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\"\"Kevin Morris texted his principal last Wednesday night and asked that she not come by for an evaluation the following morning—he wouldn't be teaching. Instead, Morris, the boys basketball coach at Apalachee High School in Winder, Georgia, had something else in mind.

\n

So on Thursday he pulled out the bleachers in the gymnasium, rolled out the projector, pulled down the big screen and found the site he was searching for on his laptop. The 150 students who arrived at 1 p.m. were there for weightlifting or aerobics or P.E., but by 1:30 they all had settled in for the show: Former Apalachee star Kamar Baldwin was about to make his NCAA tournament debut.

\n

Some of these students had sat in these same bleachers and watched as Baldwin collected accolade after accolade. He had started on the Wildcats varsity squad as a freshman, had been named all-state from his sophomore through senior seasons, had earned Georgia's Region 8-AAAAA Player of the Year award twice and had left school with 2,593 points—the most ever for a Barrow County player. From their seats, they could see his framed No. 44 jersey on the wall above a basket, retired before he graduated. But they weren't looking at the ceiling; they were staring at the screen as Baldwin and his Butler Bulldogs took on the Winthrop Eagles in Milwaukee.

\n

\"\"

\n

They whooped and hollered as Baldwin snagged a steal off Winthrop's Bjorn Broman not a minute into the game, as he blocked a shot not five minutes in and as he drained the three that extended Butler's lead to 11 with about six minutes to go in the first half. As the halftime buzzer sounded, so did the bell signaling the end of the school day. But after the crowd had dispersed and the projector had been disassembled, Morris and five current players huddled in his office and crowded around his 15-inch laptop to watch Butler advance with a 12-point win.

\n

Baldwin finished with seven points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. His statistics weren't amazing, but the group nonetheless left Morris' office in awe. The players had believed all along that Baldwin would succeed in college basketball one day, but now they marveled anew at how a 6-foot 3-star recruit from their tiny, 15,000-person town had become an impact Division I starter so soon.

\n

Before Kamar Baldwin could form words or even memories, basketball was central to his life. His mother, Kay Holloway, who had played point guard in high school and for a year at Shorter University in nearby Rome, Georgia, was the girls coach at Winder-Barrow, the only other high school in Barrow County—and Apalachee's chief rival. By the time he turned two and could string a sentence together, Kamar implored his mother to let him start playing basketball.

\n

\"Eventually,\" she jokes, \"I had to put a ball in his hands just to shut him up.\"

\n

\"\"

\n

At three, Kamar was so hooked that he talked the director of his day care into buying him a ball and a hoop so that he wouldn't have to spend the better part of each day away from the game. His mother would come to collect him after work and find him instructing his peers on proper dribbling technique. When she brought him home, he'd step in front of the Fisher-Price hoop in his bedroom and hoist shots until his tiny arms failed. By the time he turned four, he was playing organized basketball at the YMCA. His mother coached the team.

\n

Just two years later, Morris brought his son, Ethan, to the YMCA for a game. As Ethan played, Morris found himself distracted by a kid on the next court over—he couldn't tell whether the boy was left-handed or right-handed, but he knew for certain he was going to be a big-time player. Since there are only two schools in Barrow County, he knew he had to find the boy's family and ask an important question: Did they live in Winder-Barrow's district or Apalachee's? His mother, herself a special education teacher, gave him the good news about her son.

\n

\"I wouldn't say I was recruiting then,\" Morris says, \"but I was definitely excited.\"

\n

\"\"

\n

Around that time, Kay—who hadn't married Kamar's father, Greg Baldwin—began dating Jamie Holloway, a sheriff she'd first met when they were both basketball players at Shorter. As their relationship grew serious, Holloway invested more and more time refining Kamar's burgeoning basketball skills. They'd pass hours on the driveway, mimicking Chris Paul's dribbling techniques and forming a sharp shooting stroke.

\n

\"At first, I hated it,\" Kamar says. \"I'd feel like I mastered something, and then we'd do it again and again—for hours, for days. Now I understand how much that helped to shape me.\"

\n

The only gap in his young career came in third grade. Two times that year, his mother was called in for a teacher's conference: Kamar was becoming the class clown. She told him that if she had to make another trip to the school, she wouldn't allow him to to play basketball that year. When the third call came, he protested the suspension, but it stood.

\n

\"I hated not being able to play, but I'm glad they didn't give in,\" Kamar says. \"I carry that lesson with me to this day.\"

\n

When Morris finally got Kamar on his court, for a four-day camp the summer after Kamar's suspension, he played him with fifth- and sixth-graders and marveled at how ahead of the curve he was. Morris gave Kamar a nickname that year: The Franchise.

\n
\n

\"When we heard Kamar was coming, we celebrated like we'd just gotten into the Sweet 16.\"
—Butler head coach Chris Holtmann

\n
\n

But Baldwin soon learned that being the best player in Barrow County wasn't enough to help him achieve his dream of playing college basketball. In eighth grade, after having dabbled in football (as a quarterback) and track (he ran the 400-meter dash and hurdles), he decided to focus exclusively on hoops.

\n

He and Jamie Holloway, by now his stepfather, drove to Atlanta, about 45 minutes away, to try out for the Atlanta Celtics AAU team—a program that had helped develop NBA stars like Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. At the tryout, coach Derrick Dickerson pushed Baldwin to his limits, physically and psychologically. Dickerson made him do pushups until his arms felt like spaghetti noodles and told him he might never make it on this team—or even out of Barrow County.

\n

\"He came into my practice like he was pretty good,\" Dickerson says, \"and I blasted him. I got in his face. I called him a prima donna.\"

\n

In the truck on the way back to Winder, Holloway cut the silence with a question: \"Do you want to go back?\"

\n

How Baldwin responded convinced Holloway that his stepson would reach his basketball potential: \"Yes, sir.\"

\n

For the rest of high school, Baldwin learned to balance his experience with his two basketball teams. With the Celtics, he developed slowly, coming off the bench behind highly touted recruits like Kobi Simmons, a 5-star who plays for Arizona, and Alterique Gilbert, a 4-star who plays for UConn.

\n

\"\"

\n

At Apalachee, Baldwin was a legend, sometimes scoring as many as 23 points in a row for his team and averaging a double-double in his final three seasons. In his senior year alone, he scored 29.6 points per game and added 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.7 steals.

\n

As his game grew, so too did the crowds. Morris estimates attendance went from about 400 fans a game in Baldwin's freshman year to nearly 1,000 during his senior season. And when Winder-Barrow came to the gym, it was standing room only.

\n

But with each passing year, two things about Baldwin's game remained consistent: He was stellar on defense and a consummate teammate. Newspaper clippings, Dickerson says, often misstated Baldwin's height as 6'3\" or 6'4\"—he was 5'11\" in high school—because his 6'6\" wingspan and penchant for picking pockets made him appear taller than he was. And Baldwin never pouted when he was pulled from games.

\n

\"In fact,\" Dickerson says, \"he'd often whisper to the guy who replaced him, 'Pick up where I left off. Go get 'em!' That's just how he was raised. His family worked for everything they had. His game, like his upbringing, is blue-collar.\"

\n

There was one time each year when Baldwin was a little selfish: March. Whether he was with his mom or his dad, everyone in each family—he has three younger siblings on his mother's side and two on his father's—knew not to expect much TV time. Baldwin spent every free minute taking in the NCAA tournament. And one particular year now stands out in his memory: 2010.

\n

\"\"

\n

That March, a scrappy Horizon League team made its first of two consecutive trips to the national championship game, and Baldwin begged his mom to let him stay up past his bedtime to watch the spellbinding finish. After Gordon Hayward missed what would have been the game-winning shot by inches, Baldwin went to bed deflated.

\n

\"I was rooting so hard for Butler to beat Duke,\" Baldwin says. \"I always loved the Cinderella story.\"

\n

Baldwin didn't think much about Butler, a school 9.5 hours north of Winder, until he received a call from Butler staffer Emerson Kampen during the summer before his senior year. Emerson had gone to Dallas to scout some other players but decided on a whim to stick around for an Atlanta Celtics game instead of heading back to his hotel room to relax. Even though Baldwin was coming off the bench, Emerson was captivated by the player who was displaying ferocious defensive intensity during his third game of the afternoon.

\n

\"He wasn't a self-promoter,\" Emerson, now Butler's men's basketball analyst, says. \"But he played the game the right way. I knew as soon as I saw him that he would fit in at Butler.\"

\n

When head coach Chris Holtmann visited Winder later that summer, he agreed. The Bulldogs were playing catch-up in recruiting because Holtmann had only been promoted from interim coach to the permanent job in January, and it had been challenging to get players to commit to a coach to whom the school hadn't yet committed.

\n
\n

\"Anyone who thinks this team is an underdog doesn't know the history of Butler basketball.\"
—Kamar Baldwin

\n
\n

For Baldwin, the only challenge was convincing himself that he could handle living so far away from family—and living in the snow. He accepted Butler's scholarship in August of his senior year.

\n

\"We had just lost two all-conference guards,\" Holtmann says. \"So when we heard Kamar was coming, we celebrated like we'd just gotten into the Sweet 16.\"

\n

Baldwin soon gave them even more cause to celebrate. In the second game of this season, Butler was tied at 68 at home against Northwestern with 12.9 seconds left. Baldwin calmly handled the inbounds pass, slipped behind a screen, crossed over his defender, the 6'8\" Gavin Skelly, and hit a 20-foot step-back jumper to seal the win. In the process, he also earned his first \"Onions!\" call from Bill Raftery.

\n

In their dorm room suite later that night, Joey Brunk, a freshman forward, and Avery Woodson, a senior guard, wanted to celebrate, but Baldwin demurred. He had no interest in spending any time talking about himself.

\n

The next day, when Holtmann called Baldwin into his office to explain that there would be a comedown, that he wouldn't end every game of his college career with the winning shot, he found a freshman who had already comfortably moved on from the biggest moment of his college basketball career.

\n

\"\"

\n

Though he never begged to be in the starting lineup—\"I'm just as happy being a cheerleader on the bench as I am being on the floor,\" he says—Baldwin's play made the argument for him early on. After just nine games, he had wormed his way into the starting lineup, capable of combining stellar defense—watch him help seal Butler's home upset of Villanova on January 4 by snagging a steal off Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart and finishing with a reverse layup—with impossibly athletic offense, like his behind-the-head-layup in a win at Xavier on February 26.

\n

As he became Butler's biggest impact freshman since Hayward in 2008-09, the Bulldogs surpassed some expectations of their own. Picked to finish sixth in the preseason Big East poll, they wound up in second place, behind only NCAA tournament No. 1 overall seed Villanova.

\n

Though it'd be easy for a player like Baldwin, undersized and under-recruited, to buy into the notion that he and his team are the sleepers in this tournament, he doesn't think about labels.

\n

\"I've never thought about myself as an underdog,\" Baldwin says. \"I just love to play, so I play. And anyone who thinks this team is an underdog doesn't know the history of Butler basketball.\"

\n

Milwaukee was too far a drive—or too expensive a flight—for most folks from Winder. But Friday afternoon, Kay and Jamie will drive to Memphis, Tennessee, for the South Regional semifinals to see their boy play in person for the third time this season. And on the road beside them will be Morris, who has coordinated a caravan that will carry 10 of the Apalachee faithful.

\n

\"We may not be many from Winder in the stands,\" Morris says, \"but they'll hear us rooting for Kamar. And we plan to stay through Sunday.\"

\n

Staying through Sunday would mean Baldwin and the Bulldogs knocked out No. 1-seeded North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Analytics and oddsmakers make such a win out to be a long shot, but the road-trippers from Winder are buoyant.

\n

They know Butler has a secret weapon, a player who was an afterthought to blue-chip schools like Carolina but has so far outperformed so many of their 4- and 5-star freshmen. More than anything else, though, they learned long ago that there's no use in setting limits on Kamar Baldwin. They believe his journey to stardom has only just begun.

\n

 

\n

David Gardner is a staff writer for B/R Mag. Follow him on Twitter: @byDavidGardner.

\n

Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.

Read more March Madness news on BleacherReport.com

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Greatest Hits logoGreatest Hits

Just Blame Vince McMahon: An Assessment of the Media Treatment of Pro Wrestling

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 3:  WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and his wife Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., attend the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2008 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jeff Gentner/Getty Images)
MinaAnalyst IApril 22, 2009

Steroid scandals. Liability lawsuits. Predatory condemnations by the Parents Television Council. 

Cold, hard statistics on the number of professional wrestlers who have died are referenced and exploited by media sharks honing in on the bloodied eye of a profitable branch of the entertainment industry.

The easy response to the latest tragedy is to censure Vincent Kennedy McMahon, World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman; to decry the so-called barbaric schedule that the business demands from its performers and deplore the content of professional wrestling.

Yet, it is questionable as to how the blame and the criticism can be laid solely at the feet of one man. 

Provided facts, statistics, and context, can Vince McMahon truly be convicted as the perpetrator of the ills and misfortunes of professional wrestling?

Further, is professional wrestling an island unto itself in the tumultuous sea of immoral content and tragic losses?

Mick Foley, known in the wrestling world as the Hardcore Legend and a New York Times best-selling author on multiple occasions, does not believe that the negative media attention is fully warranted, nor is Vince McMahon deserving of the vilification he often receives.

Neither do I.

Eric Cohen, currently of About.com, compiled a list of professional wrestling personalities that died before the age of 65. It is by no means a comprehensive list of every wrestler or manager that has passed away, though it is the most referenced list in the media.

It is the exposure of this particular list that has put subject under such scrutiny.

The total number of names on the list is 105 men and women who have met untimely ends. Common causes of death include heart failures, drug overdoses, and fatal cocktails of prescription pills and alcohol. 

Other, less common causes of demise include auto accidents, murder, and suicide. 

It sounds horrific, and each one is its own separate tragedy. However, similar tragedies occur every day in every genre of sports, entertainment, and the lives of people who do not wilt under the spotlight of fame.

Media outlets would have you believe that each and every one of these tragedies should be burdened by the shoulders of one man.

Yet, of the 105 names on the list, a mere 20 worked for Vince McMahon at some point in their careers. Of those 20, only four were active on the WWE roster at the time of their demise. 

Some, such as Yokozuna and Davey Boy Smith, among others, had been released by Vince to address certain health issues. Weight issues and addictions to substances deemed unhealthy have been among reasons that Vince released superstars.

Davey Boy Smith had struggled through an unsuccessful rehabilitation, paid for by Vince McMahon, before his eventual release for choosing to return to the misuse of narcotics.

Yet, professional wrestling is not the only genre of entertainment that is beset by its stars stumbling into tragic ends.

Most recently, Hollywood mourned the loss of Heath Ledger. The enigmatic star of Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight died at the age of 28 from a toxic combination of prescription medication. He joins a long list of Hollywood tragedies, including Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

According to tallies maintained by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury, 993 people have died playing football, including the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. The time period was between 1931 and 2003. 

Anabolic steroids have been a hot topic of discussion in professional wrestling. 

Acquitted of distributing steroids to his wrestlers in 1994, McMahon is beset by accusations and discussions in the media about the abundance and abuse of steroids in sports entertainment.

Denying that there has been steroid use in the past, and that there are those who feel that they are above the current Wellness Policy, is pointless. Documented cases exist, both in professional wrestling and in other sports.

In 2007, Sports Illustrated ran a story linking 12 wrestlers to an online pharmacy. In contrast, the report from Senator George Mitchell that opened up an interest from Congress regarding steroids in baseball included 89 Major League players’ names.

Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic Gold Medal for failing a drug test. He tested positive for steroids. 

Marion Jones confessed to lying about steroid usage. 

Several riders were dismissed from the Tour de France in 2007 on the charges of using banned substances.

The bottom line is that it is difficult to find a sport that is able to claim a pristine record when it comes to steroid usage. 

Highly respected Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross has gone on record stating that the ingestion and abuse of steroids and other prescription medication is a personal choice on the part of each wrestler.

Mainstream media would rest the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of Vince McMahon. He is not Atlas, however, and this is not a burden that one man can bear. 

McMahon may have a reputed belief of the body image a wrestler should project, but he does not administer the use, or abuse, of medication to his athletes.

What about the argument that the brutal schedule of the WWE makes the frequent use of prescription medication acceptable? Good Ol’ J.R. doesn’t buy that as a valid claim, and neither should anyone else.

McMahon has shown that he is willing to grant time off, when asked. 

The Undertaker frequently takes off a month or more each year. Edge asked for, and received, a few months off last year. Shawn Michaels is currently taking some well deserved paid vacation time. The examples are plentiful.

Most notably, perhaps, is the request that McMahon granted for Chris Benoit, mere months before that horrible weekend in June of 2007.

Steroids and brain damage from years in a hard-hitting wrestling style have been blamed for the startling events surrounding Benoit. Media outlets are not the only entities endlessly speculating on the cause for such a tragedy.

The sad fact is that we may never know what prompted the quiet, respectful workhorse to brutally murder his wife and son, and take his own life. 

Saddling Vince McMahon with accusations that cannot be proven won’t bring those lives back.

Yet, professional wrestling is the favored scapegoat of media sensationalism and one L. Brent Bozell III. The Parents Television Council attributed four deaths in 1999 to the evil influence of professional wrestling, specifically the “offensive filth” of SmackDown!, then airing on Thursday nights.

On May 27, 1999, in Dallas, Texas, a three-year-old boy was killed while playing with his seven-year-old brother. The media, and the Parents Television Council, were quick to blame the wrestling the child had seen on television.

Minor details, such as the autopsy report, were overlooked as the focus was placed on the clothesline-like maneuver that the boy demonstrated for police officers. Doctors conducting the autopsy noted that the injuries resembled a severe auto accident.

Neither the clothesline, nor claims by the boy that he jumped up and down on the prone body of his younger brother, were consistent with the severity of the injuries.

The Parents Television Council issued statements that included the words, “in the wake of tragedies like the Columbine school shootings and the killing of children by other children imitating wrestling moves they’ve seen on TV shows like World Wrestling Entertainment SmackDown!” in solicitation letters.

Yakima, Washington, on Jan. 16, 1999, was the scene of a 12-year-old boy severely beating his 18-month-old cousin. The infant died of injuries that were attributed to a jackknife powerbomb, as the 12-year-old was a fan of WCW.

After the savage beating, the 12-year-old returned to watching Brady Bunch reruns. 

Bozell attributed the death to professional wrestling. However, the boy’s attorney rejected the connection, and the final tally of injuries did not support the wrestling claim.

On Oct. 29, 1999, in Warner Robbins, Georgia, 24-year-old Earl Rose supposedly put on a World Wrestling Entertainment videotape and left alone seven children ranging in age from 15 months to nine years old.

A four-year-old brutalized the 15-month-old infant, resulting in the child’s death. 

Rose had a list of priors that included cocaine possession, driving without a license, and giving false information to police. Yet, the mother of these seven children entrusted her children to such a dubious character.

Somehow, Bozell overlooked the myriad of issues present and laid the blame solely at the feet of World Wrestling Entertainment SmackDown!, rather than the outrageous neglect fostered by Rose and the mother of these children.

Lionel Tate is likely the most infamous of cases using the imitation of professional wrestling moves as a defense. On July 28, 1999, Tate, a 170-pound 12-year-old, beat and killed a 48-pound six-year-old girl. 

He, and his attorneys, placed the blame on the vile influence of World Wrestling Entertainment. The catalogue of injuries, however, including a cracked rib, fractured skull, lacerated kidney, and over 30 bruises, defied that explanation.

The story Tate told regarding the incident changed no less than four times. Wrestling did not enter the picture until nearly a month after Tiffany’s murder. More striking, perhaps, is the absolute lack of remorse demonstrated by Tate.

The mother of Tiffany testified that, when she was told about her daughter’s tragic death, Tate “shrugged and rolled his eyes,” then asked if he could live with her and have Tiffany’s toys.

Tate was offered a lenient deal by the prosecution. His attorney, however, elected to rely on the professional wrestling defense. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life without parole.

The original deal would later go into effect when the sentence was overturned based on the lack of competency reviews prior to the trial.

Currently, however, Tate is serving a 30-year prison term for violating his probation and possessing a gun. Additionally, he is concurrently serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

Not once has Bozell, the Parents Television Council, or the media issued an apology for its sensationalistic tactics where professional wrestling is concerned. 

Clearly, in the above four cases, the responsibility cannot reasonably be assigned to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Further, during the unfortunate days following the tragic events surrounding Benoit, his wife Nancy, and his young son, attempts at reasonable discussion were shunned by the bloodthirsty vultures of the media.

Kevin Nash attempted to speak frankly about the difference between use and abuse of anabolic steroids and the potential connection to the grisly double murder and suicide. 

Any statement that he tried to make, however, was interrupted and twisted by his interviewer.

Karen Hanretty discounted the medicinal information that Nash, clearly intelligent on the subject, posited. 

She continued to badger Nash, who again attempted reason and a caution to curb speculation until the toxicology reports had come back from the lab. 

His suggestion was ignored in favor of further baseless condemnation of professional wrestling.

As little as one week ago, on April 15, 2009, the media pointed the finger of blame at World Wrestling Entertainment for the death of a special education nine-year-old boy. 

Damori Miles was left at home by his mother. During her absence, the young boy ascended to the roof of his apartment building and leapt off it. Strapped to his back was a homemade parachute.

His 10-year-old friend claims that the boy was imitating Jeff Hardy from the SmackDown vs. RAW video game.

Instantly, responsibility was attributed to World Wrestling Entertainment, rather than the mother who left her young child unsupervised.

A clear pattern has been established in the media treatment of professional wrestling. No mention is made of the myriad and frequent philanthropic acts undertaken by the entertainment conglomerate. 

Instead, professional wrestling is vilified as an industry beset by steroid abuse and intolerable violence.

Allegations of responsibility for instigating violence in children and adults run rampant.

The truth is that World Wrestling Entertainment and professional wrestling is a form of entertainment. The viewing of that entertainment, just like television shows and films with violent content, should certainly be done conscientiously.

Parents who allow their children to watch professional wrestling, or any form of sports and entertainment, must be held accountable to convey the understanding that the men and women who participate are trained professionals.

Does professional wrestling have its share of problems? Most definitely. As does the entertainment industry as a whole, sports organizations, collegiate environments, and the society we know as humanity.

As Nash said in the FOX News interview, blaming professional wrestling and Vince McMahon might be “sexy” to the media, but it is sensationalistic reporting with no consideration to the facts involved.

A jury of reasonable human beings would have no choice but to acquit Vince McMahon of all liability.

When, if ever, will the media embark on an equitable, responsible treatment of professional wrestling?

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