John Duren's first organized basketball team posted a 15-0 record when he was 10 years old. Now Duren is 21. He has yet to play on a team that did not win a championship or make the playoffs.
It began at Police Boys' Club No. 2, continued through Terrell Junior High and Dunbar High and finally arrived at Georgetown University, a 10-year bus trip on the G2 route from ghetto to glory.
The bus rides are almost over now for Georgetown's senior captain. The hard work and desire will soon result in a lucrative NBA contract for the bulky 6-foot-3 point guard who values playmaking and a leadership role over a high scoring average.
He is the classic exception to the old axiom, "Statistics don't lie." His shooting percentage and his scoring are down. His NBA value is up.
His coach, who obviously is biased, agrees:
"The boy's a winner," said John Thompson. "I've got no reason to believe he's not going to contribute to winning someplace else he goes. I feel that way about Craig Shelton, too.
"But it's still a fact. The boy's record speaks for itself. That's the statistic I look at. The boy's won. You talk about shooting percentages all you want to. He's a winner."
Some unbiased NBA general managers agree.
"Duren impressed a lot of people in the Pan American trials," said Jerry Colangelo, GM of the Phoenix Suns. "As a result, going into this college season, he had high consideration -- a second-round pick. I think he's picked himself up to late first round."
Said the Bullets' Bob Ferry: "I think he's terrific, a leader, an excellent open shooter. He reminds me a little bit of Quinn Buckner. He plays in a good program. He's well-coached, disciplined, has a pro body, can handle the ball, has the ability to pass to the right people at the right time and he's a good shooter."
"Points, schomintz," said Boston's Red Auerbach. "What does that mean? Can he play? That's what I look for . . . He's what you call 'A coach's ballplayer.' He's a definite first-round pick."
Duren's most glaring weakness, Thompson said, is that he's not selfish enough. Which isn't much of a hindrance.
"I don't know if that's a weakness," Ferry said. "It's something pros realize when they see a player. It's a plus."
To Duren, whose team takes an 18-5 record and a seven-game winning streak into tonight's 8 o'clock (WTTG-TV-5) home game against Detroit, shooting is fine. But being a true point guard is better.
"I feel I'm a pretty good offensive player" Duren said. "I'm not bragging on myself. But I feel I'm capable of scoring when it's really needed."
But he would not want to be the second, or shooting, guard, a position at which Thompson says he "could play without any problem. Take total responsibility away from him for running the team and watch his shooting percentage go up."
"I don't really think about playing second guard," Duren replied. "I enjoy leading and calling the plays and things like that. The responsibility is something that I enjoy.
"I like making other guys happy as far as telling them the right information or whatever, or getting them the ball. I like fast-breaking, the passing -- that's the type of game I like to play. I'm not saying you can't do it as the No. 2 guard, but the point guard's No. 1 thing is to set the guys up, then run the offense, and the last thing he should do is look to score."
Sounds like a coach talking, not a player about to go from bus tokens to six-figure contracts.
Sounds like a man who has thought things through. Like a man with perspective.
He wants to coach when his playing days are through, or at least work with youth in the community. He has known poverty long enough to wait one more year to buy a car. He understands why a player averaging 13 points, seven assists and three rebounds a game will not receive gobs of publicity.
He has worked hard -- by the rules -- and will be rewarded for the effort.
"I look around the league or around the NBA or the high schools," Duren said the other day, "and most of the time I really don't know too many true point guards who got a lot of credit.
"On the pro teams, you have one or two dudes doing the dirty work. All the guys here do the dirty work. That's what makes us win."
Duren's biggest attribute, Thompson said, is "that he learns extremely fast. And that's in relation to his role and the system that you're using, offensively and defensively. He doesn't resist changes and he's willing to learn new things, which is extremely important to me.
"If he doesn't play (in the pros), somebody is missing a jewel. I've never before gone to that extent on any player I've ever coached. But the kid possesses the combination of physical and mental ability and then you put attitude in it, too. What else do you need? He's the ideal player."
And he still rides the bus, in this day when many college basketball stars possess at least one and sometimes two flashy cars.
"Why don't I drive?" Duren replied. "I don't have any money to get a car. That's the main reason for it. If I'd waited all this time and been considered really poor all this time and make a good living for myself in one year, I feel I could wait that year.
"I can sacrifice instead of trying to go out and buy a car or whatever, or trying to do something illegal to get a car -- get somebody to give me money or sell anything to get me some money. I was taught when I grew up not to do that type of thing."
And Duren obviously is recognized on the buses and Metro subways, especially by basketball players and fans.
"They see you on TV and they see you on a bus and they say, Hey, what you riding the bus?' You're supposed to be doing this or you're supposed be doing that. But I tell them, 'No, it ain't like that.'
"To make it this far, without being a crook or whatever, if I hadn't had a car this long, I wouldn't think one more year would matter. Besides, Metro is good way to travel."