotistic "I could do that and jump a foot higher" thought with a "Damn that was nice, I'm just an ordinary human on planet earth watching an impressive high school basketball showcase" reaction.

But he's not ordinary. And neither is Wiggins.
Andrew -- like Kobe, LeBron, and others -- is cut from the mold of the purest NBA superstar. All these guys have a legacy that dates back to their early high school days, and each had unique upbringings to go along with their playing styles that would make them worthy of feature in a "Dos Equis" commercial.

Kobe? He paved the way. Living in Italy at a young age, he watched his father -- Joe "Jelly-Bean" Bryant -- entertain Italian crowds with his stylish play. Dominated at Lower Merion High in Pennsylvania, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's Pennsylvania high-school scoring record of 2,883 points. The New Orleans Hornets, in one of the most boneheaded trades in NBA history, drafted him 13th in the '96 draft (Please explain
K-Love, you have an imposter.
to me why the Cavs took Vitaly Potapenko, whose greatest claim to fame today is being a Kevin Love look-alike for a year in Seattle, before him?!) and sent him to the Lakers (Kobe's favorite team) for Vlade Divac. (You realize stupid things like this ALWAYS happen to NBA's biggest stars -- just like how Portland passed on both Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant for draft busts Sam Perkins and Greg Oden, respectively. Blazers: cursed) Five Larry O'Brien trophies later, Kobe has proved to be the most accomplished prep-to-pro in league history. His game most closely resembles Mike's, but his court game is about as rare for a modern shooting guard as spending a month without weed is for Michael Beasley. He gets most of his points off post-ups, where he'll probe his defender with a seemingly loose handle, before he turns around a shoots a jumper -- almost automatic for him in his prime. He's also likely the second-best player in league history at shooting with a hand in his face, and he has the ability to play point guard at times, making him a truly versatile hybrid guard-forward type.

Lebron? Probably the most hyped high school athlete of all time. His timeline started back in the 8th grade, when he and his "ordinary basketball-playing" friends  made it to the finals of the AAU national Championship. Then he, and the rest of "average teammates" attended the predominantly-white St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, where he led them to three state championships and a collective 101-6 record in his four seasons. His games were the first-ever high school basketball games regularly televised by ESPN, and so many people wanted to see him play that his team's home games had to played in the University of Akron's James A. Rhodes Arena. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior, tabbed as "The Chosen One". Magic Johnson even said if he was a general manager, he would have taken Lebron No.1 as a junior in the '02 draft over Yao. After waiting that pointless year, LeBron jumped straight into the league as the top pick in a loaded 2003 draft that included D-Wade, Melo, and Chris Bosh. He was even picked ahead of Georgetown star Michael Sweetney (who, if anything, raised the average body fat of the players picked in the top 10. That counts for something, right?). Even his high school coach -- Keith Dambrot -- gained so much exposure from the LeBron saga that he got a head coaching offer from the University of Akron, which he took up after LeBron's junior year. To add to Lebron's mystique, he played football up through his junior year until he quit due to a wrist injury. He was even offered a scholarship by then-Notre Dame wide-receivers coach Urban Meyer, who went on to win 2 National Championships as head coach at Florida. LeBron has a game that really can't be compared to anyone else in league history. His 6'8" 250-pound frame allows him to play down low in the post, even though he really has the quickness and speed of a 6'0" guard. Some might say Magic Johnson just because he's essentially a big point guard, but LeBron's a much better athlete than Magic was, despite not having his incredible feel for passing.

As an 18-year old, Andrew Wiggins already has a prodigy's resume. First off, he's Canadian. We all make fun of the eh-sayers, but watching this mixtape made me want to walk around my house blasting a rock-dubstep version of "OH CANADA" through my iPod stereo.

Mitchell Wiggins
Marita Payne
His dad, Mitchell, played at Florida State for two years, averaging 23 points and 9 boards before getting picked 23rd by the Pacers in the '83 draft. He was traded to Chicago, where he started 40 games with fellow rookie Michael Jordan. He left for Houston a year later where he played for the Rockets and battled for a starting spot in the lineup with Lewis Lloyd. After Houston lost in the '86 finals, he and his buddy Lloyd both tested positive for coke, and Mitchell was kicked out of the league for two and a half years. Mitchell married Olympic track star Marita Payne at Florida State and they had Andrew in 1995 when Mitchell was playing for Sporting BC, a Greek pro team (Again - the foreign connections...). 13 years later, released a highlight video of him dominating kids his age in an excessively baggy black t-shirt. The video was the first most of the world got to see of Andrew, and has garnered more than 4,000,000 views to date.

Since then, he's built the profile.
 It's the hair. Intimidtation.
He was the youngest player at the FIBA 2010 U-17 World Championships, where he helped Canada to a 3rd-place finish.

At the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, he led the World team to a 84-75 win over the U.S. team, which was led by 2013 potential one-and-doners Shabazz Muhammad (Hoop Summit record 35 points) and Nerlens Noel. Despite Noel's old-school hi-top fade appearing as the tallest ever at the Summit, Wiggins was the youngest player in the game's history, and led the World team in points in minutes while showing off KD-smooth jumpshot and Lebron-like superhuman hops.

Andrew stuffed the box score as a sophomore at West Virginia's Huntington Prep in 2011-2012, averaging over 23 points and 7 rebounds a game. He was named West Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year and the MaxPreps National Sophomore of the Year. He also pushed Huntington Prep back in the national picture for the first time since '07, when O.J. Mayo (bottom right) led the state in scoring.

Wiggins obviously has the whole world ahead of him, but he could fall flat on his face. Mayo went from assured NBA superstar to getting punched in the face -- literally.

But something tells me that won't happen (the failure part). Wiggins is humbled and grounded. Like Kobe was, he'll be sheltered and will likely dominate his two years in college. He's so skilled, he probably could have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft. Even though there's no sure thing in the scouting process (not even Kobe was), Wiggins possesses all the right mental and physical attributes and seems so far ahead of the curve, it's hard to see him failing.
It's not like he has a choice anyway.
He's got the future of Canada basketball on his back.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Billy Hamilton is Baseball's Usain Bolt

 By Matt Fisher on August 7, 2012

On July 15th, Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton crossed home plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. His home run increased the Blue Wahoos' lead to 4-1, and he jogged back to the dugout -- his jersey stainless white.

13.8 seconds before he scored, he hit a low fly ball to deep right center that was botched by the right fielder.

That's right - 13.8 seconds.

By the time the ball hit the right fielder's glove, he was rounding second. The next closest inside-the-parker in the majors this season was Peter Bourjos' 14.26 second trot on April 11th.
But Bourjos slid into home plate full speed. Hamilton slowed at the end and jogged in standing up.

Billy Hamilton might be the fastest man baseball has ever seen, and he's not even in the majors yet. And we've seen plenty of burners -- Rickey Henderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn, Lou Brock, and even Deion Sanders, considered by some to be the greatest athlete in NFL history -- but none of their wheels compare to this 20-year old phenom's.

Set to blow away Vince Coleman's 29-year old minor league single-season record of 145 steals, the Taylorsville, MS native already has 127 steals in 107 games. The Angels' Mike Trout leads the majors with 36 steals.

But let's really put in this perspective. What if we took Hamilton and placed him on the Olympic sprinting team?

A trip around the bases is roughly 360-380 feet. Usain Bolt set the 100 M dash Olympic record in London two days ago at a blazing 9.63 seconds. 100 meters is 328 feet. Justin Gatlin was the fastest American in the race, finishing in a personal-best 9.79 seconds. If Hamilton ran at least 360 feet in 13.8 seconds, then he should be able to challenge some of the USA's runners.

What about football?
Tennessee Titans Running Back Chris Johnson is regarded as the fastest player in the sport, running the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds. Hamilton ran a 4.5 40-yard dash as a sophomore in high school. But this man of steal's 360+ foot water-walk around the bases, when reduced to the length of a 40-yard dash, is about 4.6 seconds. That's without factoring in the extra yards he used to bend on the basepaths and the fact that he ran a distance three times as long as Johnson's, while also slowing down at the end.

Sports fans, you can't say you haven't thought about it - you know, putting our country's best athletes in other sports. Think of the quick-footed 6'10" Kevin Durant and his 7'5" wingspan in goal for the U.S. men's soccer team. The 6'5", 205-pound Usain Bolt catching passes from Peyton Manning. Or if we put 5'9" high-flying dunk-artist Nate Robinson in men's gymnastics. But the reason we should be more appreciative of Hamilton is that you can't just place a great athlete in baseball and expect success.
Where the 6'6", 280 lb. Adam Dunn, a.k.a. "Big Donkey" can lead the league in home runs.
 Or where the 5'8" 'Laser Show' that is Dustin Pedroia can win an MVP.

That's because baseball requires skill moreso than athletic "run-jump" talent. Michael Jordan might be basketball's greatest athlete of all time, but he hit just .202 in his one-year minor league stint with the Double-A Birmingham Barons. (Granted, that's pretty good for a 31-year old man who hadn't played baseball since high school, but it still obviously takes plenty of practice.)
Hamilton boasts good plate discipline (69:91 walk-to-strikeout ratio) and solid contact skills (.312 batting average between A+ and AA this year), but his athletic gifts can't overshadow his problems defensively at shortstop. He has the athletic part covered -- his range is outstanding -- but scouts say his lack of soft hands may confine him to second base or a spot in the outfield.

But all that aside? His speed still kills.

With runners on base, he currently bats .375 compared to his .226 average with the bases empty. If he can just get the ball on the ground with a runner on base, they almost always have to take the force, because before they know it, he's walking safely back to first after securing his hit. And when on base, he's like a bee buzzing around the pitcher's head. No matter how many times you throw over, he's more than likely going to steal second. Then third. And then home, just like he did on July 12th.

Hamilton should be called up the majors in September to back up Zack Cozart at short, but he will likely be utilized in a Dave Roberts-type pinch-running role in the playoffs by the Reds, who sit 3.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh for the lead in the NL central.

Billy has already made a name for himself without playing a game at Great American Ballpark in a Reds uniform. But he'll likely always be overshadowed by (if not Billy Hamilton, the surfing legend or William Hamilton, the man who shot at Queen Victoria in 1849) "Sliding Billy" Hamilton, the hall-of-famer who ranks 3rd all time in stolen bases with 912. But at just 20 years of age, there's no lid on young Billy's potential.

He might get to 913, and he will certainly add more inside-the-park homers to his resume. And we know how he'll do it - at full tilt.
Just not in 13.8 seconds.

Friday, August 3, 2012


By Matt Fisher on August 3, 2012

The light from the TV screen shines back onto Aaron Greene’s face.

It’s a December evening in 2009. He watches Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser argue for a half-hour.

Then a documentary comes on the screen -- a series of interviews, a short news clip; then Aaron’s brought into the life of Len Bias.

Highlights of a dominant basketball player flow one after another.

High-flying, acrobatic dunks. Crisp passes. Three-pointers.

Len Bias dominating the college basketball scene.

2,149 points.

ACC Player of the Year.

A two-time All-American.

The Maryland Terrapins have the next Michael Jordan on their hands, and soon so would the Boston Celtics. Len Bias -- on the top of the world.

But then the man known for explosions at the rim explodes into a seizure -- sometime around 6 a.m. on June 19, 1986.

The documentary ends and a number flashes on the screen -- the Len Bias Foundation -- 301-577-0071.

Aaron sits there, amazed. He’s seen other documentaries before, but none captivated him quite like this one.

He picks up the phone, dials the number.

On the other end, a calm, welcoming voice:

“Hello, you’ve reached the Len Bias Foundation. This is Lonise P. Bias speaking.”

He’s speechless.

The conversation lasts about ten minutes.

Dr. Bias tells Aaron she just happened to be in the office.

She just happened to pick up the phone. 

That’s when Aaron Greene knows its destiny.

March 2010

Aaron steps up to the podium. He looks out at the audience. 300 eyes stare back at him, stare like he’s Michael Jordan rising up for a game-winning shot.

He reads Dr. Bias’ biography slowly. Almost like his father, Rev. Donald Greene, would read a sermon.

“Without further ado, I introduce to you Dr. Lonise Bias.”

It’s the type of opportunity he’s dreamed of since his elementary school days at Andrew Chapel Christian Academy. Inviting Dr. Bias to come to Orangeburg to speak at a Family Empowerment Seminar at the Christian Life Center in Orangeburg.

And then introducing her, the mother of Len Bias.

“I was very nervous, and not sure how I would do,” Aaron says.

After the introduction, a video projects on the wall, a video with highlights similar to the ones in the documentary.

“The older people in the audience… you could tell by the look in their eyes… they recognized him.”

Dr. Bias’ son died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused from large amounts of cocaine in his system.

The crowd’s evenly divided between the young and old, but Dr. Bias focuses on the teenagers in the audience.

Young people are loveable, savable, and reachable.

They need to maintain focus and stop making excuses.

She talks about the heap of negative criticism she received following Len’s death.

She shares how people were glad to see him fail. How they said it was his fault for getting into drugs.

And Len’s not Dr. Bias’ only son who died early – just four years after Len’s death, her youngest son – 20-year-old Jay – was gunned down in a jewelry store parking lot.

Her strength through these personal hardships is not surprising – you can tell by the way she speaks – in a booming, confident, and distinct Aretha Franklin-like tone.


But for Aaron, the lasting image of Len should be more than a coffee table.

A pile of white powder.

A straw from McDonald’s.

He believes Len should be remembered for his high level of success at such a young age. He became one of the best college basketball players of all time, recognized by his athletic, rough-and-tumble, hustle-hard brand. And at age 22, he was drafted as heir apparent to Larry Bird, a once-in-a-generation player.

“He left a great mark. He’s the perfect role model,” Aaron said.

Jesse Jackson certainly agrees. He’s likened Len to Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and even Jesus.

Dr. Bias and Aaron have kept in touch via email, and she even came back to hold another seminar in Orangeburg this year.

But just a week before that seminar, tragedy strikes the Greene family.

March 10, 2012

Aaron steps up to the podium. He’s done this before. Almost numb to it.

Aaron starts the speech differently. This time, about Caleb – his 21-year-old brother.

Caleb, the role model.

Caleb, who worked 40 hours a week at a hotel and still maintained a 3.0 GPA at Orangeburg Technical School.

Caleb, who set lofty goals – he planned to visit Australia one day.

Caleb, who died when his 1999 Cadillac slid off the road in Orangeburg and ejected him.

Caleb, who just a week before the accident sat Aaron down on his bed and assured him he would be successful.

Caleb, who’s the reason Aaron wants to attend U.S.C., the college Caleb planned on transferring to in the fall.

And just a couple months later, Aaron’s cousin passed away as well.
Aaron (left) is now a freshman at the University of South Carolina.

So like Dr. Bias, Aaron Greene no longer lives for himself. He lives for two people.

And for him, meeting Dr. Bias was “God’s plan.”

He could have paid no attention to the number on the screen – he could have watched SportsCenter. And even if he did call, Dr. Bias might not have been the one to pick up.

God’s Plan.

Len’s life may have been taken for a greater reason.

Maybe it was so people like Aaron could discover Len’s mother.

Maybe so he could follow her example when his brother died.

Maybe, it was destiny.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lost in Between

By Matt Fisher on August 2, 2012

February 8, 2012
A sudden turnover by the visiting Dillon Wildcats instinctively sends a jolt of adrenaline through Dejan Frasier’s 5’11” frame.

Waccamaw only needs one win to clinch a playoff spot, and the Warriors are behind early in the first half.

So Dejan takes off down the left sideline, curls back toward the front of the basket.

And the ball – dark orange with a spiraling swoosh logo – flies over his right shoulder, falls softly into his hands. The Wildcat defenders have no chance of catching him.

They all watch helplessly. Watch the tight-knit dark-red No.32 on the back of his jersey, firmly tucked in at the waist. Watch Dejan plant his left foot, lay the ball on the glass.

Then the once-raucous Waccamaw crowd – Dejan’s crowd – goes silent.

The only audible sounds – the ball smacking the shining hardwood after softly falling through the basket.

And the screams. Dejan’s screams as he swirms crumpled on the floor.

It’s over.

Larry Ferraro pulls his eyes off the tally marks he just scribbled on the box score next to D. FRASIER, tosses the brown clipboard on his black seat cushion, and like Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams, he steps over the black sideline and shifts from coach to medic.

Dejan cocks his head back and faces the ceiling, gripping his left knee. He glances at it, then sticks out his neck and winces from the excruciating pain.

Ferraro kneels on Frasier’s left side, intently massages the knee while head coach Mike Quinn–eyes wide open in disbelief and at a loss for words – kneels on the other side.

“Is it bad?” Dejan asks, shades of optimism, despair.

Ferraro pauses. He’s seen a multitude of ACL injuries in his 33 years of medical practice.

“It’s semi-bad,” he says, hesitant to break the news, as if his delaying might cushion the blow caused by the truth. “You’ve probably torn it.”

You’ve probably torn it.

Dejan lies on his back, looks up at the blinding fluorescent lighting, covers his face with his forearm. Hope drowned out by the tears, tears those four dreaded words bring.

You’ve probably torn it.

Five years before the injury, August 2007

Dejan Frasier turns off his alarm clock, swings his legs out of bed. The sun’s not up.

He turns to the small electronic box on his nightstand, squinting his eyes to read the time displayed in vibrant red digital numbers: 6:00 A.M.

Dejan spent early summer mornings at Hartford's Sarah J. Rawson Elementary.
Anxiously sliding into his high tops, he flies out the front door and walks a few blocks down the street towards the Rawson Elementary School playground, where he goes to shoot around and play games of twenty-one with his best friends – Jerome Harris and Anthony “Ant” Jernigan.

His shoulders low, Dejan dribbles to his left, steps back, and bends his knees to elevate behind the arc for a three-pointer. He holds his follow through, watching the ball spin through the white netting. Then the swoosh, a sound so familiar to his ears.

Dejan repeats this routine every summer day – constantly practicing in the early morning, getting up shots while bouncing around on the smooth gray surface of this small outdoor court in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hartford isn’t the safest city – in fact, its violent crime index is 597.2, dwarfing the national average of 259.7. Safer than just six percent of cities in the U.S.

But it’s home for Dejan.

Just like the court – firm and solid beneath him.

He knows what the next four years hold – attend Hartford’s own Weaver High in the fall, join a squad that concluded a 22-3 season with a state championship just the year before.

And he’s not just practicing every day in the summer on this court either. He’s a member of the Connecticut Basketball Club (CBC) Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, playing alongside Andre Drummond, the top-ranked ninth-grader in the country. Dejan’s the team’s sixth man, and last year, he helped them compile a 21-5 record playing against premier teams from across the country, including the Dallas Mustangs, a squad that features Le’Bryan Nash and J.T. Terrell, two top 100 recruits in their respective future graduating classes.

The exposure from CBC is exciting for Dejan. His aspirations of playing in front of a Division I college crowd seem certain to be fulfilled in just a few years.

Two years before the injury, February 7, 2010

The buzzer sounds, and Waccamaw’s basketball team members mob each other above Timberland High School’s green italicized Tribe logo at center court.

The result shines in bright orange on the scoreboard – Visitor: 38, Home: 37. A first in Warrior history.

And while the team jumps up and down in exuberance, a No.21 Waccamaw jersey is nowhere to be seen in the gym.
Dejan split time between the JV and varsity teams in his freshman season.

Because that jersey – Dejan’s jersey – didn’t make the trip. And neither did Dejan.

Dejan slouches on his couch and checks his phone.

Watching ESPN, he takes his eyes off the screen and fixates them on the text he just received from Tevin Gardner.

‘Bro we just won. I made the game winning shot.’

Dejan shrugs helplessly.

An 85? In Weight Lifting?

He can’t believe it. He isn’t allowed to travel with the team because of the borderline B in his physical education class. And according to Dejan, the grade probably should have been lower.

During his teammates’ jubilant celebration, he’s left sitting at home in disbelief and regret. It was an irresponsible decision, and he knows it.

Moving was a difficult transition for him – coming from an urban setting with great basketball roots – and falling into a small, geriatric, southern retirement area. Pawleys Island, South Carolina – better known for what it doesn’t have – a loud, city-like atmosphere – than for what it does. He misses everything.

The bond with his teammates during the AAU season. Playing games at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He wishes Pawleys could be Connecticut Part II.

He sulks deeper into the couch, knowing he could have had more.

I would’ve had a ring by now.

A name for myself.

Few kids in his school realistically hold the same perspective he has for a future in college basketball. On the 700+ mile trip from Hartford to Pawleys, something must have been lost in between. And now?

He is – literally and figuratively – on an island.

But it’s not moving that affects him the most. It’s that his irresponsible mistake has temporarily deprived him of basketball—his escape from the adversity that’s plagued him over the past year.

His father, Thomas Johnson, 36, was arrested for cocaine trafficking in 2008. It was Johnson’s second drug trafficking offense, and in the state of Connecticut, the maximum sentence can be up to 15 years. Johnson didn’t stand trial.

But his father’s incarceration doesn’t cause him to waiver from his responsibilities at home. Johnson didn’t play a large role in his Dejan’s life anyway. Five years ago, He and his twin brother Dyshan assumed the burden of helping their mother, Felicia Frasier, raise their baby sister, Buranda, while also looking after Riley, their other little sister.

For Dejan, shouldering the responsibilities in his household is like getting buckets – natural.

Responsibility fits well with his light-hearted personality. He’s the type of kid who smiles at people in the hallway – holding such charisma that you feel an instant comfort level with him even if you only met him five minutes ago. He doesn’t ask for commiseration or affection for his troubles. Nor does he want it; it’s just part of his persona. No excuses.

And point-blank, he knows he’s more responsible than that 85.

A year before the injury, February 2011

Dejan shoots around in the gym at the end of practice on a cold winter weekday in Pawleys.

Not New England cold – but cold enough for a jacket.

He repeats the same motion over and over. Standing in the left corner, less than 20 feet away from the gym lobby, he shoots threes. Looking for the same rotation.

Same foot platform.

Same goose neck figure his left hand makes in front of his face when he releases the ball, his left arm fully extended.

And the same result.

He moves to the wing and takes several more shots.

The J.V. team stands in Coach Quinn’s classroom on the side of the gym opposite from the lobby, anxious to start practice. One tall jayvee leans out the door just in time to see Dejan rise up and swish a three.

“Damn, who’s that?” the tall jayvee says to another, recognizing him from one of his better games earlier in the season.

“Dejan Frasier, he leads the team in scoring,” the other dread-haired jayvee says.

The tall jayvee remembers seeing a previous game’s box score sitting on the table next to Coach’s desk.

He walks over and scans Dejan’s row in the spreadsheet, looking for his point total. But before he finds it, he spots a myriad of tallies in one column. 16 of them. He looks up at the top of the column, thinking that the number must represent points or rebounds.

“TO,” it reads. Turnovers.

Another jayvee looking at the same box score pipes up.

“If he didn’t turn the ball over so much, he’d be like mini Derrick Rose… or something like that.”

The team’s the laughing stock of the region all year. They have no chemistry, no signature victories. Entering the season finale, they’ve scrapped just three wins out of a less-than-daunting 19-game schedule. Eight losses by at least 17 points.

But while the losses sting, Dejan can’t worry about his team’s record. It’s all about the big picture.

And that’s why he repeats the same shooting motion, looking to get the same net-swooping result, and eventually – a different result on the scoreboard.

Nineteen days before the injury, January 20, 2012

A half-hearted last-second heave falls short of the basket – and the clock hits zero.

Dejan gently untucks his jersey, purses his lips, sticks his chest out and walks to the handshake line – his eyes glued open. He tries not to look at the scoreboard while receiving “good game” consolations and pats on his back.

But out of the side of his left eye, it glares at him.

Visitor: 59, Home: 54.

He receives his last Marion High low-five and walks to Quinn’s classroom for a post-game speech, head down. In the semi-circle of plastic blue school chairs, he sits on the end farthest from the door. The players sit hunched over – some hands folded and heads hung, while others take arrhythmic deep breaths as they stare off into space. Noah Gulley, the tall and burly Warriors starting center, settles in a seat to Dejan’s left.
Chris Sokoloski/Georgetown Times
Dejan scored 26 points when Waccamaw hosted
Marion on January 3rd.

“This guy right here,” he says, resting his hand on Dejan’s head, “played his heart out tonight. We wouldn’t have even been in it without him.”

Dejan scored 26 points in front of a packed house at The Tepee. He put out every ounce of sweat, dove for every loose ball, and left every single breath he had in his seemingly supercharged lungs in the cramped dimensions of that gym.

It would have been the greatest home victory in Waccamaw basketball history, beating a Class AA powerhouse led by a major Division I prospect in 6’6” Marqui McKelvy.

But it’s just another crushing loss.

Despite it, the season hasn’t been a failure. Waccamaw defeated archrival St. James on the road a little over two months ago. The one-point victory was such a landmark for the program that J.V. coach Daryl Carr made a loud declaration amid the post-game celebration in the locker room.

“Waccamaw is now on the map!” he boomed, and the players followed it up with a collective “Yeaaaaahhh!” as they pushed and shoved each other in enjoyment.

But for Dejan, that game’s already in the rear view mirror.

It’s his senior year, and he’s running out of time.

He wants another shot at Marion. That’s the closest the school has ever come to beating the Swamp Foxes. Eight games remain in the 24-game season, and only a late run will grant them a playoff berth.

After the injury, February 8, 2012

Another disappointing loss.

A tall African-American mammoth of a man with long dreadlocks – fittingly named ‘Tank’ – hunches over the scorer’s table he sits behind, and announces the score.

A 13-point Warrior loss.

He mutters a few more words over the microphone as the Waccamaw players and coaches shake hands with the Dillon Wildcats.

The team heads to Quinn’s classroom, having lost the final game of the season.

On the far side of the room, Dejan sits on a table, left leg stretched out and a wet ice bag on his knee.

Coach Quinn walks in his classroom and sets his blazer on a chair in front of his whiteboard. It’s his fourth season at Waccamaw. He coached prosperous high school teams in New York and North Carolina, before he came here for a new challenge, anxious to elevate a team buried at the bottom of the region standings for so many years.

He’s had to deal with disappointments like this loss along the way.

But tonight, he stands in the middle of the room, left hand on his hip, and runs his right hand through his black hair. Then sticks out his right arm, palm down, using it to guide his words of solace to the players.

Quinn (center) came to Waccamaw in 2008 after coaching
Pawleys Island's private Lowcountry Day School since 2002.
“Look guys, I know it’s tough… but it’s been a great season.”

Taylor King, a senior starting forward, interjects. “Coach, they just announced Aynor beat Loris.”

Quinn raises his eyebrows. “That broke the tiebreaker, we’re in the playoffs,” Taylor said.

“When?” Quinn wants proof.

“Tank said it right after he announced the score.”

Waccamaw had made the playoffs.

But even as Dejan sits on the table in the far end of the room, his slight smile masks the dark reality that’s already dawned on him.
He knows he wouldn’t play. His season is over.

August 2012

Dejan leans on his side at the edge of his hotel room bed, and pops the cap on a medicine bottle of Osteo-Bi-Flex.

Then he tips the plastic bottle horizontal, shaking it for a few seconds until a small gel caplet falls on his hand. He pops the single pill in his mouth and takes a sip of water from a clear, thick-based hotel glass.

He’s at the University of South Florida on an official visit, the result of a 10-second one-sided phone call with NBA Hall-of-Famer and USF supporter Isiah Thomas.

On the bed across the room sits his mother, Felicia. He recalls Senior Night, when he and his best friend A.J. exchanged long embraces with her. At each of Dejan’s home games, it’s not too difficult to spot her in the crowd.

“Get the ball, Day! GO! GO! GO!” she yells, always taking pride in being his number one cheerleader.

And whenever Dejan glances at her in even the slightest of ways, he reminds himself of what she has been for him. His hero. Like Mom and Dad in one.

While Mom tops the list, Dejan has a few other role models.

There’s Dejan’s uncle, Chris Jones, the owner and operator of an auto shop in Hartford. In his younger years, Dejan would hang around the shop, sparking his curiosity in all the little complexities required to maintain a car. It’s his childhood dream to join the family business one day -- the main reason why Dejan plans to major in mechanical engineering.
Derrick Rose went from youngest MVP in NBA history
to being shelved 8-12 months with an ACL injury.

And there’s NBA MVP and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. His hard work and dedication is the epitome of Dejan’s path to success—whether it be in sports or not. Dejan feels the tenuous connection between the two—Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of a 2012 first-round playoff series versus the Philadelphia 76ers.

And like Dejan, Rose grew up without the presence of a father.

You can even see traces of the uniquely explosive, rugged and herky-jerky style Rose has branded in his four NBA seasons in Dejan’s game.

But as Dejan intends for it to be, his game on the basketball court – and off it – is just as diverse as his Haitian/African-American/Puerto Rican heritage.

On the court, he’s a slasher – a rim-runner who thrives in the transition game. While he may not look like much on the hoof – standing just 5’11” and weighing 155 pounds – he makes up for it with a ripped physique and outstanding leaping ability.

He’s often seen soaring above the trees for a rebound, smacking his right hand against the ball on his way down and taking off down court while weaving through a labyrinth of defenders for a basket – seemingly all in one motion.

In half-court sets, he uses his tight ball-handling ability – featuring a lightning-quick crossover mixed with exceptional foot speed and a series of ankle-breaking hesitation dribble moves – to blow by his defender and get to the rack.

And despite his prowess on the basketball court, he’s not a one-sport athlete.

In his freshman and sophomore years, he took advantage of his 4.48 40-yard dash time to be featured on the track team as a sprinter and on the football team as a wide receiver.

After focusing exclusively on basketball in his junior year, he planned to run track as a senior.

While most kids would try to blend in and imitate D-Rose, Kobe, LeBron or Kevin Durant, he doesn’t waste his time trying to be someone else. Just Dejan Frasier.

And if that means entering college and sitting out a year due to a medical redshirt, so be it. He believes persistence in his rehab process will bring him back stronger than ever.

But despite his inner-city tough kid approach, he still sometimes ponders what might have come to fruition if he stayed in Connecticut.

 Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant
Anthony Jernigan (right) was named to the Hartford Courant's "Fab 15"
team after his junior year at East Hartford High.
Dejan knows how his Connecticut friends did.

Ant Jernigan: Starred at East Hartford High School. Named an All-State performer in his junior season. Went on to play for Connecticut’s South Kent Prep – perennially one of the top basketball prep schools in the country – for his 2010-2011 senior season. Was part of a squad featuring current Philadelphia 76er Maurice Harkless as well as 2012 Jordan Brand All-American and current Providence Friar Ricardo Ledo.

John Woike/The Hartford Courant
Jerome Harris averaged 18 points, 7 rebounds,
and 5 assists in his senior year at Weaver.
Jerome Harris: Named all-state in his junior year. Transferred from East Catholic Prep in Manchester, CT to Weaver for his senior season in 2011. Led Weaver to a 16-8 record, the school’s best season since ’06-07.

Andre Drummond – Played for St. Thomas More – an all-boys boarding school in Oakdale, CT – for his final two years of high school. Led them to the National Prep Championship on March 9, 2012. Finished his senior year as the second-ranked college basketball recruit in the country by ESPN. Attended the University of Connecticut for one year before entering June’s 2012 NBA Draft, where he was selected 9th overall by the Detroit Pistons.

And Dejan? A different knee injury prior to the Dillon game meant he never got another shot against Marion. Waccamaw played Timberland in the first round of the playoffs. After hanging tough in the first half, the Warriors’ season ended in a 16-point defeat. Dejan watched in street clothes from the end of the bench. He was named to the Class AA All-Region VIII team at the end of the season.

Excuses can still be made. But Dejan knows he can’t go back to his days on that smooth court with Ant and Jerome at the Rawson Elementary school playground.

So he’s moving on.

Maybe that means wearing the green and gold of the USF Bulls.

Or maybe it means rolling under cars in a grease-stained blue jumpsuit.

And even while he works several hours bagging groceries at the local Fresh Market, he still sees a scholarship at the end of the tunnel.

Dejan knows things were lost between Pawleys Island and Hartford, but he isn’t concerned about where he may surface in a couple of years.

Because since the age of four, he’s had one constant in his life – basketball. It’s a hobby, an eraser, sometimes a lifestyle.

But most importantly? An escape. And he's not ready to turn the chapter on it just yet.