Every path Frank McQueen has traveled in his basketball career has seemed to have a detour sign. As one of the top players in the National Rookie League, McQueen averages 30 points off the bench for the Baltimore Blaze. The stats are impressive, but his former coaches think his perseverance is even more remarkable.
"Considering where he's come from, I'm impressed that he's sticking with it," said George Tarkanian, who recruited McQueen to play at Chaffey College in Cucamonga, Calif.
McQueen grew up in Landover, where his mother kicked him out the house at the age of 14. He lived with friends and spent most of his free time on the basketball court, where most of his mentors and parental figures came from.
"I just stayed with basketball - that's what got me through. If it wasn't for basketball I don't know where I'd be right now," said McQueen, a 6-foot-4 guard.
McQueen's basketball talent earned him All-Metro honors at Washington's Dunbar High School and a spot in the Capital Classic, one of the area's top all-star games. After Dunbar, McQueen headed to play junior college ball at Chaffey for Tarkanian, son of Fresno State basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
"Tarkanian developed my jump shot and told me to keep shooting," McQueen said. "I shot like 1,000 jump shots a day. I shot so many jump shots a day it was pathetic; it felt like my wrist was falling off. I had to go home and ice it. That's how I got better."
However, McQueen was never able to display his jump shot at Chaffey. Because he didn't know his mother's whereabouts, he said, he was unable to complete financial aid forms and had to transfer to nearby Lassen Community College.
"Frank was great player, a great one-on-one scorer," said Tarkanian, who is now head coach at the College of the Sequoias in California. "He was a competitor. Not too many guys I coached were as competitive as he was."
McQueen led the Golden Valley Conference in scoring his freshman year and planned to transfer to Fresno State, but he got homesick and had academic problems that forced him to drop out. After two years out of school, McQueen enrolled at Salem-Teikyo University, a Division II school in Salem, W.Va.
At Salem-Teikyo, McQueen gained a reputation as a dangerous shooter. He led the team in scoring, averaging 19 points a game, earned first-team all-conference honors and was a third-team Division II All-American in 1999.
"He's a big-time shooter," said Danny Young, Salem-Teikyo assistant coach. "There's nobody that shoots like him. At one point in the season he was shooting 68 percent in three-pointers. We had all kinds of scouts calling about him."
Scouts from a European league were impressed and attempted to lure him away with two years of college eligibility left. McQueen told his coaches he was leaving, so they used his scholarship on another player.
"I didn't even go overseas," said McQueen. "They wanted me to come out there. I started thinking, 'school or basketball, school or basketball.' I couldn't make a decision. So by that time it was too late to go back to school or play overseas."
The coaches at Salem-Teikyo said they understood McQueen's hesitation. He had a 2-year-old daughter to care for, and the money would have helped. Instead of playing professionally, however, McQueen wound up sitting out last season. The Salem-Teikyo coaches talked with him about returning to school for the 2000-01 season, but he chose to try the NRL.
His shooting ability has been one of the highlights of the new league. He is the Blaze's leading scorer, and in four home games he has 26 three-pointers. He was named the NRL Player of Week for July 16-23, totaling 95 points in three games. His coach, Charles Smith, compares him with some of the great shooters of the game.
"Frank is the best shooter I have ever seen," said Smith, a former Georgetown All-American. "Frank can shoot with anyone - Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, it doesn't matter."
Smith has seen some great shooters in his playing days. He played with Hersey Hawkins and Mitch Richmond on the 1988 Olympic team, and Bird was his teammate during a short NBA career with the Boston Celtics.
McQueen is not worried about out-shooting the NBA's best; he just wants a chance to get there. He's hoping the NRL will be the stepping stone to another professional opportunity, one at a more competitive level.
"I just want somebody to give me a chance to play basketball. That's all I want, a chance to play basketball. ... I just want a shot somewhere - somewhere to hoop. I love to hoop," McQueen said.
One option might be the International Basketball League. Baltimore BayRunners coach Terry Truax has seen almost every NRL team play and says there are one or two legitimate prospects on each team.
"Frank McQueen has very good range and is a good open-court player," Truax said. "I haven't evaluated his defending on the perimeter. ... He would be a valuable candidate as a prospect for the IBL."
The IBL pays an average salary of $49,000 a season. The money would be helpful to McQueen, who along with his girlfriend, is raising a daughter, Destinee.
Though the original vision for the NRL was to pay players $30,000 for a season that spanned two months, the league is operating with a $300,000 budget and will be able to pay players only $2,500 this season.
"It's difficult. I'm hoping [the NRL] gives me what they're supposed to give me, because I really need it right about now. I'm just praying and hoping everything will fall into place. I'm just taking it one day at a time; hopefully, this will get me somewhere," McQueen said.
McQueen is depending on his jump shot to be his ticket. He's confident that he can play on the top level saying, he has held his own playing against Stephon Marbury, Ron Mercer and DerMarr Johnson, a good friend who was the first-round draft pick for the Atlanta Hawks.
"They got a good situation at the good time," McQueen said. "I didn't have a good situation or good time. I'm just going to keep on hooping. Whoever sees me with my jump shot, and they need jump-shooter or a scorer, just pick me up. ... I'm just playing basketball. If they see me, they see me."