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February 26, 2007

Beasley offers glimpse into the future

Michael Beasley came close to signing his name in blood. But he didn't do it. About 30 minutes after he received the MVP award at the All-American Shootout at Bramlage Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, Beasley and his family entourage were making their way down the northeast concourse. A fan asked him to sign a basketball. He pointed to his left index finger.

"Oh Michael," Fatima Smith whined in a tone that could only belong to a mother, "you're dripping blood all over."

Somebody handed Beasley a napkin. He wrapped his index finger, grabbed a silver Sharpie and began signing away.

A majority of the 3,196 were already gone. And soon, so was Beasley, the man of the day, the No. 1 recruit in America and the highest-rated player to ever sign at Kansas State, who sauntered down the concourse in white socks and with a cut index finger that he suffered earlier. Beasley switched from his white and black high school uniform. He now wore a purple K-State warm-up top and jersey shorts and was going to join his high school teammates to watch the Wildcats' practice.

Moments after he scored 30 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and swatted four shots in Notre Dame Prep's 107-80 torching of IMG Academy, Beasley made another statement - one he repeated in the days prior to lacing up his special purple adidas for the first time in a high school contest.

"I'm coming to Kansas State planning on playing four years," he said. "I want to be a student-athlete, not an athletic student."

It was as close as the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Beasley would come, or maybe could come to signing his name in blood to reserve a spot on the K-State roster through 2011. But, of course, he wouldn't do it, didn't do it, and perhaps, to be fair, couldn't do it.

"I think he's serious. He's not nave," Notre Dame Prep coach Bill Barton added. "If they money is there, the money is going to be there in four years, two years. A college education is important to him. He's an NBA talent, and you'll enjoy having him here, but he's doing the right thing by not putting any pressure on himself."

Fatima still calls her oldest son, "Little Mike." The 18-year-old is still living in a little boy's world full of Pop-Tarts and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But he's got a big rep and a bigger game to go along with it.

His legend in the Little Apple began about an hour before tip-off when he grabbed a basketball, took a step and swished a 45-footer. About 30 minutes later, he re-entered the court, grabbed a ball and banked a turnaround 23-footer from the top.

"Ohhhhh!" the crowd yelled.

"Ohhhhh!" the crowd yelled again.

Little Mike could spend next season prepping to live large, if he so desires. Mom knows as much, of course.

"Michael says four years," Fatima said prior to tip-off. "I say as long as he wants to be here, he'll be here. Whatever happens, happens. You know, we're going to make the best of it, enjoy life, enjoy some quiet time, some quality time."

Fatima manages a medical office in the Washington, D.C., area. She plans to move herself, Mychaela, 15, Malik, 8, Tiffany, 3, and Calvin Couch, Michael's step father, to Manhattan or Topeka. She said she is pursuing job leads and intends to settle in Kansas in June.

The biggest drawback to Manhattan?

"They don't have buses," she said. "I don't want to take (Mychaela) around town. But it's all in fun."

Fatima mentioned "buses" a few times. Transportation must be a concern.

It likely won't be a problem for K-State on the court. With apologies to that cellphone commercial, go ahead and call Beasley the "Bus Driver." Next season he'll take opponents to school. He hopes to help guide the Wildcats to what could be their second NCAA Tournament in two years.

Four years with Beasley. It could be quite a ride.

Still, Fatima sees her son, who on Sunday had a following of fans that wore "Beasley's Boyz" and "Beasley's Beauties" T-shirts, and shakes her head.

Beasley's family sat behind the Notre Dame Prep bench. Fatima said somebody asked her, "How's it feel to know your son is going to go to the NBA?"

"He doesn't look like an NBA player," she said. "He's just Little Mike. He's just the same one that comes home and eats all the Pop-Tarts, doesn't clean up behind himself, falls asleep on the phone, doesn't make the bed. He's Little Mike.

"I know there's something (special). He's a big boy, but a little boy and I still call him Little Mike. He's bigger than big Mike, his father."

She pauses.

"Yes," she repeats, "he's still Little Mike."

Well, there was quite a fuss over Little Mike. David Hoskins and Blake Young sat in good seats behind the basket. So did Bill Walker, who wore the biggest grin in Bramlage of anybody not named Fatima, as he watched Beasley, his friend, who in a matter of months would become his teammate. Of course, the K-State coaching staff was there, too.

Afterward Bob Huggins called Beasley's I'm-going-to-be-here-for-four-years statement "A business decision."

After Beasley showed off his long-range skills during shoot around - "That (45-footer) is his range during practice, not in a game," Barton insisted - Beasley was strictly business on the court.

Beasley, the left-hander in the white No. 30 jersey with black trim reading "PREP" across the chest (for those that couldn't pick him out of the crowd), followed his own shot. He dished the ball in transition. He nailed a 14-foot turnaround along the baseline. He sat the bench after 3 minutes to get his left index finger taped when it started to bleed - "I cut it when I went up with somebody on the backboard," he would tell Walker afterward on the court.

Beasley came back in with the taped finger, faced up and sank another baseline 14-footer, then a 3-pointer from near the corner, then drilled a mid-range turnaround and blocked a lay-up/dunk.

He had 11 points after eight minutes, 22 points and eight rebounds by halftime and misfired on just four of his 14 attempts. He reached 30 points with a little less than 5 minutes to go and received a standing O moments later when he sat for good.

Huggins once said Beasley "could do everything."

Nobody could argue that Sunday.

Just 15 minutes into the game, IMG Academy was clearly scared to death of Beasley on both sides of the court.

"He's such an athletic body," said Bill Dunigan, event coordinator for the Gazelle Group, which put on its first-ever All-American Shootout. "There aren't too many 18-year-olds that are 6-9 and 230 pounds. He's going to benefit like you see with Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. With Big 12 coaching and Big 12 competition, he's going to step up and only be better.

"He really has no ceiling. We've seen that today."

What does Beasley believe he needs to improve on?

"Making my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Beasley joked. "I won't have my mother here."

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Yes, that's what comes to mind when Fatima thinks of Little Mike and Kevin Durant. She doesn't think of the Big 12 Conference regular-season scoring average record that Durant will officially obliterate in a matter of days. She doesn't think about possible National Player of the Year award that could be waiting for Durant in March. She thinks of Little Mike and Kevin playing AAU ball together for the P.G. Jaguars back in the day, back when life was about hoops, Pop-Tarts and peanut butter and jelly. You know, things were a lot simpler back then.

"We used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Kevin," she said. "This year has been the first really exciting year of college basketball for me because Michael has played with a lot of the guys that are playing ball - Kevin, and he played against Greg Oden. They have the NCAA PlayStation and all of his friends are going to be in there.

"This is a really, really exciting year," she said, "and next year is going to be even better."

Are things moving too fast for Beasley? Heck no. At least that's what he says, as he appears to just take things day by day, enjoying the ride.

"It's kinda weird," Beasley said. "Me and (Durant) grew up together. It's kinda weird to see him doing what he's doing on that level. It's not moving too fast. It's kind of a steady pace. Nothing too crazy is happening."

Not yet, anyway.

That will soon change. Beasley will be a big man on campus. He will put on shows at Bramlage. He will sign autographs, too many to count. As he discovered Sunday, the No. 30 K-State jersey, like the one he signed after the game, is already a hot item.

On Sunday, he came close to signing his name in blood.

But he didn't do it.

And that knowledge will only make this ride - four years, two years, whatever -- all the more exciting while Little Mike makes a big impact in the Little Apple.


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