Shooting Stars

Tommie Liddell plays tortoise to Darius Milesí hare in the annals of East Side High basketball lore

But staying home to play college basketball can be a double-edged sword.

"When he wants to hide away and study, he's going to have more distractions, because his buddies are going to want a piece of him," predicts Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. "The other side of that is he'll have a built-in support mechanism. So if he does have a tough time, he'll have people to go to. Sometimes a home-cooked meal and a hug are pretty medicinal."

Then there's the fishbowl mentality of a downtrodden town like East St. Louis, which might lump extra pressure on a hometown hero. "Everybody is, in some way, wanting the kid to do well because it's a validation of themselves," Roby says of Liddell's situation. "I think it has to do with the fact that the area is so depressed and they've had a tough time. Where do people get their cues in regards to feeling good about themselves? Jobs are hard to come by. There aren't too many people with college degrees. If this is a kid who can put a little shine back on the community through his basketball talents, people really get behind that. So kids end up feeling the pressure as well."

"Tommie is a six-five whatever-he-wants-to-be," says 
Saint Louis University basketball coach Brad 
Soderberg. "He's as good a guard as I've seen in 
twenty years of coaching."
Jennifer Silverberg
"Tommie is a six-five whatever-he-wants-to-be," says Saint Louis University basketball coach Brad Soderberg. "He's as good a guard as I've seen in twenty years of coaching."
Baseball coach and youth mentor Maurice Scott has 
been a constant in the lives of Liddell, Miles and a host 
of East Side athletic prodigies.
Jennifer Silverberg
Baseball coach and youth mentor Maurice Scott has been a constant in the lives of Liddell, Miles and a host of East Side athletic prodigies.

Darius Miles didn't have to endure the pressure; he simply left -- not that anyone would blame him. And while he expresses a certain fondness for East St. Louis, he says he's happy to have found a way out. "My mom goes where I go," adds Miles, whose mother keeps a residence in the old neighborhood but now lives full-time in whatever home city her son is playing in. "It's every kid's dream to get out of the hood. God gave me a gift to get out of there."

Tommie Liddell has received that same gift. But along with it, he's availing himself of the bonus gift of time. Time to get his shaky academics in shape to ensure his eligibility at SLU next season. Time to crack jokes at the free-throw line with his friend and rival Xavier Price, who's going on to Purdue. Time to take in a screening of a certain movie starring Darius Miles at the Esquire with his family. Time to grab a post-game bite with Twin at a Belleville Denny's, drowning a difficult loss in pancakes, syrup and prom plans.

Time, for now at least, to keep going nowhere fast.

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