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LeBron evokes Joe's legacy



Published: Sun, July 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It's funny how one word can stir such emotions. And bring back a flood of memories.

That word is James.

As in LeBron.

And Joe.

LeBron James is the junior-to-be basketball sensation who attends St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron.

He made news this week by intimating to a reporter that he would consider applying for the NBA draft before his senior year.

Of high school.

Best of all time? Joe James, local historians should recall, was perhaps the finest high school basketball player this town has ever produced. He and Greg Jones were the leaders on a couple of Rayen School teams in the late '70s, part of coach Frank Cegledy's long and successful run.

While Jones went on to further fame at West Virginia University, James took his talents to the University of Michigan, and later, Eastern Michigan.

His college career never quite panned out.

But, make no mistake. Those Rayen teams belonged to Joe James.

He was the first high school athlete I ever witnessed signing autographs.

When he stepped onto the playing floor, even for warmups, he was the center of attention.

Full houses: When the Tigers played at Salem High's gymnasium in the Class AA sectional and district tournament, the place sold out.

The majority of fans didn't attend Rayen or its opponent that night. They were there to see Joe James.

What I remember about Joe James was how he made every player around him better. Opponents couldn't guard him one-on-one, and when they tried to double-team him he found open teammates for points.

There wasn't a lot of flash to Joe James' game, not by today's standards, anyway, but he played not long after it became legal to dunk in the high school game.

And no one left until he threw one down.

Joe James got some mention on a few high school all-America lists, but he didn't receive enough accolades to remotely suggest he would turn pro right out of Rayen.

It had barely been five years, after all, since a Virginia schoolboy star by the name of Moses Malone bucked the University of Maryland, signing a contract with the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association.

Attempting history: Now, a little over 20 years later, LeBron James suggests he may attempt history.

In the days since the story first broke, we've heard claims that LeBron James was misquoted; that he wouldn't really try to test the NBA market.

But, the fact he would contemplate such a move, even if he was speaking in jest or was misinterpreted, speaks volumes about the respect for the young man's game.

James, it has been said, really wants to finish high school and attend the University of North Carolina.

And that's fine. But honestly, does anyone think he'll spend more than one season with the Tar Heels -- if he goes there at all? UNC coach Matt Doherty probably doesn't think so.

NBA commissioner David Stern, who not so privately is pushing for a minimum age agreement in the next union contract, is probably still shaking from the recent draft in which high school players went in unprecedented quickness.

Imagine his reaction when he saw the LeBron James clippings this week.

My guess is, James will ultimately decide to take the safe route ... and play high school basketball as a senior.

After that, it's anyone's guess. Let's just hope that his family and advisers truly have his best interests at heart.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com.




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