The now-20-year-old came into the league from high school.
PHOENIX (AP) -- There will be an extra measure of hoopla when the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs play in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series tonight.
Not only do the upstart Suns return home with the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, they also will celebrate the anointing of man-child power forward Amare Stoudemire as NBA Rookie of the Year.
Phoenix, the No. 8 seed in the West, almost certainly would not have made it to the playoffs if not for the imposing presence of Stoudemire, who on Thursday became the first player to win the rookie award after going directly to the NBA from high school.
Made big difference
"He was the difference in our team being in the middle of the pack and making the playoffs," Suns center Scott Williams said. "He stepped up when Googs [Tom Gugliotta] went down and was a tremendous force for us all season long."
And, at 20 years old, he's just getting started.
"As a person, I couldn't be happier for him," Williams said. "He's a good kid. His personality fits real well in our locker room. There's been no animosity towards the attention that he's had all season long. And he's handled it real well. He hasn't gotten a swollen head."
Stoudemire, who averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in the regular season, scored 24 points in Phoenix's 96-95 victory in Game 1, including an improbable 3-point bank shot that forced the overtime. But he was just 2-for-10 shooting for five points in the Suns' 84-76 loss in Game 2.
"He's very crucial in just being able to score some points in the paint," Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said. "In points in the paint in the second game, they just killed us."
Stoudemire, who beat out Houston center Yao Ming for rookie of the year, overcame long odds to emerge an amazingly levelheaded, poised and gifted power forward not at all intimidated by the big, tough and much older players he faces.
"I go out and practice hard," he said, "and then I feel comfortable come game-time."
Stoudemire was 12 when his father died. His mother was in and out of jail throughout his childhood. His older brother is in prison on drug and sex abuse convictions.
Somehow, Stoudemire stayed out of trouble. He went to six high schools, the last of them Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, and he had to sit out his junior season because of transfer rules.
"From the adjustments that I made growing up, and now here in the NBA having a pretty good season and getting the rookie of the year award, it feels great," he said. "I feel like I stayed focused, and I've been blessed from God."