SAN DIEGO — For Lamont Grove, "Hoosiers" was just a movie. It wasn't the final word.
The troubled kid doesn't always help the team win the state championship and the admiration of adoring fans. Although Grove was a good player at Clay High School in South Bend, basketball--even in Indiana--was no guarantee against falling through the cracks.
But Grove decided to change directions and try to turn a bad situation in South Bend into a good one in San Diego. He decided to hop on a bus and stay with his aunt for a year.
Luckily for John King, Grove's aunt lives near Crawford High School, where King coaches basketball.
Since he transferred to Crawford before the school year, Grove is averaging 27 points, 8 assists and--despite being 5-feet 11-inches tall--7 rebounds.
Grove scored 119 points in four games and was named to the all-tournament team in the Kiwanis holiday tournament, in which he sent one game into overtime with a three-pointer.
His best was against Bonita Vista--32 points on 15-of-21 shooting, with 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals. Grove also scored 30 against Point Loma although he sprained an ankle early in the game.
Grove takes about 20 shots a game and makes more than 50% of them, most from long range.
"We say whenever he walks in the gym door, Lamont's in range," King said. "His shooting percentage is incredible."
Grove does not score only from the outside. His coaches say he is a phenomenal one-on-one player who is not afraid to take it inside against bigger players. Grove said he learned that playing against various 7-footers, current and future college players and his mother's brothers when he was growing up.
King said Grove has a tendency to take bad shots occasionally. But that usually occurs in games in which Crawford is behind and Grove feels a responsibility to bring the team back on his own.
If he has a weakness, it's his defense, but not because of lack of courage. Grove found himself guarding 7-foot Neal Pollard occasionally in two games against Torrey Pines. But despite standing a foot taller, Pollard didn't dominate.
"He was big ," Grove said. "But he didn't score."
Some of his basketball success may be because of experience against better players in Indiana. But improvements elsewhere have come since Grove moved.
Grove does not like to talk about problems he had in South Bend. He admits that he was academically ineligible his sophomore year and had to split time between the junior varsity and the varsity during his junior year because of it--even though he was good enough to play full-time on the varsity.
"We have a rule that players who didn't play the year before have to play on the junior varsity team," said Greg Humnicky, Grove's coach at Clay High.
That was disappointing, Humnicky said, because Grove showed promise as a freshman.
"He was a tremendous one-on-one player, one of the better players," Humnicky said. "When the game was on the line and we needed a basket, he'd get it for us. But then he fell upon bad academics, and he'd miss a practice or two. He was not the most responsible person in the world. It's too bad. I guess he was one of the kids who fell through the cracks."
Grove steadfastly refuses to talk about it but says he did not have family problems.
"I miss my mom a lot," Grove said. "I'm not used to being without her and my little brother. I call her all the time."
It was his mother who gave Grove money to buy a bus ticket when he told her he wanted to try living in California.
"I just moved out here to get away from South Bend for a while," Grove said. "I wanted to play out here. I try to experience different things."
Basketball was different. Besides the level of play, Grove is still adjusting to playing at 3 p.m. in front of few spectators.
"The gyms are a lot bigger in Indiana," Grove said. "The bleachers go up to the roof, and they're filled. I expected to play holiday tournaments at San Diego State, not at a small high school gym. They play the holiday tournaments in South Bend at Notre Dame.
"I'm used to playing against four or five good players on every team. There are good players here, just not as many."
Grove does miss his friends, but he hasn't had much problem making new ones.
"He fit in right away," sophomore Tracy Halton said. "He jokes around a lot. He doesn't say a lot about how it was in Indiana. But you can see it is easier out here. He averaged 16 back there, but he's scoring (almost) 30 a game out here."
Said King: "You can see he's been coached well. I don't think he has much trouble getting up for a game. Lamont goes off by himself before a game to concentrate, and you can see he is somewhere else. That is so much different from kids out here.
"Another sign of that is when he catches the ball, he's ready to shoot. That's coached. He knew what the passing game (offense) was the day he got here. We have some kids who took three years to learn it."