This article appears in the November 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Sandra Arthur has been feeling a lot like a secretary lately. Taking messages, arranging meetings and gathering information are all part of the daily routine for the mother of the state’s top basketball talent.
It’s a routine that can be tiring and frustrating, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. If anyone is going to help South Oak Cliff senior Darrell Arthur wade through the tumultuous process of settling on a college, it’s going to be his mother.
“Sometimes I get sick of it all,” she says. “But it’s exciting at the same time. I think about all the opportunities that are in front of him, and I want to do all I can to help him make the right decision.”
So she prepares the house for in-home visits from college coaches. She researches the makeup of college rosters to scout who her son could one day be competing against for playing time. She sends Darrell (pronounced dare-EL) off on college trips armed with questions to ask current players. She grills coaches on how they’ll prepare her son for life after dorm rooms and dining halls are in the rearview mirror.
“She’s been a big help,” says Darrell, who’s earned the nickname “Slim Shady” because of his slender 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame. “Sometimes she surprises me with the questions she asks.”
With a mother like Sandra, it’s no wonder Darrell Arthur turned out to be uncommonly selfless.
Of course, he also turned out to be uncommonly talented. Rated the nation’s No. 3 power forward and No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com, the ultra-athletic big man led South Oak Cliff to its first state title in more than a decade last season, averaging a double-double for the second straight year with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
With that kind of resume, Arthur could have a walk-in closet full of the shoes and gear he has accumulated from trips to camps and all-star games during the past few years. But Arthur’s closet isn’t piled high with freebies. He gives most away to teammates and friends. And he’s doing more than just tossing around sneakers and threads.
In an age in which ballers with half the game as Arthur hold press conferences to announce their college decisions, this senior is waiting to make his choice so he can help out his teammates. The longer he waits to pick a college, the longer the coaches, scouts and TV cameras will stick around, giving his teammates maximum exposure.
Though his generosity seems overwhelming, Arthur hasn’t stopped looking out for No. 1. Holding off on a college decision until the end of this season also ensures he’ll end up at the right school. Coming from a home where such an emphasis is put on family, he’s looking for a school and coaching staff that share the same philosophy.
The college that lands him will have done so by staying in touch and earning the trust and respect of Arthur’s inner circle, which includes his mother, his high school coach, James Mays II, and his youth basketball coach, Jazzy Hartwell.
From the dozens of schools that originally showed interest, Arthur has narrowed his list down to six. National powers North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana are in competition with local favorites Texas, Baylor and SMU.
It’s no wonder North Carolina is among Arthur’s favorites. Coach Roy Williams is notorious for fostering a family atmosphere. Plus, he boasts one thing no other college coach does — last year’s national championship. And if anything is as strong as Arthur’s commitment to family, it’s his passion for winning.
“Not only is he the most unselfish and hardest-working player I’ve been around, he has an unmatchable desire to win,” says Mays. “That’s all he cares about — winning.”
Since meeting Hartwell at a Dallas YMCA as a fifth-grader, Arthur has learned only one way to play — for the team. Hartwell ran the youth hoop program at the Y and introduced basketball to a young Arthur, who at the time preferred baseball.
After a year of instruction, Arthur learned the game but still preferred to practice on blacktop rather than hardwood. Plus, he still had a hankering for baseball and was splitting time between pounding the pavement and patrolling the outfield.
“I went out and found him playing in the parks and I said, ‘Oh no you don’t, get back in the gym,’” says Hartwell. “I didn’t want him to slip away, so I made sure to stay on him.”
During the next three years, Hartwell did more than teach Arthur the fundamentals. He drilled them into the youngster’s head. And when Arthur entered South Oak Cliff as a freshman, Mays inherited the ultimate team player.
The Bears showed promise in Arthur’s first two years with the team, winning 29 games in his first season and 30 in his second before it all came together last season, when South Oak Cliff won the Class 4A state championship. And in the title game, Arthur indisputably announced he was the state’s best player in his class by earning MVP honors after pouring in 22 points and collecting 17 rebounds as the Bears cruised to a 64-43 victory over Sam Houston.
Unfortunately for Arthur, he wasn’t able to enjoy the ultimate in team success for long before enduring the exact opposite feeling during the summer circuit.
Arthur’s nature doesn’t make him well-suited for the individual showcases that the summer camps and all-star games often become. He’d rather work the shot clock before nailing a 10-foot jumper than throw down an alley-oop in transition.
“When he makes a good play on defense, he’s used to getting rewarded for running the court in transition,” says Mays. “At the camps, guys just go end-to-end with blinders on.”
So instead of conforming to that me-first ideology, Arthur focused on stealing headlines with his defense. He challenged every shot and proved he could swat any sucker attempting to float something toward the rim. But some critics couldn’t get past his lack of impact on offense at this past summer’s prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp and panned him as one of the year’s biggest busts.
Sandra knew better.
“I told him they weren’t looking closely enough at the whole picture, they were just making a knee-jerk reaction,” she says. “I told him to notice how quickly it would all turn around, how opinions can just change overnight. You can’t listen to everyone, only the people who really know you.”
To Arthur, it’s obvious who should be at the top of that list.