Ed, Larry and Louise Spriggs have proven that patience and family backing can be a winning combination.
Three of the children of James and Barbara Spriggs, of North Brentwood in Prince George's County, play collegiate basketball in the Washington area. Ed, 24, plays for Georgetown University, 20-year-old Larry for Howard University and 22-year-old Louise for the University of the District of Columbia. A fourth Spriggs child, 23-year-old Gregory, chose a different course and is an information specialist at Georgetown University.
The three who chose collegiate basketball took their time and chose their own ways of getting where they are.
Three years ago, Georgetown coach John Thompson spotted Ed Spriggs at a summer pickup league game. Thompson, impressed with Ed's quickness for his height (he's 6 foot 9), approaced him about enrolling at Georgetown.
Spriggs was flattered by the offer, but turned it down. "I thought about it very seriously at the time but when I considered the fact that I had no prior experience playing organized ball (he never played high school basketball), I decided against it," Spriggs recalled. He had a job as a platform worker and truck driver and was earning a decent salary at the time, he said.
But a little persistence from Thompson and some serious second thoughts prompted Spriggs to change his mind and accept a scholarship to play basketball for Georgetown.
"Now that I look back, it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made," Spriggs said.
Despite being 22, older than the usual freshman when he entered Georgetown, Spriggs said the adjustment from a 40-hours-a-week job to college was not as difficult as he had first thought.
"The discipline that I got from working probably prepared me more than anything for the daily routine of practices, games and classes," he said.
According to Thompson, Spriggs showed remarkable improvement from game to game as a freshamn last year. "Basically, he has very little experience in terms of the game of basketball," said Thompson. "But the thing about Ed is his capacity to learn very rapidly. Of course, there is no substitute for experience but he is so coachable and so smart that he is rapidly improving every game."
At Northwestern High in Prince George's County, Larry Spriggs, Ed's younger brother, did not play basketball until his junior year. Although he made All-Prince George's as a senior, he was hardly recruited. Howard University coach A. B. Williamson was one of the few coaches who showed interest.
"He was a sleeper," said Williamson, who has built a consistently winning team at Howard. "I saw him and liked what I saw. He was young (17) but showed great potential."
After carefully examining his basketball and academic situations, Larry decided to attend junior college to improve in both areas. He attended San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas.
After a year, he decided to transfer to Howard. "It was Howard or go down there for another year," said the 6-foot-7 jumping jack. "Because of the closeness of my family, I decided to come to Howard where they could come out to see me play. Besides, I felt like I was ready to meet the challenge."
Larry Spriggs' choice has had Howard excited ever since. In his first year there last season, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, handed out 52 assists, blocked 16 shots and stole the ball 33 times. In addition, he was voted most valuable player for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and first team All-MEAC. Williamson feels that Larry's potential is unlimited. "He can do things on the court that a lot of people can't do. Anyone who has seen him play can attest to that. He jumps well, he's strong and he is extremely agile. He definitely has the makings of a great player."
Despite missing several games this season because he broke his foot during the summer, Larry has still managed to average 11.5 points a game and a little over six rebounds. Yet he admits his recovery has not been an easy one.
"I still can't do the things I once did. For a while, I began to wonder if I could ever get to that point again. But my family has helped me a lot and made it easier by giving me support. I'm slowly getting back where I want to be."
Louise Spriggs started at center for Northerwestern High for three years but decided to put the ball down after graduation.
She landed a job as an assistant manager of a fireplace shop, but that was before a series of events that went like this: Bessie Stockard was named head coach at UDC. She was looking for a center and someone told her about Louise. At the same time, Louise had been giving serious thought to pursuing a college career. At Stockard's urging, she decided to give college a whirl.
"So far, everything is working out fine," said the 5-foot-11 freshman center. "Right now, I'm undecided about my major but college gives me some options in life. I'm very pleased with my decision."
"Although she had been out of basketball for a while (four years), she is not at that much of a disadvantage because she has a lot of knowledge about the game," said Stockard, a pioneer of women's basketball.
"The thing that impresses me about her is that she is so mature and is always working hard. That has a definite positive effect on some of our younger players," Stockard said.
Many of the Spriggses' adjustments and transitions can be attributed to close family ties. At any Georgetown, Howard or UDC game, you're likely to find the family cheering squad, sometimes made up of as many as 11 members including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Barbara Spriggs, a guidance counselor at Fairmont Heights High School, said that trying to follow all three around to games can sometimes be a problem, but she has worked out a solution.
"If Ed and Larry play on the same night as they usually do, we go to see Larry and take the TV along so that we can watch Ed. If all three play on the same night, we just split up," she said.
On one occasion, 11 members of the family flew to Texas to watch Larry play.
James Spriggs, an engineer at John Adams Elementary School in the District, never played sports but his wife said she used to play basketball and sometimes offers Louise coaching advice.
The closeness of the Spriggs family ties has not gone unnoticed by Georgetown's Thompson. "Usually coaches don't get that involved in the family situation of the players, only as it pertains to the academics. But with the Sprigges, you can't help but notice because they are gregarious people."
Howard's Williamson said, "I've never seen such a closely knit family. Usually when the children reach a certain age, the once closeness becomes less intense.
"But with the Spriggses, it is different. In fact, they remind me of families from the Deep South. I'm just happy to have one of their family members playing for me."