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Friday, June 28, 2002
Updated: May 8, 5:01 PM ET
Survivor Stoudemire the only prepster drafted

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Amare Stoudemire defied the odds. He was 12 when his father died. His older brother is in prison. His mother has been jailed many times.

Stoudemire attended six high schools, and still emerged the most coveted prep player in the country. On Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns made the 19-year-old power forward the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft.

"It's a dream come true, you know what I mean,'' Stoudemire said when introduced at a news conference on Thursday. "I finally have the chance to support my family. Growing up wasn't the easiest task for me, but I stuck with it.''

Stoudemire has been on his own, more or less, since his mid-teens. He was 12 when his father died in his sleep. His older brother Hazell Jr. is in a New York prison on drug and sexual abuse convictions. His mother has had numerous arrests for various offenses, usually theft or drugs.

Yet when the Suns did a background check on Stoudemire, they found a young man with immense raw talent, a great work ethic and a strong desire to succeed.

He was, as Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said, "clean as a whistle.''

"It was never involving him. It was always around him. It was his circle, more than anything,'' Suns coach Frank Johnson said.

Stoudemire had an ability to separate himself from the nearby ugliness.

"I just kept my faith in God,'' he said. "I pray every night before I lay my head on the pillow, and He got me in the right direction.''

Stoudemire wants to bring his mother Carrie and 14-year-old brother Marwan with him to live in Phoenix. She is doing well, he said.

"Right now she's real emotional,'' he said.

His mother and brother are the main reasons that, after an oral commitment to play college basketball at Memphis, he decided to go to the NBA.

"Education is very important,'' Stoudemire said. "So I was very close to going to college, but it was a matter of me supporting my family. I had to support my family. That's why I made the jump.''

Stoudemire seems responsible far beyond his years.

"I think I'm the backbone of the family right now,'' he said. "I'm the only guy in the family that's doing positive stuff right now, so I'm trying to support my family a lot.''

Isn't that a lot to expect from a 19-year-old?

"Yeah,'' he said, "but I can handle it. I've got broad shoulders.''

That's for sure. Stoudemire is a rock-solid 6-foot-10 and 243 pounds. He plays above the rim, strong and physical.

"I don't get intimidated,'' he said, "No way.''

His favorite player is Shaquille O'Neal.

"I won't be intimidated by him,'' Stoudemire said of the day when he and O'Neal are on the court together. "I'll just be enjoying my time.''

Stoudemire's natural ability and attitude are about all that he has going for him on the court, though.

"I really haven't had a coach that really knew the game,'' he said. "I just had a coach that scouted talent, who just had a team full of great players.''

Stoudemire vows to work hard on his offensive game, and is hungry for coaching. He will be at the team's rookie and free agent camp that starts on Friday.

He was the only high school player taken in the first round, and the first high schooler ever drafted by the Suns, who vow to surround Stoudemire with responsible people. They may hire someone to look after him, as other teams have done with young draftees.

Stoudemire has gotten to know Dee Brown, who is coaching the WNBA's Orlando Miracle, and hired Brown's agent John Wolf.

"He didn't need anything from me,'' Stoudemire said of Brown, "and he's been there.''

Stoudemire also got advice from the Suns' Penny Hardaway a couple of years ago about the importance of staying focused on a goal and getting an education. Stoudemire says he plans to go to college during the off-season.

Eligibility problems, family problems and other issues led him through six high schools. At the last one, Cypress Creek High School in Florida, he averaged 29 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots per game.

All along the way, there have been distractions, obstacles and temptations.

Since he was in the ninth or 10th grade, he said, he's had to deal with hangers-on, people wanting to use him or guide him in the wrong direction.

So how has he emerged so serious and so levelheaded?

"Man, I don't know,'' Stoudemire said. "That's just the way God made me.''