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(Video by Derek Poore)
SHERWOOD, Ark. - The concrete basketball courts next to the old, now-vacant Sylvan Hills Middle School building have rusted rims and don't appear to get the traffic they did back when Archie Goodwin was a student there four years ago.
But they're still special to Goodwin, now a senior nearing graduation at next-door Sylvan Hills High School and the best basketball player his school has ever produced.
Goodwin, a 6-foot-4, five-star shooting guard who led his team to its first state title in March and will play for national champion Kentucky next season, honed his skills and built a foundation for his confident play on those courts.
It also helped him develop an admiration for where he's from and a desire to represent his school and state well when he goes off to college.
When Goodwin was at Sylvan Hills Middle - which now is located at a new building - the boys played ball on the outside court at 6:30 every morning before school and returned at lunch. As a 5-2 middle schooler facing older players, Goodwin had his ball taken away from him, sometimes wasn't picked to play. Proving himself "was my motivation," he said.
Within a few years, he'd become a young star, and now he's one of the country's most high-profile college prospects.
The early days on the middle school court are "always something ... I'll reflect back on and say, 'Man, it was a long way to come here.'" Goodwin said. "But I still have a long way to go."
An unpopular pick back home
"I would be lying if I said everyone in the community and around the state took that well because there were a lot of things said about him that were unfair to Archie," Sylvan Hills principal Tracy Allen said. "Some people were wishing injuries upon him and things of that nature. You're always going to have some crazy people that don't even know what they're talking about that want to have a comment about something. All in all, the people that are closest to him and know him are happy for him."
Goodwin said he was the subject of chants of "Archie sucks" and "Whoa, pig sooie" at many Sylvan Hills road games this season. He said most every day someone will ask him why he didn't choose Arkansas.
He said some people told him he should get the tattoo removed from his stomach of the outline of the state of Arkansas.
He said he hasn't let the criticism bother him.
"I love Arkansas," he said. "This is where I grew up. ... Even though they try to give me a lot of grief about going up to Kentucky, I still love it here."
'He's a dream to coach'
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. "He's a dream to coach."
Goodwin averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and three assists this season and joined Corliss Williamson and James Anderson as the only players from Arkansas to be named McDonald's All-Americans.
He also played this spring in the Jordan Brand Classic game and the Nike Hoop Summit.
Goodwin projects as a wing player in college but has the ball-handling skills to play some point guard. He said he could envision a role at UK similar to the one Doron Lamb had this season - the Cats' primary shooting guard who moves over to play the point when the starter at that position is out.
"My expectation will be to play whatever Coach Cal needs me to play," he said. "Whatever he needs me to do, I'm going to try to do it, whether it be coming off the bench or taking a big role and starting, whatever it is, I'm going to try to get it done."
He is one of the nation's best leapers and finishers above the rim, and there are few, if any high school players who can stop him one-on-one off the dribble.
On a fast break, he can outrun the pack, and if he encounters an opponent near the basket, Goodwin is deft at slicing across the lane past a defender and finishing contested layups - reminiscent of the transition baskets UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made so many times this season.
"I wouldn't want to guard him," Davis said. "He can embarrass you. ... He's made people fall on a regular basis."
"In my time coaching in Arkansas, I've not seen anybody score the ball as well as Archie," Davis said. "I've seen some really great scorers, but Archie seems to do it with such grace and ease. So many people have to work to do that, and he's just graceful. He's a pleasure to watch."
Goodwin said his favorite players are Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and that he's had people tell him his own game reminds them of a range of NBA players, including Kevin Durant (also for his resemblance in the face), John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Dwyan Wade and Rajon Rondo.
"I've heard from like four or five coaches and a couple of the fans that I play like Michael Jordan when he was in high school," Goodwin said. "That's the biggest one."
He said he's humbled by the comparisons and is motivated to work hard to one day join those players as a professional.
"In the next three or four years, I'll see him on TV playing on an NBA team," Sylvan Hills senior forward Devin Pearson said. "There's no doubt in my mind."
Davis he first noticed Goodwin's talent as an eighth-grader and became excited thinking about what he could accomplish in Sylvan Hills' offense, which puts a heavy emphasis on scoring on the fast break.
Pearson remembers playing with Goodwin in middle school and feeling like other seventh- and eighth-graders could hang with him.
"We came back for ninth grade, and I'm talking, he shot up, he got so athletic," Pearson said. "It was just incredible to see what he could do. I was like, 'He's going somewhere.' "
Indeed that season, Goodwin made a significant impact. He played on Sylvan Hills' freshman team but joined the varsity for the postseason. He wound up scoring 16 points as a reserve in a state tournament game and was named an all-tournament player.
Ninth-grade coach and varsity assistant Billy Phelan said he encouraged Goodwin, once he got his driver's license, to challenge himself by traveling around Little Rock looking for the best pick-up games.
He ended up finding games against college players at Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas Baptist College, Philander Smith College and Shorter College, and he became a respected player at an early age.
As Goodwin's high school career progressed, Davis said he gave him more and more freedom to create plays as he saw fit.
"If you've got a Picasso, you've got to give him a paint brush and let him paint," the coach said.
After the Bears' first-round state tournament victory over Nettleton in late February, a group of about 20 elementary-school-age girls and boys stood in line on the concourse of the Greene County Tech High School gym to get his autograph.
One girl even asked him to sign her forehead.
"Really?" Goodwin asked, incredulously.
After she nodded yes, Goodwin obliged while laughing and the girl's face beaming.
During the regular season, Allen said nearly all of the Bears' games were sell-outs, home and away.
On the night of a late-season game against conference rival Mills - the team that would eventually face Sylvan Hills again in the Class 5-A state final - the Bears' gym reached capacity 15 minutes before the start of a girls' game that led off a doubleheader.
Allen arrived back in town after traveling for a conference and saw the line extending hundreds of feet up the exterior steps of the gym to the parking lot.
"I thought, 'My gosh. What is going on here?'" said Allen, who for the first time at Sylvan Hills had to issue the order to turn away the hundreds of fans because there was no room.
Perhaps no regular-season game featuring Goodwin generated more buzz than Sylvan Hills' blowout win that same week at White Hall High School in which Goodwin brought the ball between his legs midair on a fast-break dunk.
"That's the best high school dunk I've ever seen," his teammate Pearson said. "It should have been on ESPN. ... I was trailing on the break. When I saw it, I had to look at my friend and make sure it really happened."
News of the between-the-legs dunk - two of Goodwin's 30 points that game - spread across Twitter the night of the play, and a nine-second YouTube clip of it had nearly 41,000 views as of May 4.
Allen had a link of it emailed to him while he was at his out-of-town principals conference that week, and he passed it around to show all his colleagues.
Only Goodwin, himself, downplayed the dunk, saying "at the end of the day it's just two points."
"It wasn't like it just won the state championship or nothing; it was just a nice dunk," said Goodwin, who'd done it in practice as a 10th-grader but never in a game. "There's plenty of nice dunks out there; just ask Blake Griffin."
Goodwin's senior season was full of highlight plays.
Davis and Allen both recalled his twisting, reverse layup that went in and drew a foul against Hillcrest (Mo.) High School's Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation's No. 1 football prospect and possibly the best athlete in all of high school sports.
"All the oohs and aahs were out," Allen said.
'True to his roots'
Every time his name is in the newspaper or on flashed across the screen during nationally televised all-star games, the name of the school is right alongside it.
Goodwin said he had the opportunity, like many other high-level prospects, to transfer to schools with high-powered basketball programs such as Findlay Prep school in Nevada and Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. But he never seriously considered leaving Sylvan Hills because he wanted to stay close to his family and felt he could accomplish just as much there as anywhere.
"Archie chose to stay true to his roots," Davis said. "It's where he went to elementary school. It's where he went to middle school. That says something about that kid and his family."
Pearson, a strong, 6-5 post player who plans to play college basketball, said Goodwin has helped his teammates get recruited because college coaches come out to watch him play and it generates word of mouth when Sylvan Hills' other players do well. He said Goodwin is a local celebrity and put "our name on the map."
"He's really in Sherwood a city-wide hero," Pearson said. "He's one of the best players ever in Arkansas. The thing of it is, he's helped us more than he's helped himself. He's gotten us all such great exposure. He's such a great guy. ... Any of us could call him and ask any favor, and he'll do it."
In the parking lot outside the Sylvan Hills gym after a late-season practice, Goodwin put his arms around teammates Dion Patton and Daylon Jones and said that he hopes the success he has with basketball will lead to opportunities for his friends.
"If I eat, we all eat," he said.
Allen said that by increasing ticket revenue at basketball games, Goodwin helped the athletic department have more money for uniforms, equipment and facility maintenance.
But the principal said he's most proud of Goodwin for being "more than a basketball player" and praised him for being a good student who did well on his ACT exam and in state standardized testing.
Allen made him one of 10 students on a task force at the school to help explain to underclassmen the importance of doing well on the state's standardized tests. Specifically, the principal hoped Goodwin's influence would motivate students enough to help shrink the testing achievement gap between white and black students at the school.
"With Archie talking to the other students, there's immediately buy-in because of who he is," said Allen, who hopes Goodwin will continue to spread the message to Sylvan Hills students for years to come.
In those years to come, Goodwin will be playing at UK - one of college basketball's most high-profile programs - and then possibly in the NBA.
His school administrators, coaches and teammates look forward to watching his progress and seeing him regularly on national television.
"It's going to be really amazing, and when I see, I'm pretty sure I'll look back and say, 'I was playing on the same court as that guy,' " Pearson said. "... I'm going to be cheering really loud, even though he probably won't hear me through the TV."
Goodwin, in turn, will always be thinking about where he came from.
"No matter what happens, I'm still from here," he said. "I'll never look to go somewhere and not look back because I love my state."