Ever since he stepped out of junior high school and into the starting lineup of the Cleveland High basketball team, Trevor Wilson's every move, every expression, has been scrutinized.
Some have interpreted his leaving the court in a huff as a sign of cockiness. They say his game face--a scowl--is a show of arrogance.
And why, they wonder, was Cleveland's record 5-5 with Trevor in the lineup--but 5-0 without him--for a stretch this season?
Bob Braswell, Cleveland coach, says Wilson, the player, is difficult for opponents to figure. Wilson, the person, is just as complex.
"People who don't know him tend to misinterpret some of his actions," Braswell said. "People see a guy who stomps up and down the basketball floor and never smiles. Lots of times he looks upset when there seems no reason to be.
"The fact is, he's a perfectionist. Chances are he's mad at himself for not playing up to his expectations. Sometimes, I'll pull him out of a game and he'll storm off the court. I don't take it personally because I know that he's not mad at me--he's mad at himself. Other people see that and get the wrong impression."
Braswell shook his head when asked why Cleveland struggled early in the season with Wilson in the lineup--then improved while he nursed an ankle injury.
"Just one of those things you can't explain," Braswell said. "This is certainly not a one-man team. We have some other guys who really came through when we needed them. But don't try to tell me that we're a better team without Trevor Wilson. That's ridiculous.
"Trevor has been a starter and the leading scorer on three league championship teams. That's no coincidence. He's a hell of a player."
So good, in fact, that he has almost lived up to all the hype that preceded his high school career.
When Wilson enrolled at Cleveland, Braswell said Wilson was hailed by one newspaper as the best sophomore player in the Valley. Ever.
That's better than Gail Goodrich, Darren Daye, Stuart Gray or Paul Mokeski, all of whom made it to the National Basketball Assn.
And all of this before the 6-8 forward ever laced up his sneakers for the varsity team.
No wonder he quickly became the favorite target of sharp elbows from opponents and pointed remarks from opposing fans.
Yes, Trevor Wilson, 17, Mr. All-fill-in-the-blank, has his share of critics.
"There was a little extra pressure on me to live up to expectations, but I tried to not pay much attention to what people were saying or doing," Wilson said. "It's nice to hear how good people think you are, yes, but I knew deep down inside that I needed to work hard or I'd fall. To stay on top you have to keep working."
Wilson has been working every day since the summer of 1981. That's when he started playing in the American Roundball Corp.
Between the end of last basketball season and the start of this one, Wilson played in three spring-summer leagues and attended a summer basketball camp at Princeton University.
"He's a basketball workaholic," said Rich Goldberg, president of American Roundball. "One day he made up his mind he wanted to be a great basketball player and he hasn't stop working since."
UCLA basketball Coach Walt Hazzard, who has already signed Wilson to play for the Bruins next season, recognizes the two-time All-City player's tenacity. He believes that Wilson will quickly raise the level of intensity at UCLA practices.
"He's the kind of kid who will come in here and battle for some playing time right away," Hazzard said. "He can shoot, he can rebound, he can run and he can play some defense. But what I like most about him is his work habits. He's willing to pay the price to be the best."
Wilson's penchant for playing basketball got him in trouble last April. Braswell, who was a Cleveland assistant at the time, dismissed Wilson from the team after the player walked out of a team meeting following one of Cleveland's Vocabulary League games.
Wilson, who was upset after a close loss, said he didn't have time to stay for a word test given after each of the spring-league games. He had to go to a Slam 'n' Jam League game. Braswell told him to stay or be dropped from the team. Wilson walked--and didn't show up for the team's next game.
Three weeks later, Cleveland Coach Greg Herrick told The Times that Wilson had been dismissed because of "recent violations of team rules and his continued disregard of our program and its objectives." The next day, Herrick announced his own resignation.
Said Braswell: "The timing of both announcements was unfortunate. One had nothing to do with the other, but it didn't look that way. The whole thing was blown out of proportion."
Through it all, Wilson remained silent. He had no comment to speculation about where he was going, what he was doing, or if he even cared about not being on the Cleveland basketball team. Was he going to Fairfax? To Van Nuys? Even now, Wilson only says that he knew his options were open.