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Bosco’s Corner: Old friends to compete for PG spot

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I don’t talk to my brother Ron nearly enough. My elder sibling left Queens, or what my little brother Matthew refers to as the “urban foothills,” years ago, first for Florida, but now he calls San Antonio, Texas his home.

Besides being home to the brother who tormented me to no end while we were growing up, San Antonio also is home to the Alamo, the Saxter Electronic Gun Show, just off Broadway and Loop 410, and the NBA’s Spurs. Other than that, from first-hand accounts, the place is a flat section of earth with occasional tornadoes.

But the city where my seldom-heard-from brother and his lovely wife Julie reside has also become home to two local guys who have known each other for most of their lives, Craig “Speedy” Claxton and Erick Barkley.

Barkley and Claxton were teammates at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village, even though neither lived in Queens during his days at the school. Barkley grew up in Brooklyn, while Claxton, a Queens native, lived in Hempstead, L.I.

While at Christ the King, Barkley and Claxton made for a lethal pair in the backcourt. They were arguably the best high school backcourt in the country during their senior season and probably the best I have ever seen in more than a decade covering high school sports.

Both guys stayed local when they decided to attend college, though their careers could hardly be described as parallel.

Claxton surprised everyone when he announced early in his senior year his intention to attend little-respected Hofstra instead of one of the dozens of top-flight Division I schools vying for his considerable skills.

And while it may have seemed a mistake at the time, Claxton proved the naysayers wrong. Along with coach Jay Wright, the player known simply as “Speedy” built the Flying Dutchmen into a national program, capturing the America East crown in both his junior and senior years, earning NCAA tournament berths both seasons.

He became the face of Hofstra basketball in his four years there, drawing more and more blue chip recruits to the school and helping Wright eventually outgrow the school and snag a job in the Big East with Villanova.

Barkley’s college ride was every bit as successful, but with a much darker side. The Brooklyn-bred point guard went to St. John’s after a short stint in the prep school ranks and eventually played two seasons at the school, both unmitigated successes on the court.

Barkley established himself as one of the best point guards in the Big East in his first year with the Red Storm, which also boasted Ron Artest, Tyrone Grant, Lavor Postell and Marvis “Bootsy” Thornton. He was one of the key reasons the club made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to Ohio State in a memorable matchup.

The next season, with Artest gone, Barkley battled injury and at least two NCAA probes into his accepting a variety of gifts from a variety of sources. He was suspended, albeit briefly, during the year, but was back in time for March Madness.

The Red Storm again shocked the basketball world in winning the Big East Tournament but were equally shocked themselves when they were bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Gonzaga.

It surprised virtually no one when Barkley announced his intention to turn pro following his sophomore year.

In their two years in the Division I ranks together, the two met on the floor as competitors in two highly touted match-ups between St. John’s and Hofstra. I thought Barkley had the edge in those two meetings, one coming right after surgery on one of his knees, therefore leading me to believe that of the two, it was Barkley who would be chosen first in the NBA Draft that year.

And, of course, I was wrong.

Claxton was selected 20th overall in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, while Barley was taken eight slots later by the Portland TrailBlazers.

Claxton missed his first season with a knee injury, but bounced back last season, playing in 67 games, starting 18, and averaging 7.2 points and 3.0 assists per game. By most accounts it was a solid first season for a promising young player.

Barkley has had a tougher time in the pros. In two years with Portland, Barkley played in only 27 games. He has career highs of 12 points and seven assists against Golden State and Houston, respectively.

On Draft night, June 26, Claxton was shipped to San Antonio in exchange for Mark Bryant and the draft rights to John Salmons and Randy Halcomb. Barkley was traded from Portland last week with Steve Kerr and a 2003 second-round draft pick for Antonio Daniels, Amal McCaskill and Charles Smith.

San Antonio already has a crowded backcourt with Tony Parker expected to start at the point guard position when the season begins. Barring another trade, these two former teammates and collegiate rivals again will find themselves in the all-too-familiar position of competing against one another.

And whether or not both or neither make the club, at least the Barkley and Claxton situation in San Antonio will get me on the phone a little more often with my brother Ron, a 5-foot-5 Italian-Cuban guy from Queens probably cruising the rural Texas countryside in his pickup truck as I write this.

If he can find a home in San Antonio, Barkley and Claxton should fit right in.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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