Facebook Twitter

BYU-bound L.A. star fits right in playing hoops in ‘hoods of N.Y.

SHARE BYU-bound L.A. star fits right in playing hoops in ‘hoods of N.Y.

As Daniel Bobik strolled onto the outdoor basketball court in the heart of New York City last June, life's contrasts came hurling toward him like a full-court press.

The aging court was filled with holes, the rims were bent and rusty. Bobik was used to playing in pristine gymnasiums in Southern California, but as he soaked up the surroundings he realized immediately how important this was.You don't just play at a court like this, you are selected. Pretenders need not apply.

It looks like hell, but in reality it is Basketball Heaven. It's a place where players are made, legends born and the ungifted cast aside.

The locals in the West 4th Street section of Manhattan refer to the court as "The Cage" because it's protected by a chain-link fence at least 20 feet high. Outside the fence, Bobik could see middle-age men sipping beer out of brown paper bags. Some were yelling at one another, although most of their outbursts were directed at the players on the court inside.

As much as the 17-year-old Mormon from Newbury Park High School tried not to think about it, he was the only white guy in sight. That fact wasn't lost on his teammates, most of whom looked him up and down, clearly skeptical that the bony white kid could play. The opposing team dismissed him with icy stares.

"I was nervous," said Bobik, who earlier this month signed a national letter of intent to play at BYU. "I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into."

Bobik was in New York to earn his way into the prestigious A.B.C.D. summer basketball camp in New Jersey. A friend of a friend of a friend had put him in contact with Rodney Parker, a 51-year-old black hoop junkie who spends most of his time scouting local playground talent.

Parker, who has connections with the A.B.C.D. coordinators and was featured in the book "Heaven is a Playground," told Bobik he could audition for a week in New York.

If he was legitimate, Parker would get him a spot in the camp.

Bobik was skeptical at first, but ever since he was young he wanted to attend A.B.C.D. For the best high school players in the country, the camp is an invitation-only basketball mecca, a chance to play in front of every major-college coach in America.

Bobik didn't know Rodney Parker from Rodney Dangerfield, but the guy was offering him a chance to realize a dream.

"Never met him before in my life," Bobik said. "Next thing you know I'm on a plane to New York to live with him for a week."

The day Bobik arrived, Parker put him in street games throughout the city. Like a couple of basketball Gypsies they traveled from Manhattan to Harlem to Brooklyn in search of games.

"Everywhere we went, everybody knew who Rodney was," Bobik said. "We'd get to a playground, he'd go over and talk to some of the guys, and then I'd be on the court playing."

This would repeat itself every day for the rest of the week.

"I wanted him to play as much as possible," Parker said. "Anywhere there was a tournament or a game going on, we'd be there."

At each stop, Bobik encountered the same scene.

"He was like a novelty, the only white player around," Parker said. "When we were walking though Harlem, little kids were coming up to him just to talk."

If children met Bobik with curiosity, the other players were just as incredulous. Bobik understood their reaction.

"I was the new guy and somebody who was different," he said. "They wanted to see if I could play."

Bobik was the Ventura County Player of the Year last season while averaging 20.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Ask five coaches what they like most about the 6-foot-5 senior and you'll likely get five different answers. The common denominator is his unselfishness, which Newbury Park coach Steve Johnson considers Bobik's only weakness.

"Sometimes I have to pull him aside and tell him to shoot the ball more," Johnson said, smiling.

Bobik takes pride in his passing, and there isn't a better playmaker in the area at his size. Defensively, his intelligence and athletic ability enable him to check an opponent's best player one-on-one. Offensively, he can go strong to the basket but also pull up for jump shots.

Johnson expects Bobik to be a more selfish scorer this year, although his shots will come within the framework of the Panthers' offense. From time to time, he will be asked to take over a game.

"We don't have a set amount of shots that he has to get every game," Johnson said. "But there will be games where he will have to score 30 points for us to win."

None of this mattered to the players in New York. To them, Bobik was just a guy trying to crash their party. From California, no less.

Then Bobik started to play.

Skepticism quickly became belief after Bobik fired a couple of no-look passes to teammates for easy layups. He wasn't used to the "no blood, no foul" style of play, but after a making some adjustments, Bobik was powering to the basket as if he was a New York play-ground veteran.

"It's all about taking the ball to the rack - hard," Bobik said.

Parker watched with admiration.

"It didn't take long for him to win those guys over," Parker said. "They figured out pretty quickly that he was a total team player."

Pretty soon his teammates were giving Bobik high-fives. After the game, players from the other team sought him ought to pay their respect, exchange phone numbers and invite him to other games in the area.

For the rest of the week, Bobik, his new friends and Parker traveled from one end of New York City to the other on a playground-basketball odyssey.

In Greenwich Village, Bobik discovered that word had leaked out that there was a strange kid from the West Coast tearing it up around the city.

"Everyone wants a piece of me," Bobik wrote in a diary he kept.

Even some local high school coaches took notice. A few suggested that a roster spot awaited if Bobik decided to stay in New York for his senior year.

"I didn't think my mom and dad would have liked that too much," Bobik said.

Bobik got the invitation to the A.B.C.D Camp the following week at Farleigh-Dickinson University. Playing against the best 150 seniors in America, he more than held his own. He even won a game with a last-second three-pointer.

The next week he played with a Utah travel team in the Las Vegas Tournament and a week after that he was at the Double Pump Tournament in Long Beach. Bobik then joined his Newbury Park teammates at the UCLA team camp at the end of July.

In all, he was away from home six straight weeks.

"We were going to print up T-shirts, like they do for concerts," Johnson said. "The Daniel Bobik World Tour."

Bobik has plans that could take him just about anywhere in the world before playing at BYU. After high school, he leaves on a two-year Mormon mission. He will play for the Cougars in the year 2000.

Bobik considers his his experience in New York the most enlightening of his life. Over seven days, strangers from another part of the country with completely different backgrounds took him into their homes, extended their friendship and slipped some knowledge about their lives into his back pocket. And when they weren't looking, Bobik tried to slip his own insight into theirs.