Friendship: The Promise

The strange sort-of love story of two South Philly basketball stars

Rick saw Scoop spinning, and knew he had to be steadfast. It was easier for him, because he’d come up more slowly: “I didn’t listen to people who only came around after I got good, after I got a name.”

And Scoop fell back on his Sure Thing: “I always knew I had Rick at the end of the day.”

High-school prospects don’t have to commit to college until senior year, but Scoop wanted to make the decision earlier, not later. He wanted the phone calls and courtship and whisperings to end. Most of all, he wanted to play the sport he loves, the one that fills the hole inside him. “I just get up for it,” he says. Even on the court, though, he was feeling pressure, second-guessing himself. “Life used to be easier when nobody knew who I was,” he says ruefully.

So he held tight to Rick, and they stayed close to home base: Scoop’s grandma’s house. “It’s a hangout,” Scoop says happily. “We have the whole team over. She’s the team mom. Team grandmom. There’ll be 15 of us there.” They play NBA Live on PlayStation, go on the computer, do homework. “She feeds us all,” Scoop says. “We can bring a new friend every day, and it’ll be like he’s been there forever.”

Rick would have been fine to wait until senior year to choose a college. But he hadn’t forgotten that Scoop made The Promise when his own hoops future was much brighter than Rick’s. And he saw how the recruiters were making Scoop crazy. The boys had to find a team that wanted both of them. Fast.

IN ALL THE mad rush of promises, there was one coach who went after both Scoop and Rick from the beginning: Jim Boeheim, of Syracuse University. Syracuse, ranked 23rd at the start of this season, is a perennial NCAA tournament contender. More important, three of its starters graduate in June. That meant Scoop and Rick would have a chance to play right away.

Boeheim appreciated their separate talents. “Ricky has really come on in the last year or two,” he says. “There are very few low-post players in the game today, and he’s a good one. And Antonio is just a good all-around guard. He can penetrate, he can shoot, and he’s an emotional leader. You want that kind of emotional leadership in the backcourt.”

But Boeheim, who’s helmed the Orangemen for more than three decades, insists he never bought into the package-deal stuff. “I’ve heard that many, many times over the past 35 years,” he says gruffly. “Most times, it doesn’t work out. They just don’t like the same school.” He wanted Rick and Scoop, sure. But he would have taken either one. What he didn’t see was that Rick wouldn’t have been Rick without Scoop, and the other way around. What he liked in each of them, they developed together, symbiotically, in reaction to one another. And they weren’t ready to be sliced apart.