Vince Mackey is apparently a budding Arthur Ashe, but his flowering on the tennis court could be ampered if he doesn't find a patron as Ashe did.
Ashe, an NCAA titlist at UCLA and a Wimbledon champion, was helped along the road to tennis greatness by Dr. Walter Johnson. Johnson, a black physician, was a patron to Ashe, Althea Gibson and other young black players for years in Richmond, Va.
Mackey, it seems, could also use a helping hand.
A University High School senior this past school year, Mackey recently won the Los Angeles City 4-A singles championship and is ranked eighth among Southern California junior players age 18 and younger.
In three years with the University High varsity, he lost only two singles matches--last year in the City singles final to then-sophomore teammate Jason Clark (when Mackey had a strained left shoulder) and in the 1987 City final to Giora Payes, a sophomore on the UCLA varsity last season.
At last spring's Ojai Invitational, long a prestigious amateur tournament, he reached the semifinals in his age group, beating a couple of higher-ranked players.
University High Coach Tom Anderson said that Mackey, a tall (6-2), slender youngster with a powerful serve and forehand, has unlimited potential. Anderson added, however, that his quest to reach the top among the nation's junior players has suffered because of limited finances.
Oscar Ringel, a teaching professional who has been giving Mackey lessons for about a year, said that there "could be no end to his level of play.
"He can develop. He is tall, strong and very, very fast. He has a big serve and is a big hitter. It's a question of how much hard work he'll put in to get to a high level of play."
He apparently is willing to work. Anderson said that Mackey has practiced harder than any other player he has coached and has great determination.
Mackey, who plans to sign a letter of intent with Cal State Long Beach, is determined to play in some national junior tournaments this summer. But how many tournaments he gets to will depend on how much he saves from his job at a health club snack bar and how well a friend's not-so-late model car is running.
He said he hopes to compete in the national hard courts championships that begin July 7 in Burlingame and later in the clay courts tournament in Kentucky and the national junior championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Anderson said he would "put Vince up against anyone in these tournaments" and, if he overcomes his financial problems, "it will be to his advantage. He'll be a better person for his struggle."
He said Mackey didn't make it to one junior tournament recently because the car "broke down. There have been (other) times he hasn't gotten to tournaments, and he has been playing with borrowed rackets for most of the year."
Mackey's inability to get to tournaments has kept him from attaining a high national ranking, Anderson said, and absence from national competition has caused him to be overlooked by college recruiters. "In tennis right now, the major colleges are looking for the top 10 players in the world," Anderson said.
"(Colleges) are so concerned with rankings when they consider who should get scholarships that they forget about raw talent. I think wherever Vince goes, he'll be a gem.
"Pete Smith (the Cal State Long Beach men's tennis coach) is to be congratulated on having a knowledge of what's going on in junior tennis."
Mackey was not overlooked by UCLA Coach Glenn Bassett. Bassett said: "I think he is a very, very good junior. He is left-handed and quite an athlete and will probably be a real good college player. He just hasn't scratched the surface of his ability.
"We sure would like to have had him, but when we were recruiting him he wasn't doing that much with his ability."
Mackey is the third Los Angeles City prep champion that Ringel has given lessons to. The others, both Fairfax High graduates, were Jeff Klaparda, the former UCLA star who is now on the pro circuit, and UCLA's Payes. Klaparda was a two-time City prep singles champion, and Payes won three consecutive City titles.
Ringel said that Mackey has been held back because he did not take private lessons until late in his prep career. "I tell him he's not aggressive enough to mooch, (that) he doesn't hustle enough for his own benefit.
"He should have been much further along. He has great potential, but he's losing valuable time . . . . He has world-class speed and power, all the attributes."
Anderson said that Mackey has had to work hard to attain about a B-minus average at University High. He said that going to Cal State Long Beach will be good for him because there will be less academic pressure than at UCLA.
"Vince is a great athlete, but he is also a teeth-gritter. He is a conscientious, worrying type of kid."
Mackey's worrywart approach to life does not seem to go with him when he steps on a tennis court. "Every time I go on the court, it's fun," he said. "It's interesting--like a challenge, a battle--and I want to be No. 1."
Anderson said he is advising Mackey "to stay with tennis. I think he can make it in the pros. A year in college would be appropriate for him before he gets to the next level."
To make the transition to the pros, the youngster will have to develop a strong serve-and-volley game, Anderson said. "He has had such success from the base line as a junior that his game might lack something. He has size and quickness, but he needs to work on his backhand." Mackey thinks he also has to improve on his return of service.
Ringel also believes that Mackey has what it takes to become a winner in the pros and should give it his best shot.
"Even if you never make it," Ringel said, "you must do what you think is right. Failing is better than not trying at all."
Anderson said that failure doesn't seem to be in Mackey's vocabulary. "He's done nothing on or off the court that I haven't been proud of. He has survived the rigors of academics and economics."