Lester Earl has a dream. Some day the teenager hopes to play in the NBA, America's professional basketball league.
"I'd like to come out on the court with the lights flashing," he says. "Just to be there is any high school, going-to-college player's dream." For the moment, the Baton Rouge, La., native has put his desires on hold.
But those who know Lester say he will someday succeed. Possibly soon.
For any aspiring basketball player, the NBA is a land of opportunity for fame and fortune. Consequently, hardworking teenagers have turned the clock back on the entry-level age for the NBA.
Three high school seniors have declared themselves eligible for tomorrow's NBA draft: Philadelphia's Kobe Bryant, South Carolina's Jermaine O'Neal, and Taj McDavid.
Meanwhile, Lester - rated the nation's fourth-best high school hoopster by nationally renowned basketball recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons - is taking the old-fashioned route. He will attend college, but is not sure how long he will stay.
He picked Louisiana State University (LSU) after declining offers from basketball biggies such as the University of Kentucky, University of Kansas, and the University of Alabama. At LSU, Lester plans to "work, work harder, and improve."
"The game is just not going to come to you, you have go to the game. You have to find out about the game. You have to learn the game," he says.
Each day, Lester dedicates 10 hours to that process, putting his 6 ft., 9 in. frame through the grind. He socializes during walks from one gym to another.
"It's not going to be an easy task," he says with a look of determination. "That's why I take my workouts to the extreme."
Six years ago, Lester slam-dunked a promising athletic future as a champion triple jumper and took up basketball "just to keep out of trouble."
Before he could realize the consequences of his decision, he had his hands full with either basketballs on the court, or barbells and dumbbells in the weight room, where he trains daily.
After a rigorous day on the court, Lester has little time for much else. "Sometimes he helps me with the dishwashing," says Carol Earl, Lester's mother. "But he is usually tired by the time he comes back home."
In the process of this demanding exercise, he has left some impressive footprints. Last season he averaged 24 points and 15 rebounds per game, was named "Mr. Basketball" by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, and is a three-time Parade All-America winner.
Basketball, Mr. Basketball says, has taught him "discipline, much discipline, respect, dignity, and the desire to succeed in whatever I want to do."
But how far will he go?
"The sky is the limit for Lester," says Bob Starkey, LSU's assistant basketball coach. "There's no question that someday Lester will play in the NBA."
What makes this hoopster special "is that he is an extreme competitor. A lot of high school players do not have a great desire to win like Lester," Starkey says. "He is starting as a freshman but I hope his attitude rubs off on our upperclassmen.".
Lester sees these qualities in Seattle SuperSonics' power forward Sean Kemp, his hero since sixth grade.
"Everybody said he can't do this, he can't do that, and he proved them wrong," explains Lester about Kemp. "That kind of reminds me of myself. Such people always come back stronger the next year because they go through some growing pains."
Lester has more to him than meets the eye. "He is a better person than a ballplayer," says Lester's high school coach Harvey Adger. "If he continues to keep God in front and a spiritual soul, anything is possible for Lester."
Lester has a lot going for him: his work ethic, his coaches, his family, and the town of Baton Rouge, a factor that weighed heavily in his decision to opt for LSU.
His biggest supporters by far are his three brothers and parents, who go to every one of his home games. "One day I'd want to help put my family in a better situation than we're in," he says.