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National media attention shaped a young LeBron in high school

December 27, 2013
By MATTHEW PEASLEE - Sports writer (mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

In ritual-like fashion, my Saturday nights as young boy in Youngstown would be spent at the Beeghly Center. Youngstown State University's basketball arena would never be filled, the Penguins were never really good either, but my father and I were devout.

He's not a YSU alum, nor a Youngstown native, but it was the best outlet to show his pre-teen son a high level of organized basketball.

One Saturday, though, there was more buzz surrounding the Beeghly trip. The Penguins weren't even playing.

A local high school, Springfield Local, was hosting Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Billed as the top team in the state, SVSM boasted a talented team of high-flying youngsters featuring a sophomore point guard named LeBron James.

Every spot available in the 6,300-seat field house was taken that night - a far cry from the minuscule crowds I was accustomed to for Mid-Continent, then Horizon League games.

Before Sports Illustrated tabbed James as "The Chosen One" in his junior year of high school, Northeast Ohio was well aware of his talent. As a freshman varsity starter, he averaged more than 20 points while leading the Irish to an undefeated season with the Division III state title.

My first glimpse of James was in the middle of a repeat championship season where he became the first sophomore to win Ohio's Mr. Basketball award.

The state, Sports Illustrated and 10-year old Matthew Peaslee, sitting atop the Beeghly Center rafters weren't the only ones to be in awe of James and his potential star-power.

He was already gleaming on a national stage.

St. Vincent-St. Mary became a traveling showcase, of sorts, playing teams from around the country. Even at home, games were moved from the high school to the University of Akron's arena, where sellouts were commonplace.

Games were broadcast on ESPN, SLAM Magazine ran monthly features on James and he picked up award after award from more national publications.

Mind you, James wasn't even old enough to drive a car.

Pressure to perform from parents, coaches and "good ole' hometown boys" weigh on the shoulders of every high school athlete in the country. While it might be a thrill for local kids to get their picture in the newspaper's sports section, James had to deal with national media monitoring his every move.

This wasn't the Herald-Star or Daily Times patting him on the back after triple-doubles and 50-point games.

This was long-lost relatives coming out of the woodwork to get a piece of the future four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, two-time NBA Finals champion, nine-time all-star and, most recently, Associated Press Athlete of the Year.

He knew that was coming. Everybody did. Call him cocky, but he backs it up. He has as a 28-year old and he did as a youngster in Akron.

After every high school game I cover whether it's football, volleyball, girls soccer or baseball, I like to interview at least one athlete. They played the game, they laid it on the line. There's only so much a coach can instruct, the players know what it takes to win.

Yes, it might be awkward, intimidating or simply strange talking to a goofy-looking, 20-something guy with a voice recorder in his hand, but this is where the best stories come from.

Plus, it's a far cry from the attention James, and many other star athletes in the making received on a daily basis.

I want what's best for our local kids. For many, this is their time to shine. There will be no packed collegiate gym for them, no magazine covers, endorsement deals or Olympic gold medals (of which James has two) to be won.

Even you suffering Cleveland fans who still feel snubbed by James' dastardly departure from the Cavaliers have to be amazed by his accolades.

His Ohio high school years made him the man he is today.

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be reached at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @thempeas.)

 
 

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