North star makes college choice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Mike London
SPENCER — Sam Starks talked to coaches at higher levels before signing with Catawba Valley Community College to play basketball.
An electrifying, multi-sport athlete who gets A-pluses for character, Starks doesn’t see CVCC as “settling.” All the North Rowan graduate wanted was an opportunity to prove himself, and CVCC coach Bryan Garmroth provided it.
“What I really want to do more than anything is play basketball because that’s my best bet,” Starks said. “I’d heard people say a lot of good things about Catawba Valley, and I went up there to see. I really like the school. I believe it’s the right place.”
Starks is 5-foot-10. If he stood 6-2, someone would’ve grabbed him six months ago.
He’s going to have to transition from shooting guard to point guard — he understands that — but he has the talent and the will to handle that makeover.
“I’ve actually been practicing and working on playing the point all summer,” Starks said. “I thought it would be very hard, but Catawba Valley’s offense is a push-the-ball offense. That fits right into my category.”
All you need to know about Starks’ athleticism is there was a North football game last fall in which he caught two touchdown passes, took a shotgun snap and roared 78 yards for a touchdown, threw a TD pass, kicked an extra point, set up a score by running back a kick and sacked a quarterback. Finally, he hawked down a racing receiver from behind to save a touchdown.
No kidding. One guy did all that — on one Friday.
Coaches around the YVC respected and feared Starks as “Yellow Shoes.” They didn’t necessarily know his name, but after 10 minutes of film study they realized they’d better account for No. 7, the guy with the golden footwear, on every snap. If they didn’t, something really bad was certain to happen.
While he was a game-changer on the gridiron, most everyone agrees that’s only Starks’ third-best sport. He was an all-county receiver for a YVC champion football team, but he blistered far more opponents as a key member of state-championship squads in basketball and track.
He was MVP of the 1A basketball championship game as North rallied from a deep hole to beat Pender. It was a breakaway dunk by Starks— he dunks as easily as most people tie their shoes — that energized the Cavs.
In one stretch, Starks scored three straight baskets as Pender’s lead melted. He finished with 19 mostly sensational points that put him on the radar of a lot of schools, big and small.
Starks says the title game was wonderful exposure. Big dogs such as N.C. State and Western Carolina took his name down for future reference. Johnson C. Smith, Winston-Salem State and Voorhees started showing a lot of interest.
While Starks’ first love is basketball, track and field is second in a photo finish. He won the triple jump in the 1A state track meet, took second in the 110 hurdles, placed fourth in the long jump. Besides triple-jumping past 45 feet and long-jumping better than 21, Starks has run 100 meters in 10.97 seconds.
“This is a super-talented young man, and he was very big for our basketball program,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “Sam can shoot. He’s a great defender. He has so much heart, so much toughness. A lot of schools passed on him. My belief is that a lot of schools will be sorry they did.”
Whenever he talks about daring to dream, Mitchell brings up the name of another Starks. In 1986, John Starks was working as a grocery clerk at Safeway and hoping to get playing time with Tulsa Junior College.
Seven years later, he was dunking for the New York Knicks — left-handed in one memorable posterization of Michael Jordan — and then he was an NBA All-Star.
Mitchell isn’t predicting the NBA for his version of Starks, but he believes if Sam can become a point he can play college basketball at a pretty high level.
“This is a hard-working kid with so much bright upside,” Mitchell said. “Smaller version of John Starks.”
At least, athletically.
While John Starks entered the NBA with a shaky past, Sam Starks is the smooth, articulate son of two ministers.
“He’s been raised right,” Mitchell said. “He’s a talented musician in church (keyboards, piano, drums), and he’s already a natural as far as speaking to the young kids about preparing for the future.”
Starks says he’s enjoyed sharing his experiences with youngsters who idolize him. Now he’s looking forward to sharing the ball with teammates in Hickory.
After all, that’s what point guards do. The role will be new for a kid who has made a living slashing or drilling 3s from the wing, but if anyone can do it Starks can.
“Sam has a no-fear attitude,” Mitchell said. “He’s earned this opportunity, and I’ll be excited to see what happens. I can see him taking the world by storm.”