Jerry Gee sits behind the athletic director's desk at St. Martin de Porres, filling it out rather impressively with his 6-foot-7-inch, 215-pound frame and a solemn face that bears the maturity of a college upperclassman.
If he seems at ease in this part of the adult world, it's because Athletic Director Mike Manderino is also Gee's basketball coach, his confidant and good buddy. He often is referred to as "Mandy" by the greatest basketball player in school history.
You can imagine the countless hours these two have spent in this place over the last four years, laughing and joking and listening to each other's problems as Manderino becomes the big brother Gee never had. If you're a fan of the old television series "White Shadow," Manderino easily could become the Carver High basketball coach played by Ken Howard with Gee slipping into the key player persona.
Gee was taught to respect his teachers early in life. In this day and age, when too many parents rely on others to discipline their offspring, Patricia Gee says she would get out the belt whenever a teacher called with word of her son misbehaving in school.
Patricia Gee never failed to place the blame-and the belt-squarely where she thought it belonged.
Which brings us to a story that succinctly reveals how Jerry Gee came to be. He was honored last week by a local newspaper as its player of the year. The next day, his mid-semester report card was all B's and C's except for religion. That grade rhymed with his last name and elicited this response from his mother:
"Last night I was so proud of you, and now I want to knock your head off!" said the feisty 5-foot-7-inch, 120-pound woman who raised her son alone until she was remarried.
Well, Mrs. Gee, it's time to be proud of your son once again. He has won the honor of Mr. Basketball, an award presented annually by the Tribune in conjunction with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Gee will receive the award April 30 at Illinois State University.
In statewide voting by coaches and media, Gee edged Mt. Carmel's Antoine Walker in the second-closest balloting since the award originated 14 years ago.
Gee received 92 first-place votes and a total of 658 points to Walker's 84 firsts and 614 points. Shane Hawkins of Class A state champion Pinckneyville was third at 558. In all, 454 ballots were returned.
The closest race was three years ago when Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan edged Gordon Tech's Tom Kleinschmidt 822 points to 804.
Gee becomes the latest in an illustrious list of honorees that includes NBA players Marcus Liberty and Eric Anderson, Deon Thomas of Illinois, Jamie Brandon of LSU, Chris Collins of Duke and Rashard Griffith of Wisconsin.
"Me and Antoine, we have totally different games," said Gee, who averaged 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in leading St. Martin to third place in the Class A state tournament. "Antoine is more of a perimeter player, and I'm better down low. I look at how far along he is with his style and I'd like to have his perimeter game at some point. He handles the ball very well and can hit the three-point shot. I've been working on my perimeter game since last summer, and it's coming along pretty well."
There was no better evidence than the third quarter of the third-place game against Rockford Lutheran when Gee erupted for 13 points, blocking shots at one end of the court and racing down to score at the other. He finished with a flourish, draining a three-pointer at the buzzer.
"The college coaches I've talked to want me to use my post offense," Gee said. "I've worked so hard to develop that part of my game that I might as well make use of it. But I also want to use all the dimensions of my game."
He already has said Minnesota and Wisconsin are the leading contenders for college, but latecomer Duke has a furious finishing kick. Gee will make his decision after visiting Duke.
But Gee already is speaking the Duke language when he talks of one day developing a "Grant Hill perimeter game."
Having grown up in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the South Side, Gee is no stranger to urban violence. Two key elements of his survival were his mother and his boyhood friends.
Patricia Gee forbid her son from wandering out of sight of the Gee home, which left Gee the target of other children's derision. As a youngster, Gee was often angry at his mother for such restraints.
"When you're little, you don't think anything is dangerous," Gee said. "I was used to it. Now I'm so thankful for what she did."
Always the biggest kid in his class-he was 6-4 in 8th grade-it behooved the toughest little guy to befriend Gee, which wasn't too difficult, given Gee's easygoing demeanor and his people personality.
As these boys in the 'hood grew up and went in different directions, they never relinquished a childhood bond. These are difficult times, even for star athletes, who had always routinely received a pass from local gangbangers and drug dealers. There are increasing reports of gang pressure even on high school basketball and football stars, and some players retain gang membership while playing sports.
"I have friends who are gangbangers, guys I grew up with and played together with as kids," Gee said. "I know what they do, they know what I do."
Gee listens carefully to stories of prominent NBA stars who started in similar fashion but began ignoring their boyhood pals after signing that first multimillion dollar contract, as if money alone could wipe away all ties with a past they wanted to forget.
Gee plans to keep in touch with all his old friends.
"If I'm lucky enough to make it to the pros and some of my guys want tickets, I'll get them all they want," Gee said. "My friends now are my friends for life. Sure, my life would change a lot, but I'd still come back and visit Altgeld Gardens all the time. My life will be different, but nothing's going to change about me."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times