The Son's Time to Shine
Monday, July 28, 2008
Around 5:30 one morning when JaVale McGee was a sophomore in high school, his mother, Pamela McGee, woke him from a sound sleep and trudged him out into Michigan's bitterly cold winter darkness to run a mile in a pair of heavy boots.
At the time, McGee was on the junior varsity basketball team at Detroit Country Day School, an exclusive high school with high academic standards, a reputation for athletic excellence and a high tuition. Pamela, an all-American at Southern California who also played in the WNBA, was an assistant coach for the boys' varsity team.
When Pamela had poked her head into the junior varsity practice the day before, she was not pleased to see JaVale merely going through the motions. The next morning, he was jogging through the snow.
"It's expensive to go to Country Day," Pamela McGee said recently. "My mom was a teenage mother and worked in a factory so her children could go to college and get an education. So, when JaVale had the opportunity to go to Country Day and I went to that practice and saw that he wasn't working hard, that he was just loafing around practice wasting time, I was like: 'No. This is not going to happen.' That was unacceptable. I told him: 'If you aren't going to work hard, we're going to do this every morning.' He got the message and I've never had to do that since."
Today, JaVale is a 7-foot, 237-pound center preparing for his rookie season with the Washington Wizards, who selected him with the 18th pick in the June 26 draft. He is the first son of a WNBA player to be drafted by an NBA team.
The combat boots McGee wore that frigid morning were replaced long ago with a fresh pair of basketball shoes, and he'll put in most of his hard work on the plush practice court at Verizon Center. But the lessons McGee picked up from his mother have stuck with him.
"The main thing is that if I'm going to realize my potential, I know I'm going to have to work hard every day to get better," McGee said after averaging 8.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while playing for the Wizards' summer league team in Las Vegas earlier this month. "This is my dream. I've been given an opportunity to play in the NBA so now I have to take advantage."
McGee, an early entry candidate after playing two seasons at the University of Nevada, has reached this point thanks to a combination of good genes, his own hard work and his mother's persistence.
His father, George Montgomery, played at Illinois and was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1985 but never played in the NBA. McGee and Montgomery did not marry and he has had only a minor role in his son's life.
JaVale was raised exclusively by Pamela, whose basketball résumé includes teaming up with her twin sister, Paula, to help USC win consecutive national championships in the mid-1980s before embarking on a playing and coaching career that encompassed stops in Spain, Italy, France and Brazil and stints with the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs and Los Angeles Sparks.
Nine months after giving birth to JaVale in 1988, Pamela signed a contract to play for a team in Palermo, Spain, on the condition that the team provide a nanny for her son and allow him to attend all practices and games.
"I've been around basketball ever since I could remember," said JaVale, who weighed 11 pounds, 11 ounces at birth and was 6-6 at age 11. "It's always been a part of my life."