After seeing some of the things Taliek Brown did with the basketball during an all-star game in South Carolina over the summer, fans young and old reached for his autograph like they were crazy.
Brown's uncle, Dave, said he couldn't believe the all- world attention Taliek was getting.
The 6-foot-1 senior point guard from St. John's Prep in Queens has his following in New York. But in The City, --talented high school players, especially point guards, are like shish kabob carts in midtown Manhattan -- they're on almost every street corner.
The really good ones stand out anyway. And when they play, there's never a shortage of college coaches around.
``I think the key is that they go against so much tough competition all the time, during the season, out of season,'' said Jack Curran, the winningest high school basketball coach in New York state with 757 wins in 41 seasons at Archbishop Molloy in Queens. ``I would think some coaches would like guys like that because playing in New York, where the level of play is so high, coaches pretty much have an understanding about what they can do.''
You can trace the New York point guard tradition from Dick McGuire (La Salle Academy, Manhattan) and Bob Cousy (Andrew Jackson, Brooklyn) in the 1940s to Lenny Wilkens (Boys High, Brooklyn) in the '50s to Nate ``Tiny'' Archibald (De Witt Clinton, Bronx) in the '60s.
Right now, there are three hot guards who stand out among all others, and they have many in the Big Apple thinking about great ones past.
Two of them, Brown and 6-1 Omar Cook of Christ The King in Queens, are at the top of UConn's list to possibly replace Khalid El-Amin, who many assume will bolt for the NBA after this season.
The other, Andre Barrett of Rice High in Manhattan, has orally committed to Seton Hall.
Brown, Cook and Barrett make up what Tom Konchalski, a recruiting analyst and New York high school basketball guru, calls the ``Holy Trinity of Big Apple Demi-Guards.'' Many say they are the best group to come out of New York since the Class of 1983, which included Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Rod Strickland and Dwayne ``Pearl'' Washington.
``Taliek, Omar and Andre are all very different and they're all very good. Very good,'' said Konchalski, a Queens native who has followed New York high school basketball for 40 years and is editor of High School Basketball Illustrated. ``Omar is the purest point guard in terms of seeing the game two passes ahead. Taliek is probably the best scorer of the three and Andre is a compromise of both.''
If UConn could get Brown or Cook, it would be the first time a New York point guard came to Storrs since Vern Giscombe (Cardinal Hayes, Bronx) played for the Huskies in 1980-84.
Brown has narrowed his choices to UConn, St. John's and Syracuse. Cook is said to be leaning toward North Carolina, but the Huskies are given a legitimate chance.
The El-Amin Effect
To say UConn needs a point guard from New York wouldn't be accurate. The Huskies have done pretty well with the likes of El-Amin, Ricky Moore, Kevin Ollie, Doron Sheffer and Chris Smith.
Would UConn coach Jim Calhoun like to have one someday soon? Absolutely.
``There's no question New York is a great place to recruit point guards,'' Calhoun said.
So why the drought? There is a perception that because Calhoun runs a hard-line, disciplined offense, there is little room for a point guard to add his own flash and flavor. And as complete as their games are, many New York point guards -- whose basketball educations come not at camps but on the city's competitive playgrounds -- --are full of flash and flavor.
The perception of UConn can be argued, though, particularly since El-Amin's arrival from Minneapolis two years ago.