Five years ago, Los Alamitos Coach Steve Brooks watched a gangly eighth-grader run up and down the basketball court at the Griffins' summer camp.
"You could tell he was going to be very tall," Brooks remembers. "He was very immature, though. When you are large and just an eighth- or ninth-grader, you get teased a lot. It bothered him. You could tell he had the athletic ability, though."
It didn't take long for Brooks to recognize Robert Conlisk's potential. At 6-feet-3, Conlisk towered over the other eighth-graders at the camp.
Conlisk, now a 6-11 senior, is still taller than his teammates and most opponents. And Brooks still talks in terms of potential about Conlisk, the center of attention on the Los Alamitos basketball team.
Much of the attention has come from college recruiters, who also saw Conlisk's potential. He has signed a letter of intent to play at Arizona State next season, turning down offers from De Paul, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado. He's part of a Sun Devil recruiting class that has been ranked among the top five in the nation.
"Offensively, he can play at the Division I level," Brooks said. "He has very good ballhandling skills and has an outstanding touch for someone who's 6-11.
"It's rewarding as a coach to see him mature mentally and physically. He's capable of making some money at this someday. You look around the NBA and they want big guys who can score--and he can score. He just needs to work on his rebounding and defense."
But for all his potential, Conlisk, at times, has faded into the background of the Griffins' offense. One night he'll score 33 points and have 15 rebounds. Then he'll have four points and be strapped with foul problems.
Opponents double- and triple-team him. He averages 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and four blocked shots a game while shooting 57% from the field. Solid figures, but not imposing ones.
"Statistically, this year has been more of a disappointment," Conlisk said. "I wanted more points. But Coach Brooks told me I would be double- and triple-teamed more this year."
The swarming defenses often frustrate Conlisk.
"There hasn't been one game where they've gone man-to-man against us," Conlisk said. "I've had to cope with it."
His frustration turned to anger in a 56-42 loss to Mission Viejo in the semifinals of the Estancia tournament on Dec. 29. The Diablos' defense sagged on Conlisk, preventing him from getting inside position.
The result: Four points, five rebounds and four fouls for Conlisk.
When Conlisk picked up his fourth foul with 2:08 left in the third quarter, Brooks pulled him out and asked what was wrong.
Conlisk, who didn't have any answers, made a smart remark.
And before he knew what happened, Conlisk was riding the lonesome pine.
"They (officials) called fouls on me because I was a big guy shoving around 6-2 guys," Conlisk said. "I had some stupid fouls. I was upset and I talked back. It was real disappointing."
Conlisk held his own attitude adjustment seminar. He began to accept the fact that being double-teamed was as much of a 6-11 center's life as points and rebounds.
"I was a little immature," he said. "I've started to grow up some more."
He tested his new attitude against Western on Jan. 3. He was double-teamed, as usual, but finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
"I guess that was my New Year's resolution," he said.
Conlisk called the benching a "learning experience."
"I learned I have to be patient and that some calls go against me," he said. "I need to move more in the offense and not let everyone converge on me."
The benching wasn't the first time Conlisk drew the ire of his coach. A connoisseur of fine dunking, Conlisk once did a 360-degree jam when the Griffins trailed by 15 points.
Brooks wasn't pleased.
"You just don't do that when you're losing," he said. "In baseball, you don't steal a base when you're up eight runs."
Conlisk still cherishes every chance to dunk. He averages about three a game, but his repertoire no longer includes 360s.
"I have fun doing dunks," he said. "It really gets the fans excited.
"Last year, there wasn't anyone at the games. This year, after I dunked three or four times, everyone was saying: 'What are you going to do tonight? I'm going to the Los Alamitos game.' My friends are all betting on how many (dunks) I'm going to throw in each game."
There's no early line on how many dunks he'll have Wednesday, when the Griffins (15-5 overall, 5-0 in the Empire League) play at Cypress (7-12, 0-5).
"Not all of his shots are dunks," Brooks said. "He can step out and shoot the jumper. If we let him shoot more three-pointers, he would be one of the better ones on the team."
Loara Coach Jerry Halpin said Conlisk is one of the best shooting centers his team has played.
"He's so much more of a force on offense this year than last year," Halpin said. "He can hit the shot from anywhere. He's a good big man. He keeps the ball up high and has a good shot. He didn't miss many against us."
But Halpin will remember Conlisk best for one of his weaknesses--rebounding.
Conlisk followed a missed layup by teammate Steve Sargeant with two seconds left to give the Griffins a 93-91 victory over Loara on Jan. 12.
Loara guard Tes Whitlock scored 54 points, tied for third highest in Orange County history, against the Griffins and drew most of the attention.
Los Alamitos got the victory, rallying from an 18-point deficit in the first half behind the play of Conlisk (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Jason Cunningham (30 points).
Conlisk laughs when reminded of his important rebound. The back of his warmup jersey reads "All Windex," but you won't see him cleaning the glass very often.
"After I signed with Arizona State, the first thing (Coach Bill) Frieder told me was that I wasn't a good rebounder," he said. "Nine rebounds (a game) isn't good for someone my height. Sometimes, I have more more dunks than I do rebounds."