When Carlos Yates was a senior at Flint Hill Prep, he searched for the bright lights of a major college basketball program.
He thought he'd found them on a recruiting trip to Purdue, but the lights dimmed when the semicity kid saw cows in West Lafayette, Ind.
He thought the lights brightened on a visit to West Virginia.
"But when Coach Gale Catlett came to greet me in Morgantown, he was wearing a squirrel hat," Yates remembered. "I told him thanks, but I can't make it. Squirrels . . . trees, they just weren't for me."
So Yates stayed home. He went to George Mason in Fairfax, a school that was pretty much in the dark two years ago when it came to basketball.
As with many things, when Yates stopped looking for the artificial glamor, the real glory found him.
The NCAA statistics reveal that Yates is the fourth-leading scorer in college basketball: 27.4 points per game. Although no player from a Washington-area team has ever won the national scoring title, Yates, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard, has been as high as second this season. And he is only a sophomore.
His offensive game is nearly flawless. Perimeter jumpers off the screen, pull-up shots off the dribble, drives to the basket, post-up moves inside. Once this season, Yates made 12 of 13 shots; the one he missed was blocked. Eight times this season he has scored 30 points or more, including four consecutive games.
Yet, there are no nicknames like "Machine Gun" or "Yahoo Yates."
Yates takes an average of 17 shots a game and makes 55 percent. Best of all, George Mason, after five losing seasons in six, is a winning team. Under second-year Coach Joe Harrington, the Patriots are 13-7, the school's best record after 20 games.
"The other players on that team realize they are playing with an all-American and figure, 'There's no need of just having him here, let's use him,' " said American University Coach Ed Tapscott.
And Yates isn't shy about taking it from there.
"I'm a killer," he said when asked to describe his approach to offense. "I'll start with a 15-footer. But when I hit that, I want a 10-footer next. And after I get that, the next time I want a layup."
And Yates has a shooting technique that often assures that sequence.
When he goes up for his jump shot, his right elbow-point extends to a 90-degree angle. "When a defender gets too close," Yates said, "they get my elbow in the mouth." Duke's Jay Bilas was too close and Yates' elbow cracked two of his teeth. By the end of the game the man guarding Yates is often a foot away.
What's more, the defensive player often gets called for fouling Yates on the shot, which is why he averages 10 free throws a game. He is shooting 80 percent from the line.
Guard David Dupont of James Madison University, a superb defensive player, knows Yates' ploys. Against JMU last month, Yates made 14 of 18 shots and scored 36 points as Mason lost a two-point thriller.
"Carlos didn't make a shot inside of 16 feet," Dupont said. "He didn't take one shot where there wasn't a hand in his face. His teammates have as much confidence in him as he has in himself, and that's rare. They screen for him all over the court. It seems like everywhere I went, there was a screen for Carlos. He's my favorite player in the country to watch."
Madison Coach Lou Campanelli called Yates' effort that day "the greatest shooting performance I've ever seen. We've played Sleepy Floyd, Kelly Tripucka and Clark Kellogg, and none of them ever had a game against us like Yates did."
Tapscott watched Yates score 32 recently against his Eagles. During the game, Yates made one move that is now Tapscott's opposition highlight of the year.
"Yates was 18 feet from the basket," said Tapscott, "and he took one step and spun at 15 feet to shoot. But Eddie Sloane was right in his face. So Carlos went up, and Eddie went right up with him, nose to nose. So Carlos takes his right hand, moves Eddie's hand to the left, then shot with one hand and drew the foul.
"At the time I was upset about the foul, but anybody who does that move deserves the call. I'd have given it to him, too. It was without a doubt a pro move."
But, as Tapscott observed, Sloane scored 29 points that night against Yates. "He needs help defensively," Tapscott said.
Yates seems aware of the importance of playing a good overall game and has improved his rebounding (4.9 per game) and ball handling. He was reminded the other day that there have been many high scorers who've never played on outstanding teams and will never be remembered for much more than gunning: such players as Harry Kelly, Zam Frederick, Tony Murphy and Lawrence Butler, the last four NCAA scoring champions.
"And that's exactly why I've tried to become the best player possible." said Yates, "Not the best scorer. Winning the scoring title has never been my goal; getting into the NCAA tournament is. That's the goal I had in mind when I passed up schools like Purdue, Indiana, West Virginia and North Carolina State to come to George Mason.
"And if we need me to score to push our program into the light, then that's what I'll try to do." In women's games last night:
Catholic 76, Goucher 35: The host Cardinals held Goucher to 11 points in the second half (on three-of-20 shooting). Therese Durkin's six steals led Catholic's total of 25. Kathy Hackett scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Cardinals (5-10); Sherry Bassner's 13 points led Goucher (1-8).
Md.-Eastern Shore 64, Bowie St. 55: Lisa Moore had 18 points as five Hawks (2-12) scored in double figures at Princess Anne, Md. Paula Coombs led the Bulldogs (7-17) with 19 points.