Here is more from Second Wind Memoirs of an Opinionated Man by Bill Russell on Bill's discovery of his basketball prowess at the ripe old age of eighteen. We continue with Bill's education on the California All Stars trip that he went on just after high school.
One other strange thing happened before our team returned to California. During a game a teammate leaned over to me and said, "Hey, you can jump." What he meant, of course, was that I could really jump. U;d begun to notice the same thing. Whenever a clump of the taller players went up off the floor for a "carom," there'd be an instant when I found myself up there alone. And if I didn't get the ball, there'd also be an instance when I was left there after all the other players had taken off up the court. I can remember being up in the air, watching an opponent land and take his first step away from me, thinking to myself, "Hurry up floor. Come back to me." In cartoons the roadrunner can spin his legs like an eggbeater and take off while still in the air, but it doesn't work that way for basketball players. You have to wait until you land, which is the only frustration that comes with jumping high. Otherwise it is one of the purest pleasures I know for an athlete. People in all kinds of cultures are known to "jump for joy" in moments of supreme happiness. Jumping is an internationally recognized expression of joy, and basketball is a sport organized around jumping. Most of the time the people jump spontaneously after something makes them happy. They turn their pleasure into energy and burn that energy by leaving the earth for a second or two. In basketball, the jumping comes first. It's possible for a player to jump because he is happy, but it's more likely that he's happy because he's jumping. I have heard players complain about almost every detail of the game - the rules, the size or color of the ball, the shape or temperature of the dressing room - but I've never heard anyone complain bout the fact that the game requires jumping. Naturally some of the enthusiasm drains as the player becomes older and tired. You learn to economize by not jumping unnecessarily and not jumping unnecessarily hihg; you appreciate easy rebounds. But there is always some of the original joy of soaring off the floor, even for an old pro who may feel it only once a game when he grabs a rebound as high in the air as he can go. On that tour I was in the first glow both of jumping and of discovering new moves. They reinforced each other: I jumped higher because the moves in my mind were beginning to work on the court, and some of the moves worked better because I was jumping so high. I was learning to jump with a purpose, but I still jumped for the fun of it, the way I had ever since I was a kid. Belatedly, I was going through the frisky period of most high school players. They jump with they don't need to, to show off, elaborate jumps, with their elbows flared out like wings. They may see a rebound coming to them chest high while they are flat footed, but they jump as high as they can anyway. On their way back to the floor after a particularly high leap, they bend their legs more than they need to, just to prolong the sensation. They slap the floor with their shoes when they land, making as much noise as possible, because a loud slap is a sign of a long trip in the air. Two slaps sound lounder than one, so they land one foot at a time. The high jumpers talk with their feet. I made a double slap landing when I got back to California after the trip. At home with Mister Charlie, I piled so many stories on him that he had to slow me down. He could tell there'd been a big change. "I can play now," I told him, and he understood what I meant. Mister Charlie was even more enthusiastic about my report than I thought he would be. He was especially happy because he knew something I didn't, and when I found out what it was, the news felt as good as the second foot smacking the floor loudly. He told me that a stranger had been calling while I was off on the tour, and that he wanted to talk to me about going to college. It was the most exciting thing I could have hoped to hear. Both Mister Charlie and I had given up on the idea of college because of the expense, and now, for no apparent reason, the dream was lighting up again. We each got carried away for a few minutes, until Mister Charlie said we had to be realistic. We weren't even sure that it would all work out. All we could do was hope and wait, and in the meantime we had to pretend nothing had happened. I knew he was right, but it was all I could do not to spend all my time daydreaming about college. A few days later I applied for a job as an apprentice sheet metal worker at the San Francisco Naval Shipyards. I don't know why I chose sheet metal, except that all the other job categories on the Civil Service application sounded even drearier. Soon I was hauling heavy objects around the shipyard, waiting for that stranger to call. Hal DeJulio was the classic alumni booster, the kind of man who stays close to his alma mater throughout his life and who gets together with his fellow alumni to protest effectively against coaches who don't win. He was in the insurance business, but he liked to spend most of his spare time around young athletes. As a former basketball player for the University of San Francisco, he knew many of the old athletes around California, and they kept in touch. DeJulio loved to watch basketball games, he'd show up unnoticed in the stands at various high school games, scanning the floor for someone who might help USF. When he found a prospect he'd report back to the college coach, hoping to discover and sponsor a player who would become a star. Even then, all universities had networks of volunteer alumni scouts, and USF had a tiny network, so DeJulio tried to make up for it by working extra hard. It was a miracle that DeJulio had ever noticed me. Shortly before I left McClymonds we had a big game against Oakland High, led by an All Star player named Truman Bruce. DeJulio came to watch Bruce, and also take a look at the three All Stars on our team. I was not one of them. No one was aware of the scout's presence at the game, least of all me. As it turned out, I played my best game for McClymonds that night, scoring fourteen points. This was hardly a spectacular point production, but it was the most I ever scored in high school. Later, DeJulio told me he was impressed that I'd scored eight points in a row at the end of the first half and six points at the end of the game. He thought I was a game winner, and he liked the way I played defense against Truman Bruce. I jumped higher than he did and ran down the court faster. De Julio approved of the way I hustled. Like most alumni scouts, he had the temperament of a rooster. He liked scrappers, and I was one. DeJulio didn't tell Mister Charlie his name or what school he represented, so when he finally did call I had no idea who he was. He asked me whether I was interested in going to USF. "What's USF?" I asked. "The University," he said. He seemed irritated that I didn't know what USF was, even though it was just across the Bay from Oakland. I had never heard of USF. "You mean San Francisco State?" I asked. "No," he said. "The University of San Francisco." "Oh," I said. After that awkward beginning we had a comic conversation, though it didn't seem funny at the time. DeJulio kept trying to pump me up by telling me what a great game I'd played against Oakland High a couple of months earlier. While he was chattering away about it, I was trying to interrupt him to say that he hadn't seen anything. I wanted to tell him about what had happened to me on the tour, but I didn't even know how to begin. Finally he said that he thought he could arrange for me to work out with the USF basketball team and show my stuff to the coach, Phil Woolpert. I said that I'd be glad to come. A few days later I had what amounted to a college audition. I was nervious. On top of that, I couldn't find the practice gym in San Francisco for hours, which made me late. In fact, I couldn't even find the University. At that time, USF didn't have a gym of its own, so the team practiced in a nearby high school. When I finally got there, I was in a daze from frustration and nervousness. Which was probably good, because it numbed me. I don't remember anything about that workout except that I ran and jumped without the ball alot. By the time it was over, I'd gotten up a good sweat and worn away my frustration. Coach Woolpert thanked me for coming over and said that I'd be hearing from him soon. He was noncommittal. As I was leaving he told me to take the entrance examinations just in case he could arrange a scholarship for me. Every day I carried steel at the shipyard, every night I played playground basketball for several hours, and day and night I waited.