In a sport where one-on-one ability draws most of the attention and headlines, Loyola High's Wes Unseld Jr. is a throwback -- a basketball player who thinks team first.
It is the center's greatest strength and most nagging liability, a bittersweet trait that both serves him well and prevents him from reaching his full potential.
"What he lacks is sufficient confidence in himself," said Dons coach Jerry Savage. "He has to learn to be more assertive. He's very team-oriented, something you can't say about every kid on the roster.
"As a result, he kind of holds back sometimes, rather than look for his shot. Wes is just the type of person who looks to pass and be part of the pattern."
Considering his background and upbringing, that is not surprising.
His father, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld, was another player comfortable within the structure of the unit.
"I was that way to some degree," the elder Unseld said. "Being unselfish is just the way he has learned to play the game."
Not that Junior is doing that badly. He averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds as a junior last season and figures to finish with similar statistics as a senior.
And he believes "I've come a distance in that regard. My confidence level has gone up considerably. But I've been told I have to be more aggressive."
It's just that more is lurking somewhere beneath the veneer of that solidly built, 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame.
"He's not a bad shooter, although he's struggled occasionally at the foul line," Savage said. "And he's very quick to the basket off his feet. Wes helps us tremendously off the offensive boards.
"But, again, sometimes he gets very hesitant. He doesn't want to get outside the structure."
Because of scheduling conflicts, Unseld Sr. rarely sees his son play during the season. He studies films and maintains an interest, but basically leaves the coaching to Savage and his assistants.
"He's in very capable hands," said the Bullets' coach. "I stay away from him to a degree as far as coaching is concerned.
"He has a real good understanding of the game. I haven't left him totally on his own, but I make sure he knows and understands that the only thing he has to live up to is himself."
) And when his son gets the
chance to attend a Bullets home game, usually on a Saturday, he "might ride home with [his father], but mostly, I try to stay out of his way," the younger Unseld said.
Junior admits he needs to work on his offensive consistency, post moves and look for his shot. His defensive game is excellent although, like his father, he usually spots some height to his opponents.
He has been receiving feelers from Division III teams since his freshman year and some inquiries from big-time schools, but nothing is definite about his college destination.
Everyone involved wants to wait to see if he sprouts up quickly as he father did at a similar age.
"I grew about five inches in 3 1/2 months at about the same time," said Wes Sr. "He's only 17. It could happen. You just have to wait."
His skills are not adaptable to the backcourt, so where he plays collegiately will depend on the growth pattern.
Unseld Jr. said that he probably will go to a small Division I or a Division III program not far from his Catonsville home.
"Unless a miracle happens and I put on 30 pounds and grow four inches," he said.
Wherever he goes, probably to major in business administration, he will be welcomed with open arms. A well-schooled player with the accent on the team. An excellent student with the proper college prep training.
The last word will be his with input from Wes Sr. and his mother, Connie, who attends virtually every Loyola game.
"I've got to get on the weights to continue at the next level," he said. "And I have to shoot. My parents basically leave it up to me about where I go."
The coach said Loyola High has been good for his son.
"When he came out of middle school, we had a number of choices [Gilman and McDonogh, among others], so there couldn't have been a bad choice. This was a good one for him, but he would have been very happy at a number of schools."
Now, Unseld Jr. must take his strengths and supplement them with a little more self-interest and refine other skills.
"His parents want Wes to find his own niche," said Savage. "When he plays with more confidence, he will get better and better because he moves gracefully, runs well and is very strong."
Besides, he's a coach's dream.
"The kids elected him captain by a wide margin," said Savage. "Wes is always encouraging them, never negative. I've never coached anyone who has been as much of a gentleman.
"You could never tell by his actions that his father is in the basketball spotlight. That's a tribute to his parents, no matter who they are."