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That statement is something I hear probably about once a week, when I'm sitting in some high school gymnasium watching a basketball game. But sometimes I don't feel so lucky. Like Wednesday, when I'm in the office laying out the paper for eight hours, spend the next hour or so doing paperwork and then cover a St. John's basketball game at night. I know, woe is me. But there are other times - and they far outweigh the marathon Wednesdays - when I do indeed feel fortunate. And I'm not talking about getting to cover games at Madison Square Garden, Giants Stadium or Yankee Stadium. One of the best parts of my job is closely following the careers of some of our local athletes. We don't just stop at their final high school game, or when they receive TimesLedger All-Queens honors. We continue to follow them into college and-for those lucky few-into the pros. It's certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, one that more than makes up for Wednesdays. I purchased ESPN Full Court at home because it allows me to keep an eye on our bevy of basketball stars. And with picture-in-picture I can watch Rahshon Clark, who I covered at Beach Channel, and at the same time check out former Molloy star Sundiata Gaines at Georgia. It's not that I cheer while watching these games, but I do get a sense of pride, much like a father or a former coach would, when I see these players play well.I remember watching Royal Ivey as a quiet, skinny guard at Cardozo and interviewing him in a dark stairwell at Campus Magnet High School And I remember the first time I met Charlie Villanueva. He was about 6-foot-3 at the time and walking about the Garden with a camcorder in his hand while his older brother, Rob, was playing in the PSAL Class B championship game with Franklin K. Lane.Now Ivey is more than holding his own in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks after a spectacular career at the University of Texas. Villanueva is a sophomore at Connecticut and Rob is doing computer work at the Daily News after a solid career at Queens College.Last year I sat in awe at McClancy watching the brilliance of Gaines, who scored 52 points against the Crusaders but fell four points shy of Kenny Anderson's school record for points in a game.Despite Yadda's pleading, Molloy coach Jack Curran pulled him from the game in the fourth quarter. Besides, Curran would say after the game, had he made his free throws he easily would have broken the record.Gaines is starting at Georgia, one of four freshmen in the starting lineup and is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Bulldogs.And then there was the spring championship at IS8 when St. John's Prep's Taliek Brown, Christ the King's Omar Cook and Rice's Andre Barrett, the three most talked about point guards in the country at the time, played on the same team. That team lost, by the way. No size.Although much maligned Brown led UConn to the national championship last year and is currently playing for the Idaho Stampede in the CBA, the same Idaho Stampede that former Christ the King and St. John's star Jayson Williams - yes, that Jayson Williams - is playing. Cook, well his NBA career hasn't exactly panned out after leaving St. John's following his freshman year. He is still in the NBDL, playing for the Fayetteville Patriots.Barrett, like Brown, went to Seton Hall and went head-to-head several times during their collegiate careers. And like Brown, Barrett earned his degree and is currently a rookie with the Houston Rockets.I'm sure other sports writers, those who have been doing this for much longer than I, have even better stories. Ask former Daily News writer Bill Travers and he'll surely regale you with tales of watching Kenny Anderson at Molloy or Lou Alcindor's days at Power Memorial. It's part of what makes the city special and it's what makes my job great.I guess I am lucky.Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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