There are roughly six million boys between the ages of 16 and 18 living in the United States. There are approximately 26,400 high schools and close to that number of starting centers playing on high school basketball teams.
There are approximately 1450 colleges and very close to that number of starting centers playing on college basketball teams. There are 29 NBA teams and 29 starting centers. The average salary for an NBA player is $4.5 million per year.
Earth’s atmosphere becomes exceedingly rare at the altitude of $4.5 million per year. Only a nano-portion of humankind is permitted to live at that elevation. And so when you come upon a possibility, even the most negligible, tenuous, remote possibility, of breathing that air, of becoming one of those 29, that alone will change your world.
Jarrod Boswell is the starting center for Lakeside’s El Capitan High School varsity basketball team. He is seven feet tall and, according to one area sportswriter, only the third legitimate seven-footer to ever play high school basketball in San Diego County.
At the end of his junior year, wrote Mike Sullivan of SportingNews, Boswell was the “sixth all-time shot blocker in the country.” Boswell racked up 141 blocked shots during the 2001–2002 season, a Grossmont North League record, and 65 more blocked shots than the runner-up. Bill Walton, UCLA All-American, NBA Hall of Famer, and 1970 Helix High School grad, is the previous Grossmont league record holder.
Last year Boswell averaged 20.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting .637 percent from the field. He was also the league’s best field goal shooter. Boswell is rated among the West’s top ten high school centers by several scouting services. FutureStars, an online subscription-based scouting service, ranked Boswell 78th on its list of the 100 best players in the United States.
Although a senior now, Jarrod is 17 years old. He won’t turn 18 until July, which makes him one year younger than the boys he competes against. When I first met him, in February of 2002, he was 16 and had already received more than 500 letters from universities and colleges. They were kept in a cardboard box. The box was left in the kitchen of his parents’ 32-year-old three-bedroom Lakeside home.
Our first meeting took place at a patio table in the Boswells’ back yard. I began our conversation with “People must look at you and think, ‘He’s a very tall, very good basketball player. He’s going to get a great scholarship, maybe make it to the NBA.’ ”
Jarrod says, “I just play basketball. It’s what I like to do. Whatever comes with it, that’s great, but I just want to play right now.”
Smart answer. Reveals nothing. I smile and take a moment to adjust my chair. Okay, what do we have here? Jarrod has black hair, very thick on top, full on the sides, but cleanly cut at ear level, as if to forswear the possibility of sideburns. He has blue-gray eyes, a Roman nose, square chin, even lips, wide shoulders, very smooth skin; all in all, someone my mother would have called a good-looking kid. Unlike most tall men, he has excellent posture. When he stands, he stands straight. He speaks without accent or much inflection, but not in a monotone. He has no trouble looking me in the eye. He’s not trying to be my friend, nor is he affecting teenage condescension. Instead, he maintains a neutral expression, one I can’t read, which is unusual.
Simply to see what will happen, I harden my voice and push. “You must feel pressure from other people’s expectations.”
“Yeah, it gets difficult.” Jarrod studies the tabletop. “Sometimes people build people up, and later on that person won’t seem to be what people made him out to be in the beginning. I don’t want to be like that.” Silence. “If I’m not playing good that night, it’s like, ‘Oh, he sucks.’ I try to play up to expectations, but it’s hard.” Silence. Then, quietly, “I just want to play basketball.”
He doesn’t sound like he wants to play basketball. “What do you like about the game?”
“I found myself getting better at it. I like to rebound; I love that. I like blocking shots. Blocking shots makes you…makes you feel good.” Jarrod smiles for the first time.
Young Boswell has an unusual physique for someone so young and so tall in that he’s gracefully proportioned. Seen from a distance, he looks like any other mature, well-conditioned high school athlete. It’s not until he stands next to another person or alongside an artifact of daily life that you become aware of his height. Even then, odds are you would not guess his weight, 270 pounds, because there is no observable fat on him.
Moving on. “Your father told me you played high school basketball while you were in the eighth grade.”
“What was that like, playing in the big high school gym?”
“I watched the varsity players play. That was kind of intimidating. It was fun, though.”
“What did you learn?”
“Keep up with it.” Silence. More silence. And more silence. Then, “I learned if I stuck with it, I might get good at it.”
“If you were able to send us back in time to see you play basketball in the ninth grade, what would we see?” My God, what an idiotic question.
Jarrod grimaces, which bumps my respect for him up two clicks, and says, “I wasn’t very good, so you’d probably see someone a little goofy. I was skinny. Had a hard time running up and down the court, keeping up with everyone.”
“How have you dealt with that?”
“Try to keep in shape and run the floor as best I can. In school, we have weight training and conditioning. I jog a lot. I play year-round ball. That keeps me in good shape.” This is said without excessive enthusiasm.
“Don’t you get burned out? Twelve months of basketball is a lot of basketball.”