Mcgrady Latest Rookie To Make Jump From High School -- Windmill Dunk By Unknown Player Helped Turn High-Schooler Into NBA Millionaire

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The dunk was so spectacular that it will be talked about for years, like when Julius Erving jumped from the foul line and the 5-foot-7 Spud Webb spun 360 degrees and made it look easy.

Unlike the others, this one did not come in an NBA slam-dunk contest. It came in a game in July 1996 at the exclusive ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J., for promising high-school players.

It was the first time many had seen the real Tracy McGrady. In fact, it was the first time most had heard his name.

McGrady was dribbling down the left wing against the 6-9 James Felton, considered among the top prospects in camp. With a quick move to the basket, the 6-8 McGrady cupped the ball with his right hand and arm, brought it down near his waist and slammed it through as if he were trying to tear down a helicopter.

"It was unbelievable," said Providence assistant Bob Gonzalez, one of the top scouts in the country. "The whole camp stopped. It was like a moment in time when everything stood still.

"Most of the time, guys are well known by all the gurus," he said. "He was like a freak. Nobody had him on any list. He comes out, and he's just killing guys."

McGrady, then 17, had the best camp of anyone, but the windmill dunk over Felton stood out most.

"It was a spectacular dunk," McGrady said. "That dunk right there, the college scouts knew (then) who Tracy McGrady was."

Felton signed with St. John's. McGrady signed with the Toronto

Raptors, who took him ninth overall in the NBA draft.

One meeting several years ago proved key to McGrady's leap from high school to the NBA.

Joel Hopkins, the coach at the strict Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., was passing through McGrady's hometown of Auburndale, Fla., after taking his family to Disney World. He stopped to see if the phenom was interested in changing schools.

But Hopkins told McGrady he would have to do things the Mount Zion way. Before the meeting, he made McGrady take off his earrings. If McGrady were to attend Mount Zion, he would run seven miles a day before school; he would go to church; he would live in Hopkins' house with 11 other players; and there would be no dating, no going to the mall.

McGrady jumped in the car with the coach and his family for North Carolina.

He led Mount Zion to a top five national ranking while averaging 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and Hopkins used his connections to get McGrady into the ABCD camp.

"I was crying for a month, but I got the hang of it," McGrady said of Mount Zion. "Everything turned out well."

After the season, Hopkins called McGrady the second-best player in North Carolina behind Wake Forest center Tim Duncan - and that included the Charlotte Hornets.

From unknown to millionaire

Since the summer of 1996, life has been kind to McGrady.

In 16 months, he went from being an unknown talent with an uncertain future to an 18-year-old NBA millionaire. He was selected by the Raptors before meeting anybody from their staff.

"He probably was an unknown because he didn't participate in any camps (before ABCD)," Raptors executive vice president Isiah Thomas said. "I guarantee the people in his neighborhood know about him. He's uniquely skilled for a man his age. He does the things that we all wish we could do."

The Raptors will bring McGrady along slowly. He will start the season on the bench, at best a backup at small forward or shooting guard.

Kevin Garnett made the jump from high school to the NBA two years ago and last month signed a six-year, $126 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last year, Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal also skipped college on their way to the NBA. Bryant made the better transition but at times showed his youth while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. O'Neal played little for the Portland Trail Blazers and became homesick.

O'Neal was arrested this offseason after mouthing off to security guards and police officers at a mall. He spent part of his summer picking up garbage on South Carolina highways.

"There are a lot of mental things you have to deal with," O'Neal said. "It's not just basketball - money things and people coming at you all the time. You've just got to be mentally prepared to take on those challenges."

Sure, McGrady can windmill over high school kids, but can he make the same move against Patrick Ewing? Can he shoot over Scottie Pippen? Can he dribble around Gary Payton?

Adidas said he could when the sneaker company signed him to a $12 million contract. His three-year deal with the Raptors was worth about $6 million.

"I was looking at the draft and the college guys coming out," McGrady said. "I figured I was better than most of these guys. I'm versatile. I knew I could do the things they could do."

At 195 pounds, the weight room was waiting for McGrady when Toronto started training camp last week in Buffalo. Despite his skinny legs, he has extraordinary leaping ability. He possesses a smooth jump shot and handles the ball like a point guard.

"Tracy McGrady has a chance to become a very good player," Raptors coach Darrell Walker said. "He has a good feel for the game already. He's tall and he can handle. He has all the skills to be good."

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding McGrady is whether he can handle himself away from the court - the money, the fame.

"He's going to realize he's in a man's league," Raptors forward Walt Williams said. "There are no teachers here, no parents here. We're going to help him along, but Tracy is going to have to take care of himself. Nobody is going to hold his hand."

On draft day, McGrady donated $300,000 to Mount Zion. He's driving around in a $50,000 Lexus and already bought a house by a Florida lake for his mother and grandmother.

In Toronto, he will live by himself and take college correspondence courses during the season. Thomas wants to make sure he gets his degree. A representative from Adidas will check in regularly.

The critics wonder whether too much has happened too soon.

"I can't answer that," McGrady said. "What I can say is this: If you're able to play in the NBA, somebody is going to pick you, like Isiah. I'm really glad I'm in Toronto. I think I'm going to love it."