The four years a person spends in high school are the most formative of their life. At least that’s what the experts say. You grow and mature both mentally and physically so much so that by the end of that period of your life you’re barely recognizable. The people you interact with, and the school you attend, go a long way to forming who you’ll become in life.
That was mostly certainly true for Jared Dudley.
While in San Diego for Suns training camp, cameraman extraordinaire Brad Faye and I ventured to Horizon high school where Dudley won back-to-back state titles to learn exactly what the Suns’ swingman was actually like growing up. Ironically enough, we went to the campus on the same day I was missing my own 10 year high school reunion. While I may not have had the chance to reminisce with the people I knew because of work, by the end of the visit, I felt as if I had known and went to school with Jared since we were teenagers.
Within minutes of stepping on the quaint and clean campus, which reminded me of my own high school, you could tell how beloved Jared is. His former assistant coach, “Coach T”, greeted us with a friendly smile and, unsolicited, began talking about Jared’s ability to always make the staff and students laugh. The large and imposing man — think of an African American version of Odd Job from James Bond fame — couldn’t help but crack a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear while reminiscing about his former player.
For the remainder of the afternoon he’d be our tour guide to the past. He ushered us from place to place to meet with the people who touched and affected young Jared’s life. (He was kind of like our own Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)
We met Miss P, Dudley’s freshman and sophomore year Spanish teacher. She glowed as she talked about her former pupil (although she did admit his Spanish was about as good as his ability to dunk). She praised his ability to lead young men with his actions by constantly showing respect to teachers while finding a way to infuse humor into his daily life. It’s a quality that shines through to this day with him. As a matter of fact, earlier this year Miss P moved into a new classroom at Horizon that didn’t have whiteboards. Dudley found out and had them shipped to the school the next day.
Kathi Yarnall, who works in the front office and was the team mom, lauded his propensity to act out of the kindness of his heart. She also said his ability to lead and play team basketball may have kept him from gaining much individual praise on a national level, but showed exactly what kind of a man and player he would become.
That wasn’t all she shared. She let us in on some secrets about Jared, like the two nicknames the now Suns star had back in the day. Those closest to him called him Teddy, because of his resemblance to the popular 1980s toy, Teddy Ruxpin. The resemblance may have been due to another secret she shared about Dudley. As she said, “he never met a brownie he didn’t like.” It’s a far cry from the health conscious NBA starter we know now. Teddy wasn’t his only nickname. He was also known as CZ, a nickname many of the people we met still refer to him as to this day. It was a surname assigned to him due to the fact that he used to wear a large cubic zirconium in his pierced ear while in school. (It’s a nickname we’re pretty sure should be upgraded to diamond now.)
Gene Reed, an assistant coach on both of Dudley’s championship teams, repeatedly emphasized the young guard’s court vision. At one point he even said the future Sun “was like an extra assistant coach on the court.”
If you spend any time at the school it’s no wonder Jared turned into the caring, intelligent, leader he is on and off the court. The staff comes off as nurturing and their actions show how compassionate they are. It’s abundantly clear that they are truly invested in the whole of a student not just their athletic prowess. They would treat a player like Dudley who holds the school record for most made free throws in a game, career points and most rebounds in a season, the same way they would treat an athlete who rarely saw any playing time. In true Horizon fashion though, they don’t take any credit for Dudley’s personal and professional characteristics. They give all the praise to Dudley’s mother.
They say the four years in high school is when a person changes most. In the case of Jared Dudley, it sounds like he’s always been the same person. A fun loving, caring and responsible man who is ready to lead his fellow friends and teammates regardless of situations.