Duane Bickett, a three-sport athlete in high school, didn't have room in his extracurricular schedule for much else while attending Glendale High. But he always found time to play catch or shoot baskets with his little brother in the backyard of their home.
The attention meant a lot to Fred Bickett, who always was given an 18-point head start in a 20-point game and still couldn't win.
"Growing up with him was a lot of fun," said Fred, who now wears his brother's old No. 21 with the Glendale High basketball team. "We had a lot of good times."
They had another one recently. It began in the dormitory at USC where Duane was spending his final days as a Trojan before tomorrow's commencement exercises. The plan was for them to be at the home of Duane's agent, Leigh Steinberg, at 5 a.m. and wait for a phone call from one of the 26 teams at the 50th annual National Football League draft in New York.
But they overslept and were awakened by Duane's girlfriend, Mary, who was honking her car horn in the street. They got to the agent's house five minutes before the Baltimore Colts made the USC outside linebacker their first pick and the No. 5 selection in the country.
Fred remembered his brother throwing his arms in the air and smiling broadly. Then Duane called his parents in Australia, where they had moved after last January's Rose Bowl, and told them the news.
"Duane was surprised and happy," said Fred, at 17 the youngest of four brothers. The others are Don, 24, a pro basketball player in Australia, and Brent, 20, who attends USC.
"Everyone (in the media) was saying that he was going to go first round, but when I talked to him, he told me: 'Fred, I don't know if you can believe what the papers say.' And I'm the type of guy who'll say, 'Well, if these guys say it, it's gotta be true.' So I had a feeling he was going to go first round, but not that high."
John Brennan, football coach at Glendale during Bickett's sophomore and junior seasons, was surprised that his former player was selected so early--especially before Jack Del Rio, Bickett's linebacking partner with the 1984 Pac-10 champion Trojans. Del Rio, who was tabbed in the third round by New Orleans, was the 68th pick overall.
"I was very happy for Duane that he went that high," Brennan said. "I'm kind of surprised that he did as well as he did. That's a tribute to Duane. When he was here, he was just a tall, rangy guy who didn't have a lot of upper body development. He was a three-sport guy and he never really had time to get in the weight room."
Bickett, 6-3 and 185 when he played for the Dynamters, didn't start a serious iron-pumping program until he entered college. Four years later, he is an imposing 6-5, 232 pounds and an NCAA Division I All-American.
"Duane was special at our level, but I don't think anyone could have projected the success that he's had both at USC and now in the NFL draft," said basketball Coach Steve Keith, who witnessed every one of Bickett's football games at Glendale High. "He didn't have to be All-American at USC. He wasn't any sure thing coming out of here, but he worked at it and he was ambitious enough to want to get to that plateau.
"Obviously the weights have made him what he is today in some sense. But the athletic ability is his key--not the fact that he's lifted weights. A lot of guys have lifted weights who aren't going to be the fifth pick. They can make his body in the USC weight room, but if you go into the weight room as a non-athlete, you're still going to come out as a non-athlete. Duane was always an athlete in the natural sense."
Bickett, who scored 673 points in 51 games over two seasons of varsity basketball, was a second-team all-Foothill League player as a junior. He ended his prep basketball career in 1981 with a 17.5 scoring average, helping lead the Nitros to the 2-A Foothill League championship and an undefeated season that was climaxed by a 59-58 victory over Blair High in the CIF Southern Section title game at the Sports Arena. He was named CIF Southern Section Player of the Year for his efforts.
"Duane was one of the great basketball players in the history of the school," Keith said. "He had a competitive edge. You see it in all the guys who are successful. They're just able to gather themselves up at the big moment and they play with very little fear factor. They're not afraid to have the ball in their hands in the last minute. That's a quality that's hard to describe, but the great ones seem to have it."
Football Wise Choice
Although Keith feels Bickett would have been successful if he chose basketball as a career, he agreed with his decision to play college football.