The complete fictional recruitment of Will, Marcus and Kyle
By: Jonas E. Pope IV
NOTE: I was born with a very vivid and broad imagination. It’s only natural that I’m a writer. I also can find myself glued to the television for hours, like a sponge, soaking up little details of my favorite shows and movies. To the point where it can consume me all day asking hypothetical questions about different scenarios played out over and over. One of my favorite basketball movies is ‘Above The Rim.’ On the flip side, one TV sitcom that I can watch on a loop in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.’ So imagine the nugget I discovered one morning while watching TFBOBA that instantly connected me to ATM. That Six Degrees of Separation (If you’re a Will Smith fan you’ll see what I did there) was Georgetown University. So in the following paragraphs you will read about the recruitment process of three ballers who all wanted to play for the Hoyas.
WASHINGTON - Big John has birthed several big men. That’s been his calling card since the 6’10 former Boston Celtic started roaming the sidelines at Georgetown University.
John Thompson, Jr. is responsible for making guys like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo household names. His philosophy is, and always has been, inside out. That, however, could be about to change soon and very soon.
Our recruiting sources across the country tell us that Big John is thinking small. What? This can’t be! Not John Thompson and Georgetown. Not Big Man U. Yes, Big Man U could be downsizing pretty soon, starting with a pair of West Coast guard recruits. Gasp! Yes, WEST COAST. John, who has owned the eastern seaboard in the recruiting battle has his eyes west. Not to worry Hoya fans, there are three heads to this monster, with two of the prospects in the class of 1992 and one, considered the prize of the group, an east coast, class of ‘94, New York City point-guard.
First, let’s start in La-La land. You might ask how exactly did Thompson set his sites on a pair of guards playing basketball in Hollywood? Well, this story actually starts in West Philly, where it was expected that Thompson would be the front-runner for the services of Will Smith. Of course, in Philly, he would have to battle Temple’s John Chaney and Villanova’s Steve Lappas for the right to Mr. Smith. However, that seemed like less of a problem when Smith suddenly bolted from Philadelphia and headed west to live with his aunt and uncle. The move was possibly to get a better education and more exposure. Our sources also tell us there was a playground incident involving Smith and some locals. Reports tell us that all in all, Smith is a good kid. However, the move did not stop Thompson from paying attention. Like any good recruiter, Big John kept tabs on Smith and how he was dominating at Bel Air Academy his first three years in California.
With UCLA and USC ( Not to mention high-flying UNLV, fresh off a perfect 1991 regular season, a short distance away), Thompson kept it close with Smith. Most conversations went through Smith’s uncle, a Bel Air lawyer, but not the type of hanger on who was trying to “get his.” Doing a recruiting trip to the West Coast, that’s where Big John and his coaches discovered that Smith wasn’t the only show in town. By pure luck, Thompson stumbled on Malibu Prep guard Marcus Stokes. Thompson was lucky enough that Smith and Stokes played in the same conference, so trips out West he could recruit two for the price of one.
Stokes, like Smith, wasn’t exactly homegrown on the L.A. Prep league. No, Stokes, one of seven siblings, stayed 20 miles South of Malibu, but, like Smith, made the journey for a better education, better hoops and a chance to catch the eye of scouts. After countless letters, calls and 30-plus point games, Thompson sent a scout to L.A. in the winter of 1992 to watch Smith and Stokes play head up. Bel Air Academy and Prep both entered the game a perfect 4-0. Smith was fresh off a 30 point, 18 rebound and 14 assists performance, but the buzz was around Stokes, who had turned Malibu Prep from a laughing stock to a legit contender in a league that Bel Air Academy had dominated since Smith arrived.
There was a respect between Smith and Stokes. Hours before the game they discovered they went to the same barber shop on the outskirts of L.A. They both brought a street game mentality to the prep league and they both wanted to go to Georgetown and be a Hoya. Many question if Stokes was worth the spot. Unlike Smith, Stokes was born and raised in California and had a young son. Would the cold D.C. winters and being thousands of miles from his son be enough to convince him to stay home, especially with an offer from Pete Bell and Western University in his pocket. Smith, on the other hand, was an East Coast guy. His mother still lived in Philly, which was a short train ride from D.C. He could be on the train, have a cheesesteak and be back to D.C. in time for practice if he wanted.
But they were both just too good. Also the same player. The only difference, since Smith was the biggest player on his team at 6’2” and sometimes had to play out of position. So Thompson never really saw Smith play his natural position - whatever that was. Stokes was a true point, a guy who could score and dish. He reminded Thompson so much of Sleepy Floyd. Almost the same height and style of play. If he couldn’t get them both (which was unrealistic considering they both dominated the ball) then he wanted at least one. In Thompson’s mind, either Smith or Stokes could man the point for at least two years, and bring along Kyle Watson (more on him later) when he arrived on campus (hopefully) as an understudy.
Thompson, in his mind, was already dreaming of a point-guard pipeline with Smith or Stokes, Watson and Virginia prep star Allen Iverson (℅ ‘94) also on his radar. The way Big John figured, he couldn’t lose.
Somebody, however, would have to take an L on the court. In the only head-to-head matchup of the season, Stokes and Prep, edged Smith and Bel Air Academy, 91-90. Smith was spectacular with 32 points, but it was Stokes who got the last laugh, blowing by Smith for the game-winning layup.
After the game, both players were seen on the court talking to one another. The Georgetown scout, quickly out the door. Word is he was on a redeye to NYC.
Fast forward two years later. As the story goes, Thompson missed out on Smith (who stopped playing basketball and attended community college) and Stokes (who stayed at home - as we figured - to take care of his son, and help out his mom who worked at a phone company).
Watson was a must have! On the court, he could do it all. Drive, dish, whatever it took to get the points. Dishing to teammates, not his strongest quality. The biggest draw to Watson - he really, really, wanted to go to Georgetown. That was the only school he talked about. When he woke up at 5 A.M. to workout, run and put up extra baskets, he did it with Georgetown in mind.
And that same scout (Phil Redd) who left L.A. empty handed two years prior - was in a packed NYC gym every night to watch Watson work. In the opening game of the season, he took a matchup with personally with North Carolina-bound guard Montrose. Watson finished with 22 points and 8 boards (missing the assists?) in the loss.
Kyle was a talent, but he could have also been considered a risk. He hung with a questionable crowd, and there is a reported locker room incident where he threw a chair at a school resource officer; (our sources indicate that the officer was former All-City guard Thomas “Shepp” Sheppard).
A local drug dealer named Birdie also pops up at Watson’s games regularly and Watson has been spotted leaving Birdie’s club and riding around the city in an SUV with two of Birdie’s “staff members.”
However, Big John always felt he could scare away the thugs who surround his players. This is the same man who called D.C. kingpin Rayful Edmond III into his office and told him to stay away from his players. Edmond complied.
So Birdie wasn’t problem - at least in Thompson’s eyes. But he was an issue. He was always around. Watson even switched teams and decided to play with Birdie’s squad at the annual Uptown Shoot Out Tournament, turning down offers to play with his high school coach and teammates. There were also some sneaky cats hanging around Birdie’s club, including a man who had been connected with some recruiting violations at some major universities. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Watson was spotted wearing some nice, new sneakers days after leaving Birdie’s club. That may have scared off a lot of coaches, but not Thompson. He stayed on Watson and days before the tournament, an official offer landed on the desk of Kyle’s high school coach, who was reunited with Watson at the Shoot Out Tournament.
Watson’s team, which also included Shepp in a surprise return to the court, won the tournament, which didn’t come without it’s share of drama. After the win a man was shot by an off duty police officer. Weeks later, one of Kyle’s best friends was arrested after he shot Birdie in his own club. After these events, Kyle, who was raised by his single mother, couldn’t wait to get out of New York.
Despite a late push from St. John’s, Kyle signed his LOI with his dream school. Despite some accusations of recruiting violations, (never proven, but someone claimed Birdie did provide Kyle with shoes and offered money), Thompson finally got the guard he wanted, two years in the making.
Now he could set his sites on Virginia and that skinny Iverson kid.