It takes time to be a great basketball player.

It takes thousands of hours spent bouncing a ball so often the brand name wears off and the leather is buffed smooth. It takes years of practice and pickup games on a glass-strewn playground in the inner city, a battered basket hung on a suburban garage, a gym at a club or the local elementary school.

The players practicing here for the 13th annual McDonald's Capital Classic, perhaps the premier high-school all-star game in the country, developed their skills in a variety of places, with all manner of methods. Those skills will be on display Saturday at 8 at Cole Field House. And, in interviews with many of the game's participants, most of them have a common thread.

Many players said they started playing with older kids at relatively young ages. That's not an eye-opening revelation because little kids have always wanted to play with the bigger ones. But it does help explain why many of these all-stars became better basketball players.

"I was about 7 years old when I started playing," said Dwayne Bryant, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard from New Orleans' De La Salle High School, who signed a letter of intent to attend Georgetown. "My brothers were real good players. I was always playing with them and always with guys three years older. I got beat up a lot and pushed around, but I did have my older brothers to fall back on."

Richard, now 29, and Raymond, 24, were his tutors. "They showed me the right way to do things," Dwayne said. "One brother Raymond showed me the trick plays, like dribbling through my legs, and the other Richard was all fundamentals."

Bryant said his parents always stressed education, and now that both are dead, Richard is his guardian and still pushes him in that direction.

"They never pushed me into playing. It was my first love. I had a dream of playing in college and, if possible, professionally," said Bryant, who said he has a 3.2 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and plans to major in psychology or business administration. "But Richard stays on me about books. It won't mean anything if I can't get a good education."

Bryant began playing in the New Orleans Recreation Department League when he was 6, "but I was playing with guys 8 and 9."

Emanuel Jackson, one of his early coaches, left a strong impression. "I was real close to him. He was like a father to me," said Bryant, whose father died 11 years ago. "They taught me fundamentals, like dribbling with my left hand. They were teaching coordination with the ball."

By the time Bryant got to high school, his skills had already begun to emerge, but De La Salle Coach Jimmy Tillette helped Bryant with a few of the intangibles.

"Maturity and discipline," Bryant said of Tillette's teaching. "I started as a sophomore, so I was a little jittery. He helped me mature and take control of a game and be a leader, which is what you want to do as a point guard."

Phil Henderson had a situation similar to Bryant's. As Henderson put it: "Hanging out with your older brothers was the thing to do."

"I still play with my brothers," said Henderson, a 6-5, 165-pound guard from the Chicago suburb of Crete, who will play at Duke. "I get beat up pretty bad, but it's helped me get better. Ron will still beat me."

Jim Reynolds was one of the coaches who had an impact on Henderson.

"Coach Reynolds helped me the most," Henderson said. "Coach Reynolds showed me how basketball interacts and interlocks with life. He helped me realize it's a way out. It's not a total answer -- it's only a game and nothing more."

Peter Chilcutt, a 6-8, 225-pound forward from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who is headed for North Carolina, got going with help from his father, Booth.

"I visited him in Sumter S.C. each summer since I was 9 or 10 and I played at the YMCA and in summer leagues," Chilcutt said. "As far as I can remember, I wanted to play. Maybe he encouraged me when I was starting out, but I really liked what I was doing."

Like many of the best high school players, Chilcutt attended summer basketball camps. There, he got an opportunity to compare himself with other high school players, but he also learned.

"One coach I remember was Rick Pitino," Chilcutt said of the coach at Providence. "He was talking about an offensive move, a fake, a quick dribble and a shot. It's a move that anybody can do. It's basic and works. But nobody could stop him because he does the moves right."

Andre Reyes, who will be one of Coach Lefty Dreisell's taller Terrapins next season, got into the game fairly late.

"I used to play football and baseball, but basketball was not a sport everybody wanted to play," said Reyes, a 6-10 center from Manning, S.C. "I never went out and tried to play. Sometimes one of my cousins would come from New York and we'd shoot around but never really played. When my friends started to change, so did I. It was about seventh grade when I started playing in the parks with older kids."

A coach named Ernest Spann was Reyes' early teacher. "In eighth grade, he was keeping me after practice and during recess, showing me things, the basics." In ninth and 10th grades, it was a man named Tommy Brown, who coached at Summerton High.

"He taught me a whole lot about everyday life," Reyes said of Brown. "I spent a lot of time with him and it opened me up to the game. He made you play a lot more at practice and in the parks."

Gunter Sweat, Reyes' coach at Manning, contributed a little stability. "He taught me to settle down, instead of being hyped up and mad," Reyes said.

Steve Hood of DeMatha got started at the New Carrolton Boys and Girls Club, where Ray Furmage and Hood's father, Robert, got him going.

"It was what I wanted to be doing," said Hood, who has decided to attend Maryland. "My dad pushed me only to help me develop as a player."

While at DeMatha, Coach Morgan Wootten also played a major role in Hood's life, on and off the court. "He taught me all the fundamentals, which are very important," Hood said. "No matter what coach you play for, you've got to have fundamentals or you won't play.

"Mr. Wootten used basketball to correspond with situations in life," Hood said. "How hard you work will determine how much success you have. It's the same in life. He and Dad stressed academics and that you should use basketball instead of basketball using you." Next: The recruiting game.