With the end of the area's high school basketball season and the onset of warmer weather, many local high school players will take to the playgrounds to maintain their skills and imitate their idols.
Players such as junior William Liggins of Carroll High, junior Tyrone (Putt) Smith of Wakefield and Douglass sophomore Ricky Evans may be spinning and stealing like 5-foot-7 Anthony (Spud) Webb of the Atlanta Hawks and 5-3 Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues of Wake Forest, who have given these high schoolers someone to look up to.
"Muggsy is my idol," said Liggins, who is 5-6. "He can take control of a game. I like the way he dishes off. Spud is a good point guard, too, but Muggsy, win or lose, keeps everybody happy in the game."
The development of Smith, who is 5-7, at Wakefield has been a pleasant surprise, particularly for Coach Bob Veldran, who well remembers the first time Smith impressed him.
"It was the first time I was watching him play in his freshman year," Veldran said. "He was like a little rooster out there. He ran the entire show. He didn't back down from anyone. He did it with total confidence."
That performance changed Veldran's initial reaction upon learning that his future point guard was a bit short.
"When I first heard who he was I said, 'Him? We're going to be in big trouble,' " Veldran said. "But I didn't realize how competitive and super tough he was. I knew he'd find a big spot on our team. And he did."
Smith eventually became a letterman in football, baseball and basketball at Wakefield.
"I like playing basketball the most," Smith said. "Taller guys are a little slow. It's harder for them to check me than for me to check them. It's harder for them to lose me."
Players such as Smith, Mount Vernon's Mark Cottom and Bowie's Greg Boyd, both 5-7, defy the traditional perception that short players can't score. The Cottom and Smith, who shoots well from 20 feet, are expected to produce points for their teams. And Boyd, who finished the season with consecutive 30-point performances, is his team's leading scorer.
"I'm out there trying to earn my respect," said Boyd, a junior.
Respect for the short player is something to be earned on the basketball court. Often the big boys play right into a little man's hands.
Smith said: "When the other team underestimates you, that's when you can show them what you can do. They say, 'Hey, I was wrong. This boy can play some ball.' I love it."
"They might think they can take advantage of you," said 5-5 sophomore Ricky Evans of Douglass. "But that just makes it easier for me."
Evans and Carroll's Liggins represent the pesky ball-hawkers who terrorize opposing guards. No dribble is safe. No pass is guaranteed. They relish knocking the ball from a bigger player's hands after he just battled to get the rebound.
"I'll just let the big boys go at it," Liggins said. "Then I'll snatch it."
Liggins has come a long way from when he first realized he could overcome his lack of height. In a boys club basketball game, he once humiliated the opposing team's center with a quick leap to win a jump ball. Last year, he pestered DeMatha's 6-10 Danny Ferry by poking him in the stomach on his jump shot. This past season, he was a starting guard.
"Most of my opponents don't like to see me in the games," Liggins said. "They know I'll just bother them up and down the court. One guy asked me just to please stop moving around."
Ironically, many small guys hate to guard players who are their size.
"It's hard to steal the ball from them," Liggins said. "You can't be as pesky. They kind of know what I'm trying to do."
"It's much tougher than checking a 6-2 slow person," Smith said.
Then again, they don't want to defend someone too tall.
"I once had to check a 6-5 forward," Smith said, "and they lobbed on me all day."
Was it a learning experience?
"Yeah," Smith said. "I learned a height advantage is nice."
Height was no factor when Webb won this year's National Basketball Association dunking contest, a feat that did not go unnoticed by little men all around the area.
"I was going around telling everybody about 6-2 and up that he would win it," Liggins said. "Spud inspired me to work on my legs so I can get up."
Getting up that extra effort is what gets the small player noticed.
"We feel we've got to work harder," Smith said. "We know the scouts are going to be looking at taller players . So, in order to be a good college prospect, you've got to put a lot of hustle into it. If I work hard this summer -- and I'm going to work hard -- I can come back next year and play some serious ball."
Maybe height is just a matter of perception.
"You really can't tell how tall I am," Liggins said. "The only time you can really tell is when I get out on the court."