In the March 19 issue of ESPN The Magazine, Bruce Feldman tells the tawdry tale of Mount Zion Christian Academy, best known as Tracy McGrady's alma mater. In this follow-up report, Feldman fields a call from on high.
Do you believe?
No, wait, better question, do you understand?
See, Pastor Donald Q. Fozard has a vision, but the impromptu sermon he delivered over the phone as ESPN The Magazine was going to press wasn't about spirituality.
The man who founded Mount Zion Christian Academy, the Durham, N.C.-based basketball factory that produced Tracy McGrady, among others, was concerned about wins and losses. The Mighty Warriors just completed the worst season in school history -- they were 34-9. On Feb. 27, Fozard fired first-year coach John Lewis, who took over last year after the previous coach, Joel Hopkins left and took 10 Mount Zion players with him.
Lewis says he was blindsided by his dismissal. "We were doing things the right way. We were winning with a young team and we had nine players on the honor roll," he says. "I don't think they've ever had that many do that. The only reason [Fozard] gave me was that 'it was spiritual.' I was a sacrificial lamb. They used me."
Fozard's biggest issue, he says, was the team's lack of conditioning. "My way is, run 'em till they're senseless," says Fozard, 55, brother-in-law of former NBA player and coach John Lucas. "But Lewis didn't do that, and they lost their edge."
As a result of Lewis' dismissal, you can expect many of his underclassmen to come down from the Mount and become virtual free agents. (Point guard Jarrett Jack, a longtime Lewis family friend, is considered one of the nation's top 20 juniors.) Fozard tapped his 23-year-old son Antonio as the new head coach, and the pastor promises Mount Zion will rise again. Higher than ever, even higher than the McGrady/J.R. Raymond/Travis Spivey squad of four years ago.
During the Mighty Warriors' glory days in the late '90s, Hopkins tapped into a rich pipeline of talent in central Florida. Fozard's latest target: Nigeria. The pastor says he's got the connections to start recruiting players out of the embattled African nation. His best friend, Durham businessman Okin Billow, is married to the daughter of the president of Nigeria. "Do you know how much talent is back there?" Fozard says. "That's 70 million people. We're not limiting ourselves to just America any more. Besides many of the American kids are spoiled."
Somewhere in the middle of his 30-minute sermon on the virtues of God, running stadium stairs and Nigerian shot-blockers, Fozard paused long enough to ponder the plight of his one-time protégé, Hopkins, who's now coaching at D-II Shaw University over in Raleigh.
"You know they got beat in the first round of their tournament, don't you?" he asks. "See, it doesn't matter how much talent he's got. Talent doesn't win games. His teams here didn't win because they had talent. We won because we were anointed by God to win. When Joel Hopkins puts himself back in the good graces of God, only then will he start winning."
And with that, the pastor said goodbye. It was time to get back to the church.
Bruce Feldman covers college sports for ESPN The Magazine. His enterprise story on Mt. Zion appears in the March 19 edition. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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