Melo's Transition Game
Drug bust. Bar fight. Gangster cameo. Benched at the Olympics. Feuds with his coaches. After a season to forget, 21-year-old Carmelo Anthony is an NBA star who’s now learning to live without the ball.
The basketball court became his DMZ, his sanctuary, and ultimately his salvation. He discovered he was pretty good with the orange ball and that it might be a way out. Or, rather, somebody discovered that for him. Anthony's play on the court earned him a reputation; it earned him the ability to travel from West Baltimore to East Baltimore without being hassled or beaten to death. And it earned him the attention of Robert "Bay" Frazier. A self-described basketball junkie who was 10 years older than teenage Anthony, Bay saw Anthony play, and thought the kid had skills. Bay organized local games in Baltimore featuring the neighborhood big shots from Baltimore and D.C., and he invited Anthony to compete. He liked what he saw even more. He took an interest in the young man at a crossroads. "Bay seen something in me," Anthony says. "He saw that I was good at playing basketball, and not good at being in the streets. I don't think no one is good at being in the streets."
With his mother's blessing, Anthony was enrolled in Towson Catholic High School, a private school and basketball powerhouse. Towson was a 40-minute commute from home-a world away from what little family and friends Anthony had. Freshman year he got cut from the varsity team. He hated JV. In his mind, he had come all this way to play basketball and if he wasn't going to get to play then he didn't care about class. He described his attitude that sophomore year as a "hangover" from freshman year and, as Anthony puts it, he was late "like 125 times." But he grew five inches the summer before his junior year, and that season he led his team to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title. That spring, on his birthday, he decided to go to Syracuse University.
Syracuse was his way to escape the drug-dealing thug life. It was his way to the NBA. His dream. A few days after he committed to Syracuse, however, his dream turned to a nightmare. He received a letter from Towson saying that he wasn't invited back for his senior year for "academic reasons." Never mind why the school had let him continue to play basketball during the championship season. "After that," Anthony says, "I was like, 'Man, I'm not fooling with this, I'm in the streets...whatever.'"
Whatever. Anthony throws the word out more than a few times as we talk. And though it may sound like an apathetic surrender, coming from him it's something else entirely. Whatever means This ain't over. I'll find a way. And it was his mother and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim who helped Anthony see the way. They steered him to Oak Hill Academy in rural Virginia. Mary liked the Baptist boarding-school part, and Boeheim knew well that it was a basketball factory. But, first, Anthony had to attend summer school to catch up. "I'm thrown into the woods," Anthony says of that summer at Oak Hill. "There ain't no buildings there and I'm calling back home almost crying, like, 'Please come get me.'"
Anthony's days were long that summer: He had five hours of class in the morning, and his afternoons were spent studying; then from late afternoon into the night he worked on his game in the sweltering gym. Late that summer, Anthony headed home for a short break before he was to return to Oak Hill. But when the time came for him to start his senior year, no one could find him. He wasn't at home. He wasn't with Bay. He was hiding out, holed up at the home of one of his best friends. The phone kept ringing. He told his friend not to answer it. He insisted that he wasn't going back. The assistant coach at Syracuse finally found him. Anthony begged to stay in Baltimore. Please, he said, don't make me go back.