Better yet, the Sixers’ pre-season training camp was held in the gym where I practiced after school. I went to every practice session because when the NBA champs were finished using the court, I was going to go through my paces. Sometimes a few players hung around to snag rebounds and offer a few pointers. Dr. J did once, and Leon Wood was very friendly. No one, though, was as helpful as Andrew Toney. It always seemed that Toney was working on his shooting long after his teammates had left the gym to do whatever it was they did in Lancaster, Pa.
So when I was told that I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA it was laughable. How could that be?
Looking back it all makes sense now. I grew up to be 6-foot-1, which is the same size as “Tiny” Archibald. Plus, I soon ventured out of my insular little world and found out that there were players just as good as me who sat on the bench for their teams. Sure, I was an above-average shooter – probably amongst the best two or three in my school – but there is a lot more to the game than just shooting the ball from the outside. On defense, chances were that I was going to allow just as many points as I scored. Occasionally I got in the way and stopped my opponent, but that was usually just dumb luck.
More telling was the fact that I went to the high school regarded as the finest in athletics in the area. The basketball teams have won more league championships than any other school, while the other sports – specifically track and field – were sometimes powerhouses. Yet despite this, my high school has never produced an NBA player. Actually, we’ve had just three Major Leaguers, two NFLers, and just a handful of Division I standouts.
So what’s the point of this? Simple. Mo Vaughn knew by the age of 12 that he was going to be a Major League baseball player. At least that’s what his parents said during a game at Fenway a few years back when asked when they realized their son was going to be a big leaguer.
When Mo was 12, Mr. Vaughn said, he played in a men’s baseball league and, “he dominated.”
It seems like 12 is the magic age to determine a person’s athletic future. Oh sure, there are late bloomers like Ryan Howard who was overlooked even when he was deep into his college career. But one thing is for certain: Ryan Howard was on the path to the big leagues long before that. A diamond in the rough is still a diamond.
But baseball doesn’t last forever. Sure, these days getting a big-league contract is a lot like winning the Powerball. The thing a lot of parents and kids don’t understand is that the odds of getting there are just as slim. Yet even though Mo Vaughn dominated adults before he was a teenager, he was made to prepare for the day when the games ended. Interestingly, these days Vaughn is in real estate development, but he’s not simply putting up high-end McMansions that only other lottery winners can afford. Instead, Vaughn, according to George Vecsey's story in The New York Times, is building affordable housing for folks with modest incomes.
Baseball, it seems, was nothing more than a tool for Vaughn to put him where he could do really important work. That’s the key – kids should use the games to put them where they need to be. Chances are that’s not going to be in the big leagues.
Ryan Howard seems to believe that, too. According to what he told Bryant Gumble on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports that there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to return to school and finish his course work.
Believe it or not, that’s much more important than hitting 60 homers.