The NBA scout made his annual rounds, checking in with his sources about prospects.
Among his West Coast connections, he heard a similar story: There is a 7-footer, a lean and athletic kid who plays aggressively. Runs like a deer.
His ears perked. “Those guys,” the scout said, “there are just not a lot of them.”
The player’s name: Dewayne Dedmon.
And there was the twist. He wasn’t at all familiar with the player whose name was now being mentioned constantly. In the Internet era, these kind of unknowns just didn’t exist.
“I can’t think of a guy in the last few years who has come out of nowhere,” said the scout, who spoke anonymously because his team does not allow him to share information publicly. “There is going to be a ton of mystery about this kid.”
At least some of that mystery will end Friday when Dedmon and USC open the college basketball season against Cal State Northridge at the Galen Center.
Dedmon, a 22-year-old redshirt sophomore, is expected to be in the lineup even with a broken right hand that will be supported with a soft splint and covered with a wrap. As a result, his ability to catch the ball, shoot, pass and dribble will be limited.
But not so limited that the Trojans would be better without him.
Not even close.
USC Coach Kevin O’Neill is 54 and has been a coach for 32 years — including 21 in college and eight in the NBA — and he has a prediction about the young man with the wrapped hand.
Someday soon, maybe even next year, O’Neill said, Dedmon will be an NBA lottery pick.
“He’s the best athlete of his size I’ve ever seen, including the NBA,” O’Neill said.
Quite a compliment for a player who in high school scored two points.
The kids at Lancaster High just didn’t understand it. Why, they asked their tall, gangly classmate, do you not play basketball?
“I just don’t,” Dedmon might reply, if he didn’t walk away first.
The truth was, his mother forbade it. She wanted him to focus on church, not sports.
For years, he spent three nights a week at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she argued his time and energy was best spent there, not at a practice or a game.
But he wanted to play, so badly that for three years he tried out and made the team. Each time, though, he came back to Coach David Humphreys with bad news.
“Coach, I can’t do it,” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “My mom won’t let me.”
Every year, he hoped she’d change her mind, but she didn’t budge.
Then he turned 18 and made his own decision.
“Mom, I still want to play basketball,” he said. “You know where I stand on this,” she told him.
He was 6-8, 190 pounds, but entirely uncoordinated and lacking in both basketball skill and savvy.
“It was almost like he was running around in circles,” Humphreys said.
As a senior, Dedmon played in a handful of games — all blowouts. In one, he actually scored. Screaming for the ball while standing underneath the basket, he accepted a pass, turned and dunked the ball one-handed.
Then, he recalled, “I ran down the court, raising the roof like this” — he pumped his arms and hands toward the sky — “screaming, ‘Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!’ ”
“It was the happiest day of his life, I could tell,” said Teilden McKissic, a teammate.
But whoever would have guessed he had any kind of basketball future?
Lots more to learn
After high school, Dedmon enrolled at Antelope Valley College aiming to get into the water treatment business. A friend had told him it paid well.
He also contacted Dieter Horton, the two-year school’s basketball coach.
Horton didn’t know Dedmon, but he agreed to put him through a workout. And he liked what he saw.
Dedmon was entirely unpolished but he learned quickly, mastering a rebounding and scoring drill within minutes. “It was unbelievable,” Horton said.
Just like that, Dedmon had a place on the team, though the first year he just practiced, never appearing in a game.
When the team played, Dedmon videotaped the game. He also memorized every play for all five positions.
And he grew, gaining 30 pounds to 225 and stretching to 6-11.
Thinking he might have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough, Horton called Bob Cantu, a longtime friend who was an assistant coach at USC.
“Bob, I think this kid might have a chance,” Horton said.
A few months later, in July 2009, Dedmon played in a junior college exposure event at the Galen Center.
Several Division I coaches showed up, including O’Neill, who’d been hired by USC only weeks earlier.
O’Neill recalled watching Dedmon warm up and knowing immediately he wanted him with the Trojans. “He was a no-brainer,” the coach said.
Dedmon committed to USC in October, before he played his first college game. By the time he actually signed with the Trojans, he had about two dozen other offers, including ones from Texas and Washington.
He said part of the reason he chose USC was to stay close to his family. He grew up with two older sisters and his mother, who declined to be interviewed for this story.
Dedmon said his mother’s view on basketball hasn’t changed much, but she supports him.
Getting to work
Dedmon put up modest numbers in his first full season of basketball, averaging 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds for Antelope Valley. But his impact extended well beyond those numbers.
“He probably changed the game from a defensive perspective better than anybody in our league,” Barstow College Coach Reggie Howard said.
Said Chaffey College Coach Jeff Klein: “Every time I saw or scouted him, you saw he was improving by leaps and bounds.”
He improved because he worked at it. When Antelope Valley’s season ended, Dedmon took a job as a custodian in the campus cafeteria, taking out trash, sweeping, mopping, buffing floors. But during his breaks and five nights a week after work, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., he headed to the basketball gym.
“With Dewayne, it always seems like there’s something to prove,” said Herman Mena, another custodian at the school.
Dedmon, who enrolled at USC in December of last year, is now a muscular 250 pounds and barely resembles the awkward, skinny teenager whose first competitive basketball game was at the age of 18.
That said, there are still things about the game that seem brand new.
For example, that broken right hand has forced him to dribble, pass, shoot and block shots with a hand he rarely used before.
“A blessing in disguise,” O’Neill said.
Like the player himself, the coach hopes.