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Having Proved Athletic Skills, Ray McDavid Hits the Books

February 05, 1989|DON PATTERSON

After basketball season, some of his friends are popping open cans of mitt oil to get ready for the spring's first round of pepper, Ray McDavid will prepare for a task he expects to be much tougher than hitting a sharp curve with runners in scoring position.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test.

McDavid, 17, is considered the best athlete at Clairemont High by all who have coached him. He's probably one of the best all-around athletes in San Diego County. He has never struggled on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond. Sports have always come easy. But taking the SAT is different.

"I'm pretty concerned about it," said McDavid, who will take the exam for the first time March 11.

So concerned, in fact, that he has decided to forgo baseball this season so he can make sure he has time to study. That, in itself, is a significant sacrifice. McDavid hit .396 last season, his first playing high school baseball.

But the only thing he'll hit this spring are the books.

His mother, Oralee, supports his decision. She says she isn't about to let anyone talk him into playing if it isn't what he wants.

"I don't want anybody pressuring him," she said. "He said he's not going to play. That's it."

That's it. Books before bats. True to his upbringing; Oralee reminds him of the importance of academics just about every day. So does his father, Johnny, who has a master's degree in psychology from the University of Miami. Johnny and Oralee were divorced two years ago, but Johnny talks frequently with Ray. And the first question he asks is usually: 'How are your grades?' "

"My dad told me education comes first," said McDavid, who has about a 2.5 grade-point average.

That being the case, the Clairemont baseball team might have trouble reaching first in the standings this season. McDavid's bat and glove will be missed.

Clairemont Coach David Buttles knows some pro baseball scouts who have been keeping an eye on McDavid.

"It's going to put a big hole in the team if he doesn't play," Buttles said. "I think he would be missing out on several options (by not playing)."

Still, with San Diego State, Loyola Marymount, Wisconsin and Hawaii recruiting him, basketball season in full swing and school work to be done, McDavid has plenty to think about. Along with the SAT. That's always on his mind.

"He is really, really nervous about taking it," said Clairemont Athletic Director Hal Krupens, who is McDavid's football coach. "It's a little different than playing a ballgame."

And that's the problem. If only it were as easy to him as playing a ballgame. That comes naturally to Ray McDavid.

In grammar school, McDavid would go to the playground after school and play basketball with the high school kids. Oralee used to warn her son to be careful, but he never had problems. Never got hurt. The only thing he ever did was impress the big kids. They would always tell Oralee, "You have a good son."

High school accomplishments have proved that. McDavid played three positions in football last season: quarterback, receiver and safety. He was chosen the team's MVP. At the football banquet, McDavid took time to say a few words and distribute a "thank you" here and there. He thanked members of his offensive line.

"Really," Krupens said, "the way he was running for his life all the time, I'm not sure he needed to thank anybody."

In basketball, McDavid is a two-time all-league selection, currently sixth in the county in scoring with a 23.7 average. He has one of those jump shots that makes opponents cringe and coaches marvel.

"He's just Ray," Kearny Coach Bill Peterson said. "He doesn't need a last name. He's like Cher or Elvis."

A name for all seasons.

With his 40-inch vertical jump, McDavid doesn't need to concern himself with getting shots blocked.

"He can get so high it's scary," said Greg Lee, Clairemont's basketball coach.

That's probably one of the reasons Lee decided to put McDavid on varsity as a freshman. McDavid was only a slip of a lad at the time, standing about 5-feet-8. "Baptism by fire" is what Lee calls it. And appropriately, McDavid's game rode the roller-coaster of inconsistency that year. He committed turnovers. His scoring totals fluctuated. One of Lee's friends attended a Clairemont game one day and asked him: "What do you see in that guy?"

"It was pretty horrible," McDavid said. "I was a little, bitty guy. I was still trying to learn the game. I was taking it slowly but surely."

Now, it's easy to tell what Lee saw. At 6-2, McDavid is fast and sure. A boy in a man's body. A leader who helps younger players mature with knowledge he picked up when he was the new kid on the court. A player who can stand underneath the basket and dunk.

Lee and McDavid often play one-on-one. Lee used to clobber him. Now, it's almost close. Almost. That's saying a lot. Lee is a decent player in his own right. He started on two of UCLA's national championship teams in the early '70s, one with Bill Walton and Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes.

"Never beaten him," McDavid said. "Once he gets the jump shot going . . ."

Though athletic success has accompanied McDavid throughout high school, his personality hasn't changed. Freshmen know they can approach him on campus, say hello and maybe even discuss a recent game. McDavid doesn't mind.

"He's nice to everybody," teammate Alex Love said. "Treats everybody the same."

Maybe because he remembers. He wasn't always the toast of the campus.

"I was a freshman," he says with a shrug. "Everybody was a freshman. I know how it feels."

Have a girlfriend?

"Not really," he says, smiling. "You get in trouble with girlfriends."

Yes, and he has other things to concentrate on. Goals to realize. For now, he'll try to make this Clairemont basketball team as good as it can be. Then it's study time.

"If I wasn't playing sports, I could go home and get my nose in the books," McDavid said. "I know I could do much better."

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