Three years ago, then NBA rookie Dwight Howard bumped into a bright-eyed seventh grader named Jalen Kendrick in the gym and the two Atlantans started talking about basketball and life.
The conversation moved to the court. Howard didn't know he was stepping onto the floor with a youngster that could potentially break his scoring record at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Kendrick says he didn't think that he'd be playing against a potential NBA MVP.
"We played a little one on one and he was telling me about the tradition at SACA and not to let him down. He dunked on me about five times and I haven't talked to him since," Kendrick said with a laugh.
Kendrick, now a long 6-foot-5 sophomore wing at the small Atlanta private school, is doing the same things that Howard and Javaris Crittenton did at SACA (13-3). Kendrick is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as the season hits the home stretch in the Peach State.
"It means a lot to play here. I love to play on the same floor that (Howard and Crittenton) stepped on. It's an honor," Kendrick said.
Playing alongside seniors Joel Lamb, a Charleston Southern signee, and Dorian Smith, a talented unsigned athletic guard, Kendrick said the focus is all about returning to the state championship game. SACA has won two state championships since 2004. Kendrick said the team has noticed that the expectations are a little muffled this season compared to years past.
"We've noticed it a lot. We've been great as the underdog all year. We've came in the gym as much as we can and just work," Kendrick said. "We've got everyone's back and make everyone better so we can prove that we are legit…Our goal is to be the state champions."
Kendrick shined on Tuesday night against Banneker High School. The junior, who is widely considered one of the top players in the Peach State in 2010, scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out seven assists. Kendrick said that type of game is what he's expected to do. He's certainly capable of it.
"It's very important to keep improving because I love this game with all of my heart. One of the things that I have always emphasized with myself is if I'm going to do it, I want to be the best," he said. "My mom and dad always instilled in me that you can't be the best if you don't put the work in. I'm in the gym everyday. First one in, last one out. That's my motto."
That motto is paying off as colleges are starting to notice. Georgia Tech came in to see him on Tuesday night. Michigan State has stopped by to see him, too, he says.
Kendrick has an offer from Xavier and interest from Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU and St. Joseph's early in the process.
He isn't in a rush to decide on a school and, as he says, he isn't even paying attention to who is stopping by or sending mail.
Kendrick is off to a hot start. He has to be. He's chasing down a pair of McDonald's All-Americans.