Sometimes, Andre Stewart surprises even himself.
"Last year, I always shot jumpers," said Stewart, a silky smooth Renton High School junior considered the best basketball player in the Seamount League this season. "Now I'm driving inside and I'm quicker. I amaze myself by some of the shots I make inside, like driving in and reversing my shot.
"And before, I never blocked any shots. Now I'm practicing blocking the big guys' stuff."
As a sophomore, Stewart led the Seamount in scoring, averaging 22.2 points per game, while shooting at a 47.7 percent clip. At 6 feet 3, he was Renton's second-leading rebounder with seven a game.
He gave an indication of things to come in his 1993-94 season debut against Rainier Beach Saturday night. Stewart, who plays at either guard or forward, poured in 42 points in a 74-68 loss to Rainier Beach. An incident at school the day of Renton's season opener with Franklin last week forced Stewart to sit out the first game, which the Indians also lost, 60-48.
He made up for lost time against Rainier Beach.
"I knew we could have beaten Franklin if I'd been there," Stewart said. "We have a good team this year. I think we can get to state."
Stewart is the main reason Renton is the co-favorite with Kennedy to win the Seamount title this season. Much, of course, depends on the supporting cast, and Renton Coach Rick Comer liked what he saw against Franklin. So did Stewart. His cousin, 6-1 junior Josh Taylor, scored 25 points against the Quakers.
In the long run, Comer said Stewart's absence in that game could turn out to be "a blessing in disguise."
"He's starting to see the big picture," Comer said. "He's starting to put the team out front. He understands he'll get his. He recognizes what it takes to make the team successful. His physical ability has gotten monstrous. He's got a great work ethic. A kid like that, you just want to let him play. But he's recognizing how to get more assists and expand his game. This (Franklin) game let him see the crew he's supported by is capable of handling pressure and getting the job done, too."
Stewart still thinks shoot first and pass second, but is having more second thoughts.
"In practice, I'm passing the ball more than I ever did last year," he said. "I'm sure I'll pass more in games."
Comer, too, continually finds himself in awe of Stewart's ever-expanding talent.
"He's done some phenomenal things, almost whatever it takes - tip dunks, everything," said Comer, who calls Stewart the best player he's coached in his 11 years. "It seems like he shows us something different every day. And sometimes he'll come back with something and you can tell he even surprises himself.
"He's all heart. He plays with a passion for the game."
Stewart, whose vertical leap is nearly 40 inches, didn't even start playing basketball until he was in eighth grade. Before that, football was his game. But he enjoyed watching basketball on TV and became enamored with the late Hank Gathers.
"I liked his aggressiveness and his style of play," Stewart said. "When he died (because of a heart condition), it really made me sad. I've worn No. 44 (Gathers' number) ever since then."
Stewart averaged 40 points per game on the freshman team, playing mostly under the basket, which left Comer second-guessing himself about whether he should have brought him up to varsity that season.
"I've never had a freshman play varsity," he said. "I was thinking he was good underneath, but all of a sudden after the season I started seeing his ball-handling skills and he was shooting Js (jumpers)."
Now, Stewart is especially hard to stop in the open court. Will he drive to the basket, or pull up for the three-point shot?
"You don't find many kids who want to pull up the way he does and shoot that jumper off the dribble," Comer said. "Most guys want to go to the hole, but Andre's aggressive. He makes that move, explodes in the air and hits the J."
If there's a slight cockiness to his style of play, it only enhances his game, Comer said.
"That little bit of over-confidence people see in him is one of the things that make him a great player," he said. "Yes, he's a little different. But the stallion is getting a little more tame. He understands how to handle all that talent he's been blessed with."
And Stewart understands he needs to handle his school work better if he wants a chance to use that talent in college. He was a borderline student last year and missed one game because he was academically ineligible (Renton requires a 2.0 grade-point average for eligibility). Now, he carries a 2.5 or better.
"Everyone told me about my potential and I realized what it was going to take," Stewart said. "Now I try to focus on my grades a lot."
---------------------------------------------------. Seamount coaches poll.
-- Predicted order of finish for Seamount League boys basketball, based on a survey of league coaches, with first-place votes in parentheses, ballot points and 1992-93 record (coaches not allowed to vote for own team): .
Pts '92-93. .
1. Kennedy (3) 65 14-7. . (tie) Renton (4) 65 12-9. .
3. Hazen (2) 60 10-11. .
4. Highline 43 7-13. .
5. Mount Rainier 39 15-7. .
6. Lindbergh 37 20-5. . (tie) Tyee 37 4-16. .
8. Liberty 33 8-12. .
9. Evergreen 16 6-14. . 10. Mount Si 10 0-20. . . Note: As a first-year coach in the league, Mount Si's Garrick Phillips declined to participate in survey.