COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Playing basketball with Michael Jordan. Getting shoes from Kobe Bryant. Shaquille O'Neal watching from the stands.
Getting attention from the NBA's superstar players is just one way LeBron James (pictured on cover of Sports Illustrated, right) is different from every other high school basketball player in Ohio.
A state media panel on Wednesday unanimously selected James, a junior from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, as Ohio's Mr. Basketball for a second straight season.
James joins Jim Jackson (Toledo Macomber) and Greg Simpson (Lima Senior) as the only two-time winners of the top individual honor for a high school hoopster, an award in its 15th season.
"To be named the best in the state is great. But I wish (the award) recognized the team, too. I'm all about the team," said James, who also was the first sophomore to be selected as Mr. Basketball.
The 6-foot-7 James averaged 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals this season while leading SVSM (22-3) to the No. 1 spot in the Division II rankings and a third straight trip to the state tournament.
The Fighting Irish, who won the last two Division III state titles, play Poland Seminary in the semifinals Thursday at Value City Arena.
James is confident his team will win a championship for the third year in a row.
"We're trying to go down to Columbus and take nothing for granted and come out with our best game," he said. "We haven't been playing this year just to play. We're playing to win titles."
James has been through a year unlike any other in the history of Ohio high school basketball.
Using the headline "The Chosen One," Sports Illustrated made James the first underclass high school basketball player to appear on its magazine's cover.
He's gotten to meet several players among the NBA's elite and played in Cleveland's Gund Arena before a sellout of 20,562 fans, the largest crowd to see a high school basketball game in Ohio.
Scouts also have pegged James as the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft and shoe companies are lining up to sign him to an endorsement deal.
So what's it like being a 17-year-old who knows he's going to be a multimillionaire?
"Its amazing. It's kind of unexplainable. It's a dream come true," he said. "To be recognized and to be spoken of highly by the greatest players in the NBA right now, it's great. I just have to make sure I stay focused and play hard."
Despite all the attention heaped on James, his teammates don't get jealous, coach Dru Joyce said.
"The media has hyped it to where everyone thinks it's just LeBron," Joyce said. "The kids understand they can play the game too, and they're enjoying being a part of it. Our kids recognize who the man is. They understand it and they find their role."
James' role isn't always to score or play intimidating defense by blocking every shot within reach. Sometimes, he just likes to set up his teammates, as evidenced by Romeo Travis' 62 points in the team's last two games.
"I'm loving how the other teams just focus on me because we've got other players who can score as much as I can," James said. "This is the time when I need them to come up big."
While James might shoot, dribble and pass better than anyone he's playing against, that doesn't mean there's not room for him to improve.
"There's nothing in basketball right now that LeBron can't excel in," Joyce said. "There are times he doesn't do it as well as he can, but it's not necessarily a weakness. I'd say it's a lack of focus."
Poland coach Ken Grisdale said his players are excited and nervous about playing against James on Thursday.
"He's the prodigy," Grisdale said. "You just feel privileged that you get to watch him play and even more privileged that we get to play against him."
Among the other players considered for Mr. Basketball were Chris Quinn of Dublin Coffman, Jamar Butler of Lima Shawnee and Matt Witt of Tipp City Bethel.
James will receive a plaque in the shape of Ohio.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
A capacity crowd of 20,562 was in attendance on Wednesday night at Gund Arena when Sports Illustrated cover boy LeBron James went on display in the boys high school regional tournament semifinals.More >>
Local basketball fans were abuzz on Wednesday night over the rumor that Los Angeles Lakers star center Shaquille O'Neal was planning to be at the Akron Saint Vincent-Saint Mary game to see prep phenom LeBron James play. More >>