Whether he goes to Duke or the NBA, Shaun Livingston realizes he is blessed to be facing a decision most everyone else can only dream about.
As a first option, there's Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won over Livingston's family--especially its most influential member, 74-year-old grandfather Frank Livingston. Coach K analyzed a tape of Shaun's state tournament performance as a junior and told him that "whether you come to Duke or not, there are things I want you to work on as an individual and as a team player." He told Shaun he would make him into the best defensive player in the country.
Then, there's the gilded temptation, the fantasy-come-to-life bypassing of Durham, N.C., for a three-year lottery contract in the neighborhood of $7 million.
General managers and team presidents are intrigued by the prospect of an unselfish 6-foot-7-inch point guard who idolizes Pistol Pete Maravich and oozes the kinds of dribbling and passing skills that can elevate athletic teammates into championship players.
In a draft where one analyst predicted Connecticut's Emeka Okafor would be the only collegian among the first 10 picks, Livingston's stock is at a premium. Other draft analysts have rated Livingston as the top point guard available.
"The latest I have heard is that Shaun could go anywhere from No. 4 to No. 7," says Peoria Central coach Chuck Buescher, who teamed with Livingston in bringing back-to-back Class AA titles to the River City. "These draft experts are saying he's a tall point guard with the vision of Jason Kidd. They love his flair and his basketball IQ.
"I'd love to see him go to Duke. The NBA is a tough life for an 18-year-old kid. But if he is a top-10 pick and decides to go pro, I would support him in that."
Regardless of his draft stature, this much is sure: Livingston is the resounding choice for Mr. Basketball of Illinois, voted the No. 1 player by a statewide balloting of coaches and media. Livingston, who averaged 18.5 points, six rebounds and six assists, garnered 184 first-place votes. Runner-up Shaun Pruitt of West Aurora had 32.
If he decides to play for pay, Livingston will become the fourth Mr. Basketball to choose that option after Kevin Garnett, Darius Miles and Eddy Curry.
"Nobody can tell me one good reason for Shaun to go to the NBA," says Frank Livingston, a no-nonsense ex-Marine who was decorated in the Korean War and has overcome colon cancer while raising Shaun. "Money is not a reason to skip college.
"All the people telling Shaun to take the money are really just looking out for themselves. If he's at Duke, that will give all these hanger-ons a year or so to learn how to take care of themselves."
Shaun's father and Frank's son, Reggie, wants him to attend Duke. Shaun's godfather and grade-school coach Tom Ruppert believes the pros can wait.
But everyone in his inner circle agrees the final answer in this who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire scenario ultimately rests with Shaun.
"I've always wanted grandpa to be proud of me, and I want him to see me play in the NBA," Livingston says. "I'll use the same procedure that enabled me to pick Duke. I'll listen to my family and close friends.
"I'm not going to pretend--the money is going to be a big part of it. This is a huge opportunity for me. We'll see. This will be the biggest decision of my life. Whatever happens, I hope Coach K understands."
Livingston is doing his homework, which includes glancing at a draft prospectus in his accelerated algebra-trigonometry class while waiting for his classmates to finish the problem he already has solved.
"He's smart, and sometimes he helps me with my homework," says Peoria Central senior Jennifer Hearn, who shares an accelerated biology class with Livingston. "To us, he's just another student. Nobody chases him down for an autograph.
"Most people get a little fame and they change their attitude. He's been the same since Day One. He's never been a person to brag about himself."
As a 7th-grader, he was already embarrassing grown men during pickup games at Concordia Lutheran grammar school, which was 87-0 during Livingston's 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade seasons.
As a 2nd-grader, little Shaun was riding a bicycle and dribbling two balls at once. "He dribbled so much in the house that the plaster was falling off the walls," Reggie says.
Home decor was never an issue in the Livingston household after Shaun's mother, Ann Baer, left when her son was 2. A dozen years later, Shaun sought out his mom.
"I wondered a little bit why she left," Livingston says. "I started thinking that I wanted to give her a chance to get to know me. Did I want to say: `I never knew my mom?' It was weird the first time we met. She was ecstatic about it."
Attending a private school with an upper-class enrollment wasn't always easy for Livingston, who grew up in a tougher section of town.
"There were days when my dad and grandpa had to work and I would call a cab to get to school," Livingston said. "I felt a little embarrassed and would get out a block before school. There were kids getting dropped off in a Mercedes or Lexus. I didn't want them to see me."
He has grown into a laid-back, extremely polite young man who says grace before every meal, performed in church and citywide youth choirs and will sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch of a Cubs game April 19.
He's run the gamut from isolated death threats to dozens of cards and letters every day from children around the country seeking his autograph. He recently visited a former basketball coach who is dying of cancer.
"NBA people can see the charisma he has," Peoria Central athletic director Chuck Westendorf says. "He's nice looking, speaks well and is quite humble. He is going to be some marketing man's dream."
And the best part is, he doesn't believe any of the hype.
"I never want to forget that I'm not anything special," Livingston says. "God created us equal. Money and talent might be seen as setting us apart. But underneath, we're all the same."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun