Zachary Williams is a rising senior at Christ the King High School in New York. He's also as well-traveled as mail. This summer, he and his Amateur Athletic Union basketball team of Riverside Church will play in Georgia, Florida and California. Williams will also play in separate camps in Indianapolis and Pennsylvania. Not that this is a big deal.
"At Easter we went to France," said the 6-foot-7 forward.
Yesterday Williams's and seven other AAU teams -- from as far as Detroit and Louisiana -- came to the District. For all his basketball travels, Williams's trip to the Black Entertainment Television Pro-Am DC Summer Classic is different. First, it takes place during the NCAA's "dead period" for recruiting. This means that, unlike most summer camps, college coaches are not allowed to watch. Second, the event, which started yesterday and wraps up Sunday, is designed to show players what college life is like.
They spend their nights in dorms at George Washington University, go to class in the morning and spend the afternoon on the court. If they miss class or break a rule, a suspension from basketball may be imminent. It started at 9:30 yesterday morning, when more than 100 high school boys entered Room 117 of Ross Hall at George Washington. Their "class" consisted of a handful of speeches on basketball, life and how they are intertwined.
Some of the players whispered and giggled, some stared into space, and a few even nodded off. In other words, they were just like college students. But this was not a typical college class. It started with Leroy Charles, a George Washington vice president who runs the tournament, setting a stern tone. "Somebody is going to be sent home," he barked. "It's going to happen."
Charles was followed to the lectern by NewsChannel 8 sportscaster Glenn Harris, then former University of California coach Todd Bozeman. They offered the same messages: Work hard, study, and don't get caught up in how good you think you are.
Bozeman, who left Cal after admitting he paid a recruit, may seem like an odd choice. He made only one reference to his departure from Cal, and it seemed to go over most players' heads.
"I made a mistake and I paid the consequences," said Bozeman, who lives in Mitchellville. "If you make a mistake, you'll pay the consequences."
Did the speeches resonate?
"It was real positive," said Williams, although it's clear not everybody was as impressed as he. "Some guys, it's going to go in one ear and out the other. Some guys are going to really pay attention to it."
"I think it sunk in. They're getting us prepared for college," said Eddie Griffin, a 6-8 forward from Philadelphia's Catholic High School.
Despite Charles's intentions, however, some guys are simply here for basketball, and when the games got underway at the University of the District of Columbia yesterday afternoon, everybody was paying attention.
What they saw was Griffin toying with Northern Virginia's Team Reebok. Along with Omar Cook of Riverside Church, Griffin is one of the tournament's top draws.
Griffin scored 37 points for the Tim Thomas Playaz, who were 89-70 winners over Team Reebok. Once the outcome was not in doubt, the game degenerated into a no-defense, all-fast-break affair. The crowd oohed as Griffin dunked, though there was no rim-hanging, no frosting. His expression was the same after a dunk as when he sipped water on the bench.
Harris would have been proud. In his speech in the morning, Harris challenged the kids to drop their street attitudes.
"I've been there, to all the holes," he told the players, most of whom are from inner cities. "And they're just the same as everybody else's holes. People doing bad stuff, people doing good stuff. What are you going to do?"
CAPTION: Northern Virginia's Garret Thomas suffers rejection at the hand of Tim Thomas Playaz' Eddie Griffin during BET Pro-Am DC Summer Classic.