Basketball was a part of both mine and Dave’s lives growing up until we were through high school. Dave’s college was racing cars and we knew that. He had an opportunity with dad to go race a sprint car. I’d have loved to have gotten an opportunity to race at the same age as him but we couldn’t afford to have two cars.
Growing up in those days there was nothing for us to do but sports. Our family wasn’t the type to sit inside and watch tv. We were always playing either little league baseball or basketball. Football wasn’t a part of our school system so we didn’t have an opportunity to play that. We played little league baseball until we were 12. We ran into a problem. Baseball was in the summer but so was racing. We were not going to miss our dad’s races for baseball. We loved baseball but dad’s racing was far more important to us. Basketball was during the winter and racing’s off-season so we played that as we grew up.
I couldn’t pass up the free education that basketball afforded me. I decided to go to school and see what I could do in basketball. Racing and basketball, that’s all that there ever was in my life.
Basketball back then was so much different than it is today. There was no 3-point line, guys weren’t as physically strong, it was just a totally different game from the paint out.
I was from a really small high school, we only had a graduating class of like 120 kids. We didn’t have AAU so basically I went to a couple of basketball camps in the summer time and there were no scouts knocking down my door at any point really. In my senior year, I was 6 foot 3, 165 lbs. I played every position in high school. Nobody really had an idea of what level I could play at. Fortunately, talent will generally always be recognized and someone who can identify talent will usually spot it. I played to the level of anyone that I played against to that point.
I was fortunate that a couple of people saw me and thought I could play. Did I think I could play Division 1? I wasn’t sure, but I thought I could and I definitely wanted to try. I knew I was going to have to play guard at that level due to my size. I felt like I had the talent to do it but until you actually get out there you never really know.
The two main schools I had been looking at were Youngstown State or Kent State. West Virginia actually came in late after noticing me while trying to recruit a forward. I went down there for a visit. It was a little bit bigger school and I felt like I wanted to play there. There was probably more opportunity to play immediately or down the road at Youngstown or Kent but I wanted to try to play at West Virginia.
I had played in a couple of All-Star games and I kind of knew that if I played against and with better players that it would elevate my game. It just happens. I was over-matched a little physically and the speed of the game was faster than I was used to. I just needed to make a few adjustments and learn to play that style of game.
When I got down to West Virginia, they already had 3 senior guards. That was it, there was nobody else in the program. Of the 3 senior guards, 1 was an All-American, 1 was 2nd Team All-Conference and 1 was a transfer who was on The All-Rookie Team. When I was a freshman there was pretty much no room for me to play. I could learn but not play. 13 games into the year I was starting and never dropped out of the lineup after that.
I adapted to college basketball. I adapted to playing with better players. The system we had dictated me playing a lot. The offense, defense and coaching style all seemed to suit my style as a player. The other senior guards didn’t play very well so I got a lot of playing time. I just kept getting better, the more I played I just kept getting better and better. It was a lot like racing. If you put a good driver in a car he’s going to make adjustments and make the car better.
Our team the year before had racked up a bunch of wins and went to The NCAA tournament with high hopes but lost. For whatever reason, those starting guards got off to a slow start and I seemed to fit our team’s style and I got that opportunity to play early. For whatever reason, I made our team better.
I have a hard time describing my playing style. People laugh now when I tell them I was a really good athlete or that I could run and jump. I could dunk a ball any which way I wanted. I actually had the highest vertical jump at The LA Lakers rookie camp. I also ran the fastest line drill. I could run and jump but I was also intelligent enough to get the ball to the right guy or make the correct pass. I didn’t shoot a lot but the shots that I took were generally good shots. I never really forced anything.
I knew where everyone was supposed to go on every single play we ran. Sometimes a smarter player is a little bit better than a more athletic player that doesn’t know the right pass to make at the right time. There were better athletes behind me on the bench and maybe better players overall, but I was a better fit for the system. Once they got me to start playing you weren’t going to get me out that lineup.
I got to see a lot. We played Virginia Tech every year, we played UNLV when they were ranked #1 in the country and we beat them in my freshman year on CBS. The game was towards the end of the year and was held in our building. That was the neatest game I’ve ever played in.To play in that atmosphere in front of that crowd against the #1 team in the nation made it incredible. We won by 11 or 12. I think I had 11 points and I played pretty well. It’s hard to describe but for me, that was like winning The Kings Royal. It was just so cool to be a part of it with everybody. Basketball is not an individual sport. It was 15 guys all together taking down the top team in the nation. It was one of the neatest moments in my life.
In my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to make one of the biggest shots in our school’s history. It was in The Atlantic 10 Tournament. We were playing Temple who was undefeated in the regular season at 18-0. They were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. It was also the first time the conference tournament was held at West Virginia.
We played them in the semi-finals and they had Terence Stansbury who went on to play for The Pacers, was in The NBA Dunk Contest a few times and ended up having a long NBA career. I hit a shot over Terence with about 3 seconds to go to put us up by 1 point and we ended up winning. We won the tournament championship against St. Bonaventure the next day and that got us into The NCAA tournament. We weren’t supposed to make the tournament. We had ended the year with a record of 20-12. We wouldn’t have made the tournament if I hadn’t made that shot.
In the tournament we actually went on to beat Oregon State who had future LA Laker; AC Green in the first round to pull off one of those 12 seed, versus 5 seed, upsets you always hear about. Unfortunately, Maryland ended up beating us in the next round.
Throughout my collegiate career, I was fortunate enough to share the court with several really good players. We played Rutgers with Roy Hinson, John Battle, Stansbury at Temple and Green at Oregon State. I just got to play against so many good guys. Steph’s dad Del Curry and I played against each other for 4 years. We played the same spot and guarded each other. He was a great player.
The atmosphere of playing college and playing for your teammates, there was nothing better. Especially at that level, absolutely nothing better.
I was drafted into The NBA by The Los Angeles Lakers in the 4th round. In 1986 there were 7 rounds in the draft.
It was a tough point in my life. Sometimes when you’re a 22 year old kid you don’t make the best decisions in life. I went to rookie camp for 3 days and played pretty well before going back to the LA summer league for about 3 weeks. There was all kinds of NBA players there, The Phoenix Suns had a team out there, Milwaukee had a team out there and there was 7 or 8 teams that kind of had free agent teams. Isiah Thomas came in for a couple of games and Dominique Wilkins came in for a couple of games. I did that for 3 weeks and played well, I averaged 15 points a game. I felt like once again, when I was playing with better players that I just played better.
I think Magic Johnson was probably the best player I’d ever seen and played with on the same court. He could do whatever he wanted. He could get into the lane and score. In a game or practice, it didn’t matter if there were 2 guys draped all over him he would still make the shot. He was probably the best player I’ve ever played ball with.
I went to Lakers camp for a few weeks and I left. I don’t know, basketball was part of my life but I just wanted to race so bad. Every day when I would get into my car after class I raced wherever I went. I raced home, I raced to the mall, I raced to practice or I raced to class. Everything was a race to me. I just wanted to be around it and I wanted to race. I had played enough basketball.
The college game to me was so much fun. You have 15 guys and everybody has got the same goal. It’s such a team, it’s so much fun and you’re playing for something. Once I got to veterans camp with The Lakers we’d show up in the gym and after practice everybody would just go their separate ways. Trust me, they’re all good friends, but they have a family to go home to. It was tough being a rookie, it’s hard for all of us rookies because we aren’t really a part of what they had. They were all together for years and years. I don’t want to say I felt out of place but it just wasn’t the same feeling I had playing basketball back in college.
I really just don’t think I was ready for the business aspect of playing basketball and realizing that now this was my job. It wasn’t fun any more, it was a job and it was going to be what I was paid to do. That aspect of basketball just didn’t really intrigue me.
People always say to me “If you loved playing basketball, why wouldn’t you do it?”. I guess the answer is I’d been led down that road and I didn’t really feel comfortable and I didn’t want to play.
Professional basketball was also to me, just a totally different game. Guys were more individualistic. The game isn’t about yourself but it kind of is, there’s just a totally whole different feel to it. I had a great opportunity to make The Los Angeles Lakers team.
I actually left Lakers camp and went to Syracuse because The Syracuse Nationals were going on and my dad and brother were there. After the race, I jumped in the truck and headed to California with my brother Dave. We went to San Jose and we went to Manzanita and I had fun doing that. I didn’t have anything to race but I just wanted to be around it.
I ended up going back to Lakers camp about 3 weeks later. I felt I didn’t want to leave things as I had. The Lakers kind of wanted me to come back and as I said earlier, I had a really, really good opportunity to make the team. The Lakers ended up releasing me right before the season started.
I played in The CBA for a year and a half. We ended up winning a championship but I tore both of my knees up and had reconstructive surgery on both knees. It ended up killing my career but like I said, I think everything happens for a reason. The injuries pulled me away from there and I was just dying to get into a car.
When I was rehabbing my second knee I was at West Virginia and I had the opportunity to be a Graduate Assistant at the university. I was all scheduled to do that and racing was probably going to be non-existent if I could have been a graduate assistant there and worked my way up into coaching.
The head coach at Duquesne for probably the previous 5 or 6 years was really good friends with Coach Catlett at West Virginia, and had just been fired or released so he actually became the graduate assistant at West Virginia. It really kicked me out of the spot and was the final shove towards racing.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.