- HIGHSCHOOL - King of the island

Wednesday, July 16
King of the island

In a way, maybe it's appropriate Tim Duncan's most vivid memory of his high school days at St. Dunstan's Episcopal High (St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands) is not the shot he made, but the shot he missed.

With the final seconds ticking away in a championship game against rival St. Thomas Island High, Duncan's game-winning shot was blocked. The loose ball found its way into a teammate's hands, though, and it was that teammate, not Duncan, who won the game for the Demons.
Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is a big-time celebrity on the island of St. Croix, where he attended high school at St. Dunstan's Epsicopal High.

The story proves what Duncan will say himself -- he didn't think he was, or is, any more special than anyone else on St. Croix, despite now being the island's most popular celebrity as a three-time NBA All-Star with the San Antonio Spurs. Those who watched Duncan play in high school knew better. Even back then, the tall, lanky teen was something special on and off the court.

"He really was the focal point of the whole game," says Dennis Jones, Duncan's junior high volleyball coach. "He was way above the average in everything he did. What made him above the rest was not only his physical height, but his level of concentration that carried into academics. ... Everything he put his hand to, he succeeded."

Oddly enough, basketball nearly wasn't what Duncan decided to put his hand to. Up until eighth grade, each child of William and Ione Duncan focused their athletic talents on swimming. Duncan's sister Tricia represented the Virgin Islands in the 1988 Olympics, and Tim was ready to follow in her wake. By age 13, Tim was on pace to be an even better swimmer than Tricia as well as his other older sister, Cheryl. He broke the 50- and 100-meter freestyle records on the island and was ranked the top 400-meter freestyler in the United States for his age group.

But fate steered Duncan in a different direction. Hurricane Hugo thrashed St. Croix in 1989, destroying the Olympic-sized swimming pool Tim and his family trained in. One thing that did survive, however, was the family's basketball rim. By that point, Duncan had grown at least a head taller than his classmates. St. Dunstan's boys' basketball coach Cutbert George finally convinced him to go out for the school team.

"He was a bit clumsy at first because it was something he hadn't done before," says Dr. Catherine Milligan-Terrell, Duncan's former principal at St. Dunstan's. "But you could tell even then that with a lot of guidance he could succeed." Within a year, the makings of a star were evident. St. Dunstan's, a tiny school of about 400 students, grades K-12, began winning some basketball games. By Duncan's senior year, St. Dunstan's was the team to beat in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"I didn't know I was that talented," says Duncan, 24. "I had to grow in that situation. I grew above the talent that was there, of course, but when I started, and as I grew older, the competition was great for me."

Word of Duncan's skills spread to the United States after a group of NBA rookies and college players visited St. Croix as part of a tour to increase the popularity of basketball throughout the Caribbean. Yet, few Division I college coaches were anxious to risk their time and school's money to watch one kid. Wake Forest University head coach Dave Odom was willing to take the gamble.

"It's different if you're travelling to Europe and you're watching six or eight All-Star teams play," says Odom. "But to go some place like St. Croix to see one player, you need to know that what you're going to find you're going to like."

What Odom saw was a "spinely, underdeveloped" Duncan shooting hoops with a hodge-podge of people in a weekend pick-up basketball game. Among the smorgasbord of players ages 14 through 40, Odom saw a tall youth with big hands and big feet who knew his way around a basketball court.

"The thing that struck me about him was his presence," says Odom, who enjoyed a 97-31 record and two Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coach of the Year awards in the four years Duncan played for him at Wake Forest. "He had a quiet confidence about him. He was probably the third or fourth youngest guy on the court, but he looked liked he belonged."

From a physical standpoint, though, Duncan wasn't ready to play ACC basketball. He might have been "King of the Island" when it came to hoop, but the 7-foot center knew he needed to step up his game to compete in a college basketball arena. Fortunately for Duncan, his mental game was already at a semi-pro level.

"He was so well disciplined that whatever he was taught, he soaked it up easier than the others," says Jones, who now resides in Orlando, Fla. "When someone is at a certain academic level, there's no surprise they can perform that way athletically."

But Duncan wasn't an instant success at Wake Forest. Although the skinny teen scored 9.8 points and grabbed 9.6 rebounds a game his freshman year, there was plenty of room for his game to improve. Tim took to the challenge like a Duncan to water.

By the end of his junior year, Duncan was one of the best college basketball players in the country. And although many scouts had the soft-handed center pegged as a NBA draft lottery pick, Duncan thrilled Demon Deacons fans when he followed through on a promise he made to his mother before she died of breast cancer in 1990 -- he would finish his college education and earn his degree in psychology.

Duncan finished his senior season in 1997 and was immediately showered with honors. After ending his collegiate career as only the 10th player in the history of NCAA Division I action to tally more than 2,000 career points and 1,500 career rebounds, he was the consensus National Player of the Year award winner. Duncan also had the second-most career blocked shots of any player in NCAA history (431), which made the San Antonio Spurs' decision to draft him No. 1 overall that year a no-brainer.

Now, in his fourth season with the Spurs, Duncan, who has beefed up to 260 pounds, is one of the best professional basketball players in the world. The All-NBA first team selection the last three seasons helped guide the Spurs to the NBA title in just his second year in the league, and averaged 23.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game last season.

That success has not gone unnoticed on the small island of St. Croix. Although St. Dunstan's was shut down shortly after Duncan and his 23 fellow classmates graduated in 1993, the legacy of the "King of the Island" is stronger than ever. "We've chartered a plane before and flown to San Antonio for games," says Milligan-Terrell. "The people here love Tim Duncan."

For those who can't afford a fl screen televisions are often put under outdoor tents when Duncan and the Spurs play a big game. The inside walls of Harvey's Restaurant in St. Croix, an eatery owned by Duncan's former neighbor, is saturated with Spurs paraphernalia.

And yet, Duncan still struggles to understand the fanfare. Even today, he has a hard time believing he is any more special than anyone else on St. Croix. According to Duncan, he has enjoyed success because of two basic beliefs.

"You need hard work and determination," he says. "You have to be able to push yourself as much as anybody else would push you. With that in mind, you can get as far as you want to."

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