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Top coaches knocking on Boynton's door

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- Northeast Seventh Avenue sits 45 miles north of Miami's glitz and roughly 11 miles from the Atlantic coastline surf, a maze of subdivision houses. On that quiet street, tucked into a cul-de-sac, sits a one-story stucco-lined house, which was recently the meeting place for some of college basketball's most elite and recognizable coaches.

Over three days, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Florida's Billy Donovan and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt downplayed their rock-star status and were transparent about their needs.

The reason? In this house lives a boy who could single-handedly change the fate of the team he chooses. Memphis, Texas and USC round out the six schools vying for the services of Kenny Boynton Jr., a scoring guard who is rated the No. 13 prospect in the class of 2009 by ESPN's Scouts Inc. The Tigers and the Longhorns will visit Boynton's home next week.

The Boyntons, happy to host visitors, are more likely to ask you to put your feet up on the coffee table than they are to ask you to take off your shoes at the door.

"We're just simple, down-to-earth people," Boynton's mom, Dana, says.

Boynton's mood is chill. He's stylishly underdressed in his "Elite 24" embroidered hooded sweatshirt and basketball shorts. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 with his shoes off, and tips the scales at 190 pounds. Still, a shade of unrest clouds his mellow facade. Perhaps the pressure is beginning to mount.

"I've been keeping up with it this far," he says. "And I have yet to go over my minutes."

"That's why he never answers the phone," Dana says.

"We have a deal that I don't have to pay my bill if I stay under my minutes," Boynton continues. "That's the only pressure I've got. That, and these hurricanes. We dodged [Hurricane] Ike. Man, I hate hurricanes, because the power goes out."

When asked if he's at all nervous about the impending flurry of in-home visits, Boynton laughs.

Kenny Sr. leans up on the couch and says, "Oh no, he's not nervous at all. Junior's really laid back with all of that stuff. Besides, the pressure isn't on him. The coaches are probably the nervous ones."

Just then, Boynton's American Heritage School coach Danny Herz texts Kenny Sr., asking him to tell Boynton to be in Herz's office at 7:30 a.m. Donovan and his assistant Rob Lanier are making the three-hour drive from Gainesville just to be the first school to meet with Boynton.

Interesting move for Donovan, since the NCAA allows just three off-campus visits between coaches and players.

The NCAA contact period runs from Sept. 9 through Oct. 5.

"They tried to get [the night of] Sept. 9th," Boynton says of Florida. "Everyone tried to get Sept. 9th, but Duke had already set it up with my mom. So they had to take the 10th."

"I guess they [Florida] really want to make an impression," Dana says.

It's not the first time Florida and Duke -- the two schools Boynton says are recruiting him the hardest -- have gone head-to-head in recruiting chess.

In 2000, Donovan flew from Florida to Raleigh, N.C., just so he could stand in the Broughton High School parking lot and wave at 6-9 forward Shavlik Randolph as he walked out of the gym.

Randolph eventually went to Duke.

As this reporter re-tells the well-traveled anecdote, Boynton buries his face in his hands and laughs so loud that the family German shepherd, Ocala -- a K-9 for the Broward County Sheriff's department, where Kenny Sr. is a deputy -- barks ferociously while peeking through the blinds over the sliding-glass door in the kitchen.

Dana rounds the corner holding the cordless phone, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. It's Boynton's brother Deondre. He just got off of the phone with Duke assistant Chris Collins. Unbeknownst to Deondre, Dana puts him on speakerphone.

"… So they keep playing up the Jason Williams comparison," Deondre says. "I mean, I like it, but it's one thing to say it and another thing to do it."

"He is on it," Kenny Sr. says of his elder son. "Deondre is more on top of Junior's situation than anyone."

That's only natural, since Deondre's been through this before, albeit on a smaller scale. He's the starting senior point guard at the University of West Florida. Boynton's sister Kendia is a senior at Florida A&M.

Deondre continues, seemingly without taking a breath, " … So that's all I'm saying. It's attractive, if in fact that's what they plan to do."

Boynton flips open his Sidekick and begins to read. His eyes widen, then shift from left to right faster than windshield wipers in a monsoon, as if to say "Is this room bugged?"

Suddenly he laughs and says "That's crazy. We're talking about Jason Williams and look at this …"

A random fan has just sent an article to Boynton's MySpace page comparing him to Williams, a former Duke All-American who led the Blue Devils to a national title in 2001. Seems like a fair comparison, potentially, for a kid who averaged 34 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season.

"Yeah, he hasn't lost a step at all, either," Boynton says of Williams. "Dude is still niiiice!"

Oh no, he's not nervous at all. Junior's really laid back with all of that stuff. Besides, the pressure isn't on him. The coaches are probably the nervous
ones.

--Kenny Boynton Sr.

Boynton played pickup games with Williams and other Duke players while visiting the school unofficially in late June. Boynton is giddy when talking about the comparison, even though he admits to not being a Williams historian.

"I don't remember him like that," Boynton says. "But I do remember him being real good."

Kenny Sr. walks back into the den wearing a sly smirk. He's been on the phone with USC.

Dana stares blankly at him, then frowns and widens her eyes. She knows something's up.

"What is it?" she asks.

"Well, honey, Junior's not gonna fly back with us this weekend when we go to USC," Kenny Sr. says.

"Why in the world not?" Dana says in a no-nonsense tone.

"Well, honey, it's like this," he explains. "It's his official visit, and USC wants him to stay after the [Ohio State football] game to hang out with the players. He's gonna come back the next day."

"Oh, no, they aren't keeping my baby up there," Dana says.

"Now, it's Junior's decision," Kenny Sr. pleads. "Junior, what do you want to do?"

Boynton pauses, almost as if he's pumping himself up to answer. A few seconds later he just goes for it.

"I'm staying," he says with a grin. "You can't count out the Trojans."

Dana shrugs her shoulders and relents.

"See, I'm not taking you on any more visits," Kenny Sr. jokes. "This is it."

The Boyntons are the type of family you lose the time with -- as close as the Huxtables and as comical as the Fockers. So it's no wonder that Kenny Sr. barely notices that five hours have passed in seemingly five minutes.

"Man, it's 1:30 a.m.," he says. "Big day tomorrow. They say he's [Krzyzewski] the man, huh?"

Kenny Sr. smiles; Boynton nods.


Morning, Sept. 9: Duke's day

At 7:43 a.m., Boynton makes the trek from the American Heritage parking lot to Herz's office, where Donovan and Lanier have been waiting since just past 7.

Perhaps it's because he just saw Donovan on Saturday when he visited Florida for the Gators' football game against Miami, but Boynton seems indifferent about meeting up with the man who managed back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07 for the first time since, well, Krzyzewski did it in 1991 and '92. Same goes for meeting the man who led Team USA to Olympic gold in August.

Boynton would rather talk about one of his favorite shows, MTV's "My Super Sweet 16."

"A lot of rich kids go here," he says, while pointing out the luxury cars in the parking lot. "It's like that show. I saw one where this girl got a Range Rover, then she wanted a bike, then her parents gave her a Mercedes! Now, what in the world is she gonna do with all that?"

He reaches Herz's office, sees Donovan and Lanier through the glass doors, and walks in. NCAA rules prohibit the media from being present while college coaches meet with recruits.

A male teacher strolls past the office door, sees Donovan and smiles. Then he darts over to his classroom and posts an FSU sticker on his door.

Later, Boynton recounts a tale Donovan told about Eloy Vargas, the former American Heritage star. Vargas is now at Florida, and Donovan talked to Boynton and Lanier about how Joakim Noah, a former Florida star now with the Chicago Bulls, pushed Vargas hard during a workout.

"Then they clowned my uniform," says Boynton, who is forced to rock a black long-sleeved polo shirt and khaki shorts daily. "They'd never seen me in this style."

Boynton arrives at his Statistics class at 8:19 a.m. He's late for a test, but his teacher knows why. He starts the test at 8:24 and is done 15 minutes later, well before a handful of his classmates who have been here the whole time.

"It was pretty easy," Boynton says.

In the hallway, between classes, it's clear that Boynton is in his element. Girls smile and hug him, guys give him pounds or nod, and the few who don't speak acknowledge him, whether with peripheral "That's him" glances or by pointing. Teachers ask him to pose for pictures and wave at the kids in their classroom.

Boynton likes the attention, but he doesn't love it. He doesn't need it.

Just before leaving one class, his teacher admires the state championship ring Boynton's sporting. He won it during his sophomore year at Blanche Ely High School, which he attended before transferring to American Heritage for his junior year.

Then his teacher asks Boynton a familiar question, "Do you know where you're going to school yet?"

"Not yet," Boynton says with a smirk. "Next month."

His Sidekick buzzes again. It's Duke freshman guard Elliot Williams. The two met at the NBA Player's Association Camp in Charlottesville, Va., in 2007 and have kept in touch ever since. Williams' text reads "I've never seen Coach [Krzyzewski] this hype about a recruit! When are you coming down for a visit because it's goin down!"

"Elliot's my man," Boynton says. "Him and [Duke sophomore guard] Nolan [Smith], I'm cool with both of them."

On the ride home, Boynton's mood is relaxed, and he still hasn't uttered a word about his impending visit with Krzyzewski and company. later. Right now, he's stating his case as to why Florida is currently running the hip-hop scene.

"You've got [rappers] Brisco, Webbie, Lil Boosie … oh, and Lil' Wayne," Boynton says. "I know he's from New Orleans, but now he's claiming Miami since Katrina. I'm serious. Look it up. And we all know that the [album] "Carter III" was a classic! Yep, we've got rap on lock."

Just as he begins to clown rapper Jay-Z's new single "Jockin' Jay-Z," he remembers that the meeting with Duke has changed to the home of Boynton's paternal grandmother, Patricia Boynton, just around the corner.

"That's what his grandfather would've wanted," Dana says. "He loved his grandchildren. They were his life."

William, Boynton's paternal grandfather, was an All-American basketball player at Florida A&M in 1955. Kenny Sr. starred at Bethune-Cookman in the mid-1980s. And Dana?

"Oh, no way," she says. "I wasn't into that stuff."

Boynton has forgotten his house key and bangs on the front door.

Kenny Sr., who has obviously been napping, answers the door sporting a T-shirt and blue shorts with the Florida Gator on the right side.

When asked if he plans to wear those to the visit with Duke, Kenny Sr., who wore a Texas Tech polo shirt Monday night, laughs and says, "Oh no. I'd probably wear some Duke shorts or something. Nah, I have almost every team out there."

He settles on neutrality: khaki shorts and a black shirt. Boynton goes with comfort: red basketball shorts and a white tank top. Dana is meeting them at Patricia's house.

"It's time," Boynton says.


Night, Sept. 9: Post-Duke visit

The 15 mph winds blowing off of Florida's coastline offer the perfect breeze under the carport at Patricia's house. That's where Boynton and his family sit and talk about how the visit went with Krzyzewski, Collins and new Duke assistant coach Nate James.

Boynton's parents, aunts, family friends and Patricia were all there to meet the Duke trio. The spread was very picnic-like: hot wings, subs and chicken salad with sodas and tea to drink. And apparently Krzyzewski and his assistants brought their appetites.

"Man, I don't have any more wings left," Boynton says.

"Yeah, those fellas must've been pretty hungry," Patricia adds. "But they fit right in. Just made themselves right at home. I liked that. That limo was nice, too."

"I guess that's just how they roll," Kenny Sr. says. "I ain't mad at that."

Boynton recounts how Collins started off by popping in a DVD of Jason Williams highlights. It showed, among other things, Williams driving the lane and dunking on the entire North Carolina State team, stealing the ball from North Carolina twice and finishing with layups and scoring 10 points in the final 54 seconds against Maryland to bring Duke back.

"After pretty much every clip, coach Collins would say, 'That's what we see you doing at Duke,'" Boynton says. "I liked that."

Then Krzyzewski took over and started off by sharing with Boynton and his family the friendly advice Smith gave him just before he left for Florida.

"He said Nolan was like, 'OK now Coach, this is the big day, don't screw this thing up,'" Boynton says with a laugh. "Oh man, that had us rolling."

The Duke spiel reiterated what Boynton has heard for the last two years: They aren't recruiting any other guards, they see him as the next Jason Williams, and he'll have a chance to play from day one.
Dana hopes to see even more when they travel to Durham, N.C., for his official visit, which is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 17.

"That's when I want them to just bring it," she says.

By the night's end, Boynton seems exhausted, but on the ride home, between stating his case for why Lil' Wayne is a better rapper than the Notorious B.I.G., he begins to show his cards a bit more.

"I won't lie," Boynton says. "That was cool. I had a good time with them … I'm feeling them even more than I was before tonight."


Sept. 10: Post-Florida visit

Roughly the same crew, with a few additions, sit under the same carport enjoying the same breeze. But the tone of the conversation is much different than it was after Duke left the night before. While the Boynton clan was in awe of Krzyzewski, they dug Donovan's "common-man" appeal.

"He was just so sincere and passionate," Boynton's uncle Jeffrey Lovett says. "You could really feel where he was coming from. There was definitely a connection."

Boynton sits off to the side chatting with his former Blanche Ely High coach Melvin Randall, while his aunts and uncle talk with Kenny Sr. about how they were impressed by Donovan's creativity.

Donovan rolled up in a tan minivan and carried a brown backpack with a surprise inside that was original enough to win points from a Disney Imagineer.

Once in the house, Donovan had the family gather around and placed Boynton in the middle. Then Donovan reached into his backpack, pulled out a Nerf dart gun and placed it on the glass coffee table. Puzzled smirks formed around the room.

"He said 'As soon as any of you feel like I'm recruiting and not speaking from the heart, I want you to pick up this gun and shoot me,'" Boynton says. "I thought that was cool, and hey, we didn't have to shoot him … OK, well, almost once."

That's when Patricia asked Donovan if her need for special seating would be a problem at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

"He said 'I will let you sit right beside me at the game,'" Lovett says. "That's when his assistant [Lanier] said 'OK, Kenny pick up the gun now.' We all laughed."

Donovan and Lanier stayed for just over two hours and ate subs and chips. And unlike the Blue Devils, Donovan and Lanier saved leftovers.

The family went on raving about Donovan's commitment to Boynton, reminiscing about their favorite Donovan quotes. "He said, 'I wouldn't put my wife's diamond ring in the hands of one of my assistants to give to her; I'd give it to her myself,'" Kenny Sr. says. "He said that's how he was gonna take care of Junior. Personally."

"The funniest part was when coach Donovan was impersonating Kenny," says Boynton's aunt, Angela Boynton-Moody.

"Yeah," Dana agrees. "Now, he had that down pat! He was yelling and smiling just like Kenny. He got you there."

Not to be outdone, Kenny Sr. erupts into an impersonation of Donovan talking about Boynton.

"'And I don't need Kenny,'" Kenny Sr. yells. "'I want him!' Man, we had to get the boy a towel, he was sweating so bad."

The entire family bursts into laughter. Boynton stops and looks at his dad, wearing a big smile.

"That man is crazy," he says of his dad.

He loves his dad's stories. The night before on the ride home, he went on at length talking about Kenny Sr.'s legendary tales, hunching over with laughter in between.

Back at home later that evening, Boynton stands in the kitchen, stretches and places his hands on his head. It's obvious he's thinking about the Florida visit. He finally gives it away with a smile and a headshake.

"It's tough, man, I swear it's tough," he says. "The coaches are making it harder every night. This is definitely gonna be the hardest decision that I've ever made."


Boynton's next move

Georgia Tech was in Thursday, Sept. 11, and a few hours after Hewitt and his henchmen put up their PowerPoint presentation of plans for Boynton, the family was off to USC for the first of his five official visits, the maximum allowed under NCAA rules.

Odds are, not every school will be in the race much longer.

With Duke (tentatively scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 17), Florida (the weekend of Oct. 24) and Georgia Tech (the weekend of Sept. 26) all locking down official visits, Boynton will have to make an uncomfortable call to either Memphis or Texas.

The thought becomes more real when it's presented to Boynton like that. He takes a deep sigh, turns his cap around and leans back.

"Yeah, that's right," he says. "I hate making those calls. I had to do that with [Kansas] State. Man, I never even thought about it this far. I just figured that I'd check out a few schools and commit, you know? It's crazy."

He stares off blankly; his eyes reduced to a squint from the bright fluorescent light. He readjusts his hat and folds his arms.

You almost feel sorry for him. Almost want to ease his pressure.

And then, a moment of realization.

"But look at the situation I'm in," Boynton says, almost as if he's trying to convince himself. "I've got these major schools coming to my house. I've got this big opportunity. It's a good thing to have this dilemma … to have these options …"

Now all he has to do is pick one.

Jason Jordan writes for ESPNRISE.com and ESPN The Magazine.