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King ditches hoops royalty for NAIA comeback
When coach Jay Wright benched him for the regular-season finale against West Virginia, it was feared that long-rumored speculation about King’s marijuana use was the cause. Asked if he used the drug at Villanova, King didn’t say no.
“Let’s put it this way. I clearly enjoyed myself at Villanova in the sense that the things I was doing off the court were not putting myself in the best position to be successful on the floor,” he said. “I needed to take a step back.”
He wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Wright worked with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski last summer for USA basketball and recalled a lengthy dinner conversation about King with Krzyzewski’s wife, Mickie. They analyzed King’s missteps and wondered why a talented player like King bounced around college programs as if he were signing NBA 10-day contracts.
“He’s a good kid and, the whole situation, the exact same thing happened at both schools where you love him, you care about him, you want him to be successful and you feel bad you couldn’t help him,” Wright said. “I think both of us came to the exact same conclusion that we tried everything.”
“Every time he’d do the right thing and have a chance at great success, he’d self-implode,” Wright said. “He would do something that would force you to discipline him.”
King first announced he had voluntarily withdrawn from the Wildcats and planned to stay at Villanova to complete his degree requirements. Realizing the Main Line scene wasn’t healthy for him, he left.
For the third time, King needed a place to play.
King, who turns 23 in May, was convinced he was finished until pick-up games at Mater Dei rekindled his love for the game. He found his new basketball spot only 10 minutes away from his mother’s house.
King flirted with USC. But without a scholarship to offer for a year, and, faced with having to redshirt another season, he balked. Enter Ammann, who led the Eagles to a national championship in 2003.
Ammann played for King’s high school coach, Gary McKnight, and the pair had maintained their friendship. When McKnight put out feelers, Ammann jumped at the rare opportunity to add a McDonald’s All-American at an NAIA program.
Before any scholarship was offered, they had to talk.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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