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Sunday, October 26, 1997
Tim Duncan goes from island life to life in
By CHIP BROWN / AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- When Hurricane Hugo tore apart the pool
where 13-year-old Tim Duncan trained, he was told he'd have to
practice his swimming in the ocean.
No way, Duncan said, not with all those sharks around the Virgin
Islands. And with that, his basketball career began.
Now 21, he's already made a splash: from high school standout
to college star to No. 1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft. While he
won't have to worry about sharks any more, he will have to battle
the likes of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as the San Antonio
Spurs starting power forward.
Still pretty much a kid who loves video games, action movies
and can quote extensively from the flick "Revenge of the
Surf Nazis," Duncan is flabbergasted by all the attention.
"The people in the Virgin Islands have accepted me as
somewhat of a hero, beyond what I asked for, but they've treated
me great," said Duncan, who grew up on St. Croix. "They
named a gymnasium after me, and that's something I never would
have imagined in all of my life."
Duncan had been expected to follow in the path of his older
sister, Tricia, who swam for the Virgin Islands national team
in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. But then Hugo roared across
the islands in 1989, wrecking the pool.
"Tim was not happy about swimming in the ocean,"
said his father, William, who has a deep Caribbean accent, unlike
his son. "He was afraid of the sharks. He did what I would
do and got out."
And when he got out of the water he ended up on the hardwood
and eventually at Wake Forest, where he became the first repeat
national player of the year in five years. Duncan turned down
the chance to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft after his
junior year, choosing to finish college and get his degree in
"It's funny how, where one door closes, another one opens,"
Wake Forest coach David Odom said. "No one knows how good
he could have been as a swimmer. He may have been world class.
But there's no question about his skill in basketball."
The 6-foot-11 Duncan has led the Spurs in scoring in the preseason,
about 16 points a game. Teammate David Robinson says he wouldn't
be surprised if Duncan becomes an All-Star as a rookie.
"There's no question with his demeanor and ability on
the court that he is going to be a special player," Spurs
coach Gregg Popovich said. "He told us that he thought he
was playing like a dog. We thought he was playing pretty good."
Arnold Jeffers, a high school teammate on St. Croix, said Duncan
has been unaffected by stardom.
"We used to joke and say, ÔWe want to be like Tim,'
just like the Michael Jordan commercials," Jeffers said.
"But he hasn't changed. ... He has done a lot for the Virgin
Islands and everyone here is proud of him."
Duncan first learned basketball from his sister Cheryl's husband,
Ricky Lowery, a former Division III guard. He later caught the
attention of former Wake Forest player Chris King, who was among
several NBA draft picks sent to the Virgin Islands by the league
for competition as part of a goodwill excursion.
When King returned, Odom asked if there were any players he
should be recruiting out of the islands. King recalled a 16-year-old,
about 6-9 at the time, with some pretty good moves who stood his
ground against Alonzo Mourning. He couldn't remember his name,
but Odom soon found out and signed him.
Odom said Duncan was raw as a freshman but also was "a
"The first drills he did, I thought, ÔThis guy needs
work,' " Odom said. "But he learned faster than anyone
I've ever coached.
"A lot of kids don't like college, and they are looking
for a way to get out of it," he said. "The converse
was true with Tim. He enjoyed college, throwing the Frisbee, being
with his fellow students and studying psychology.
"He was very aware that his family and, in particular,
his mother, had encouraged him to get his education."
Duncan's mother, Ione, his biggest supporter, died of breast
cancer just before his 14th birthday. It's a subject he doesn't
"Tim never had much of a reaction to anything, including
the death of his mother," his father said. "He never
rebelled. I often wonder about him because he never showed any
regrets or sorrows in my presence.
"Different people have different ways of showing griefs
or joy. Tim just moves on gracefully. He doesn't make a big deal
out of too many things."
Besides his two sisters, Cheryl and Tricia, Duncan has a brother,
Scott. They are all close to their father, who raised them in
a middle-class household while working for an exterminator and
delivery service, and as a waiter and greeter at a hotel.
Now 66 and retired, he plans to buy a satellite dish to watch
his millionaire son on television.
"My dad supports me in whatever I do and he's always there
for me," Duncan said. "He always tells me, ÔDo
your best and let it rest.' That's how he pushes me, and I think
it helps a lot."
Duncan will earn $10 million over three years but has been
more concerned about earning the respect of teammates and coaches.
"Money's money. You take it in stride," Duncan said,
shrugging his shoulders.
Duncan did express some excitement at buying a new car and
a house in San Antonio during a recent conversation with Odom.
"He told me the house had a pool, and I thought about
the pool that had been wiped out by the hurricane," Odom
said. "Now, he can swim whenever he wants."
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