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Slick Pinkham
08-31-2004, 03:41 PM
http://www.oregonlive.com/sports/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/sports/109395341459060.xml

Faith on the fade
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
JASON QUICK
MARION, Ind. -- There used to be believers in this town, back in the day, back when Zach Randolph was just a kid.

In every direction there was either a flourishing cornfield or a prospering factory. Of the nine paper plate factories in the nation, five of them were in Marion. There also were plants that manufactured television picture tubes, bottles, cardboard boxes and automobile parts.

And the basketball team . . . oh, those Marion Giants. Seven state titles -- just one off the state record held by nearby Muncie Central -- not to mention so many other near-misses, such as the year Broadripple made a length-of-the-court shot at the buzzer to stun the favored Giants.

No state takes its high school basketball as seriously as Indiana, and no town takes it as seriously as Marion (pop. 31,000), perhaps to a fault, some residents say. Every year, there was a new can't-miss star, often anointed by media members as early as the fifth grade, who finally would don the purple and gold and give the basketball crazies (they are everywhere here) something to talk about.

It was last like this in 2000, when a once clumsy and awkward kid named Zach Randolph grew into his body, all 6-foot-9 of it, and led the Giants to state title number seven.

Now, everything has changed. There is little, if anything, to believe in -- even as the Chamber of Commerce attempts to boost morale with a "We Believe in Marion" slogan splashed all around town.

One by one, the factories started to close, until now, only the General Motors plant remains. It has led to a 17.6 percent unemployment rate, second-highest in Indiana and more than three times the national average.

And year by year, there seems to be another shady incident involving Randolph, their most heralded basketball star, seemingly adding insult to injury.

The latest is a possible criminal charge against Randolph for lying to police after, witnesses say, his younger brother, Roger, shot three men around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 22 in a nightclub in nearby Anderson, Ind.

Randolph, who witnesses say tried to restrain Roger while he was shooting into the crowd, then led him out of the nightclub, has told police three times he knew nothing of the incident. He will have a fourth chance Wednesday, when Randolph and his attorney meet with Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings.

"I'm expecting cooperation," Cummings said. "He needs to tell what he saw."

If Randolph again denies seeing anything, Cummings said he will pursue charges immediately. Cummings said he will either charge Randolph with giving false information to the police, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by as much as one year in prison, or with assisting a criminal, a Class D felony, punishable by as much as three years in prison.

Randolph and his family declined to be interviewed for this story.

The people in Marion want to believe in Randolph. They believe in his heart, the one that has donated time and money to local kids programs. They believe in his spirit, the one that smiles with ease and thirsts for loving attention. And they believe in his determination, the one that worked to avenge the "experts" who touted other youths while he clumsily tried to adjust to his growing body. And the one who diligently worked on his troubling grades in order to stay on track for his goal of reaching the NBA.

But then again, how long does one believe? Their faith in the economy, believing that the next factory surely couldn't close, has gotten them here, investing their hopes in a billboard slogan.

And for as much as they believe in Randolph's heart, spirit and determination, they don't believe in his mind. They remember 1999, when during a glorious start to the season that had the town talking title, Randolph was kicked off the team after being convicted of selling and possessing stolen guns.

Two years earlier, he served 30 days house arrest for a battery conviction. And in 1995, he served 30 days in juvenile detention for shoplifting a pair of pants.

Some say that at 23, he has yet to mature. Others say he simply is naive. However, they all agree on this: The downfall of Zach Randolph is the crowd with which he chooses to associate.

"He needs to say 'I need help,' but he's not aware he has a problem," said Moe Smedley, Randolph's high school coach, who often picked up Randolph at home. "And the problem is he is hanging with the wrong people. I just don't want the day to come where I pick up that paper and it says he shot someone, or that he was shot. Every day that goes by that I don't see that, I feel good."

Headed to Milwaukee?

Two-thousand miles west, in Portland, the Trail Blazers organization also is struggling to believe.

After watching Randolph steadily progress in his first three seasons -- including last season, when he averaged 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, earning him the NBA's Most Improved Player award -- the Blazers believe in Randolph's talent.

But the franchise is embarking on year two of its self-proclaimed "New Era," which included a much-publicized 25-point pledge to its fans that trumpeted a philosophy of valuing character over talent.

Randolph, clearly the most talented and promising player on the team, is in the last year of his contract, which is set to pay him $1.8 million this season. The Blazers have until Oct. 31 to offer an extension, which one month ago seemed like a sure bet.

But today, the Blazers have cooled considerably, to the point where their once-believed foundation of the future now is rumored in a trade sending Randolph, Derek Anderson and a 2005 draft pick to Milwaukee for Michael Redd, Desmond Mason and Marcus Haislip.

Even though Zach Randolph didn't pull the trigger in the Anderson night club, the incident comes on the heels of his juvenile record in Marion and a tenure with the Blazers that includes a driving under the influence of intoxicants (marijuana) charge last December by Portland police, a conviction for underage drinking in Marion in 2002, and a two-game suspension in April 2003 by the team after he sucker-punched teammate Ruben Patterson, breaking Patterson's eye socket, during a practice.

General manager John Nash, who at one point this summer said he would like to sign Randolph to an extension, said last week that Randolph's involvement in the Anderson shooting didn't "sit well with what we are trying to achieve and accomplish in Portland."

But in the same breath, Nash can't escape his attachment to Randolph.

"I love the player and his ability, and I like the individual, because I truly believe he has a good heart," Nash said.

Now the question is, which Randolph do the Blazers believe in?

Not "a bad bone in him"

It was an awkward childhood for Randolph, who was diagnosed with ADD/HD, attention deficit disorder/hyperactive disorder. Coupled with an impoverished background -- his single mother, Mae, raised her four children on welfare -- and the racial overtones of a mostly white blue-collar community, Randolph was somewhat of an outcast, endearing him to a misfit collection of friends.

Soon, however, it became apparent that Randolph could play basketball, and by the fourth grade he was popular, winning kids over with his playfulness, and charming the teachers he tested with his smile and innocence.

"I liked him very, very much," said Laurie Kocher, his fourth-grade teacher. "I think he has a wonderful heart."

But that heart was hurt when his peers were given attention for their basketball skills, while he was criticized for his borderline grades and the rowdy crowd with which he associated.

"So many people put him down," Kocher said. "But he never stopped practicing."

His grade school teachers remarked how well he was raised by his mother, who always had her kids neatly groomed and respectful of authority. When Kocher said she was having a hard time keeping Randolph in line, Mae told her that she would threaten to take basketball away from Zach.

"And boy, did that kid get on the ball," Kocher said. "Mae was a wonderful, driving force for him."

But his friends, that was another story.

"I think he purposely chose bad friends," Kocher said. "He has always just loved living on the edge, he liked that excitement."

By 14, Randolph was caught stealing a pair of pants while he was with friends.

"I don't think the kid has a bad bone in him," said Jenny Maidenberg, his second-grade teacher. "But I think he may be too trusting. I don't think Zach thinks anyone is going to do something bad."

A struggling brother

At the center of Randolph's crowd is his brother, Roger, younger by one year.

There are some in Marion who say that Roger, a 6-foot-5 guard, was more talented than Zach in basketball. But there is no debate that Roger took a wrong turn growing up, starting around seventh grade.

"He really turned bad," Kocher said.

By high school, Roger was kicked off the basketball team, and his mother sent him to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. As Zach flourished in basketball, some theorize that Roger's inborn anger intensified out of jealousy.

"I think Zach tries to make it up to him now," Kocher said. "Whenever Zach comes back to town, he makes sure he takes Roger around."

That scenario turned ugly Aug. 22 when, police say, Roger opened fire on the dance floor of the notorious Sinbad's nightclub in Anderson. Cummings said that 15 to 20 murders have taken place over the years at the nightclub.

"Only bad things happen at that place," Cummings said. "The only thing that happens in that place is people get shot."

Three weeks before the shooting, on Aug. 1, Roger was arrested by Marion police after a routine traffic stop revealed he was carrying a handgun without a permit, in addition to possessing marijuana.

"He's a criminal," Smedley said. "But Zach is still running with Roger. Why? If Roger is put away, that will help Zach in a big way."

"Why would he screw it up?"

What hurts the people of Marion the most is that Randolph has been surrounded by strong role models -- Smedley, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks -- and responded to their guidance, only to step out of line.

"I just think he hangs with the wrong people," said Izzo, who coached Randolph for one season. "But I think one thing we do, maybe to a fault, is we are always telling these kids, 'Don't forget where you came from.' Well, that can be a problem when you come from a little rougher neighborhood. But for the most part, with Zach, if there is a fault, it is that he follows more than he leads."

Cheeks is trying to reverse that trend. He says he believes in Randolph, so much so that he wants him to become a leader on the Blazers, a point he made in a call shortly after the Aug. 22 shooting.

"I told him that being a leader means people look up to you," Cheeks said. "I told him you can't be getting caught up in this and that, it's just not acceptable. He has to be careful, with the things he does, the people he hangs with. . . . I mean, he doesn't have to shun his friends, but he can say, 'Look, I have something to lose here,' then keep moving on. Because if he continues along this path, then something is going to happen . . . it could be him."

And that would be a tragedy, the one that almost seems befitting of Marion -- a town that once had it all, but is on the verge of being left with nothing.

"He has worked so hard to get where he is at," Smedley said. "Why would he screw it up at some bar on a Saturday night in Indiana? And that's what bothers me, he has seen the right way to do things."

"I just feel so sad," said Kocher, the fourth-grade teacher. "I just don't think he is mature yet, he is still making bad decisions, not thinking ahead. He is not a bad kid, he just loves his brother and is caught in the middle of it all."

And that leaves two sides -- Marion and the Blazers -- wanting to believe, waiting to believe that Randolph is worth it.

"I look at him and I see what people see," Izzo said. "You want to love the guy, but you have questions about him."

Jason Quick: 503-221-4372; jasonquick@news.oregonian.com

Roaming Gnome
08-31-2004, 03:56 PM
:( I hope he grows out of this knuckle-head phase before it is too late... Sad!

Arcadian
08-31-2004, 04:00 PM
If I were Portland I'd jump on that quick.

Burt_Reincarnated
08-31-2004, 04:08 PM
It's his brother, sometimes family is most important. Tough spot to be in. I suppose all of you would be the first to turn your mom in for a hit and run or whatever

Arcadian
08-31-2004, 04:13 PM
I don't think Zach's a horrible person. I do think that he is a risk and a distraction to the franchise. Add to that that he is in Portland where the fans are fed up with misbehaving players I absolutly would trade him for an All Star.

debohstheman
08-31-2004, 07:56 PM
im a bit surprised how everyone is jumping all over zach for this....
he grew up in a tough situation, where family is sometimes all you can trust and depend on...

id lie to the cops to protect my brother too...
i respect that he's looking out for his brother

i dont think portland would trade a big just coming into his own as a player for a great SG

it'd be much harder to replace zach than find someone to fill the SG position...

SoupIsGood
08-31-2004, 10:53 PM
Well... if Redd is up for the taking, and they are willing to recieve a problem child in return, and the pacers are intent on trading Ronnie away, this would be an almost perfect fit.

Redd would by far be the best he pacers could hope to get for ron. I say we bring redd here and sign him to a big fat DW-style extension.

Shade
09-01-2004, 12:24 AM
I'd like to find out what the Bucks are smokin', and mail some to the Sonics' front office along with Polly for Ray Allen. :pimp:

Anthem
09-01-2004, 12:38 AM
Interesting... Portland would start to balance out with that trade. Their frontcourt could make sense, and their backcourt would get a serious shot in the arm with Redd.

Anything that puts Redd out west is fine by me.

ROCislandWarrior
09-01-2004, 12:56 AM
NO! Don't send Haslip to Portland...I get to talk to him several times a month at my job...cool down to earth guy.

:cry: