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June 15, 2007

Before they were stars: Acie Law

Once upon a time they were just kids.

They weren't yet stooping to get through doorways or hitting jumpers from everywhere. They weren't yet identified as future millionaires.

But they already possessed the type of talent and desire that would allow them eventually to realize their dreams.

As part of its NBA Draft coverage, Rivals.com has ventured to find the stories behind the stories. We have talked to the high school coaches of potential draft picks to ask where these players came from and what separated them from the rest of the crop.

Don't be surprised if you find some common traits in each of these prospects.

Acie Law, G, Texas A&M
High school: Kimball High in Dallas Coach: Royce Johnson
When is the first time you remember thinking Acie eventually could play professionally?: It had to be his junior year in high school. I saw some things in him in the eighth grade that made me think he had a chance to be special, just with his high basketball IQ and his willingness to get better. I knew he'd always become a better player, but (until) his junior year, I had questions about whether he was going to become tough enough. He was just like a 3-point shooter. He was an excellent 3-point shooter, but I thought he turned the corner the summer going into his junior year. He didn't even play on the AAU circuit (that summer) and kind of fell off the radar nationally. We'd had a meeting at the end of the year and talked about him getting stronger, faster and putting on some weight. You can't put on weight by playing every day. He kind of dedicated himself to training and the weight room and the track, running the bleachers and hills to get faster. He turned the corner.

Acie was really skinny and slow (beforehand), but he always could handle the ball so strong. That was his strongest attribute being able to shoot the 3 and handle the ball. Most kids could handle it, but Acie could handle it with his head up since he first got here in ninth grade. I can't take credit for that. That's something his dad worked on since he was a little boy.

What game sticks out the most in your memory when you look back on his high school career?: The game that really turned the corner (for him) was his junior year. We went to the state championship, and I think this was a second-round ballgame. We looked like we were almost down and out. The other team got a steal (in a tie game) and was going to the basket with maybe 11 seconds left. Acie chased down the guy. He didn't go for the blocked shot but cut in front of the kid. The kid slipped up and missed a layup. It looked like it was going to be routine, but Acie hustled back and cut the guy off. The guy didn't see him, jammed the brakes on and slipped. Acie got the ball with like six seconds left, dribbled a little over halfcourt and saw one of our guys under the basket and threw it to him. We laid it up. And the next three or four rounds, we won handily.

The biggest one was his senior year. We had a good team, but didn't have as much depth as we did his junior year. It was the first year I moved him to point. I changed his jersey number to 1 and put him at point. He asked me, "Coach, I've been playing two all my life. Why change my number and position?" I said, "If you want to be a good college player, stay at the two. But if you want to be a pro, go to your natural position. You're the best player on the floor when the ball is in your hands. You can make everybody better. That's what point guards do." He asked about changing his jersey number from 34 to 1. I said, "That's the number David Stern holds up (after each first-round draft pick is selected). It's going to be your jersey number. Get used to it, so when you hold it up on draft night, you'll be holding your jersey number."

His senior year we were playing South Oak Cliff, another power. I think Acie had four points in the first three quarters and we were losing by 13 points or so. I kind of got on him pretty hard at the end of the third quarter and told him, "Hey, what are you doing?" He said, "Coach, they're doubling me and denying me the ball." I said, "If you want to be the best player to come out of this high school, look at all the other guys whose jerseys were retired and had their pictures on the wall. What do you think they had to go through? That's what coaches do. They try to stop your best guy. Pros find a way for you not to stop them. Either you're a good high school player or a pro." He took his headband off, threw it to the side and had 25 or 26 points in the fourth quarter. We ended up winning by six. He dominated a game against good athletes. They had guys like (Kansas forward) Darrell Arthur. He was young, but he was on the floor. They had (Baylor forward) Kevin Rogers. They were young, but they were loaded. And he dominated the game like no one else was on the floor.

How often do you keep in touch with him?: I talk to him all the time. I don't talk to him every day, but I talk to him maybe every other day. He never really shows (his excitement about his pro prospects). He's humble and focused on what he has to do. He doesn't feel like he's already in. He's positioned himself in good position, but he feels it hasn't happened until it happens. He has the right attitude. I know he's excited inside, but I think he's more excited about having the opportunity to take care of his family - which has always gone over the edge to make sure he has what he needed.

When do you expect him to get drafted?: I think he's going to be right there at No. 3 with the Hawks. Everyone says I'm crazy and biased, but I just believe he'll go (at) three. I think they'll want to take impact players. After (Kevin) Durant and (Greg) Oden, I think he's the next impact player. I think everyone else has just upside. He's the next ready-made player. I know the Hawks are interested.

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