Eleven-year-old kid's got game
11-year-old Jashaun Agosto races through a packed schedule of practices without breaking a sweat.
Seattle Times staff columnist
FEDERAL WAY — The boy sprints from the car as soon as his father parks, lugging a blue gym bag so large you only see the top of his braided hair and bottoms of his sneakers.
Jashaun Agosto is moving, though, all 4 feet 9 and 70 pounds of him, so fast his father doesn't bother keeping pace. Trailing by 20 yards, Julio Agosto grins.
"He's like this every day," Julio says.
Inside the Federal Way Community Center, Jashaun is still running, down the hall, all the way to the basketball court, the most dedicated 11-year-old athlete ever.
For the next three hours, he performs drill after drill — dribbling, shooting, defending, jumping. Then he races to another gym 20 minutes away to join his track team for an hour of weight training.
Next, Jashaun eats dinner, finishes his homework, and to end the night, he does 200 sit-ups, 200 push-ups and 250 squats.
He's like this every day.
"I think it's fun," Jashaun says.
Michelle Williams, Jashaun's mother, brings up the issue all the time.
"Is this too much?" she wonders.
She shares thoughts and concerns with Julio, and he counters. The parents consult doctors and trainers to make sure the regimen isn't harming their son. Ultimately, they decide that, as long as Jashaun is happy and healthy and making good grades, he can continue with this schedule.
Every day of the week is booked. Two days of track, two days of strength and conditioning, three days of AAU basketball. Seven days of father and son at the community center.
Ask Jashaun if he ever gets tired of sports, and he says, "Probably, like, once in a blue moon. Because we'll be doing the same stuff, and it'll get too easy for me."
That's when Julio will turn up the intensity, inventing more challenging drills. "A lot of the things I tell him to do, I can't even show him," the father says.
Jashaun figures it out, however. He's a rare combination of athletic instincts and intelligence, talent and temperament. He's so gifted, yet so polished.
He rarely breathes hard and barely sweats. After recently joining the Seattle Speed Track Club, a nationally competitive youth team, Jashaun learned the reason for his incredible endurance.
A test at a Seattle sports clinic revealed he has an astonishing aerobic capacity. Doctors determined his VO2 max, which measures the ability to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise, and Jashaun received a score of 66.
It's a shockingly high number for a child, and by the time Jashaun goes through puberty, his VO2 max is expected to be higher than most world-class athletes. He could jump into the 80s, putting him in the same range as Lance Armstrong and Steve Prefontaine.
Mike Cunliffe, Seattle Speed coach, once clocked Jashaun in the 800 meters. He ran it in 2 minutes, 22 seconds, which would've ranked him third nationally in his age group.
Oh, and he posted that time at the end of a four-hour workout.
"If I were him, I'd go get my Olympic gold medal and then go play in the NBA," Cunliffe said.
Jashaun can run 100 meters in less than 13 seconds, but his specialty is the mile. In practice, his fastest mile time is 4:50. If he ran that fast in a meet, he would break the world record for 11-year-olds by five seconds. He hopes to accomplish the feat this summer.
"I've never seen anyone quite like him," Cunliffe said.
Basketball is his love, however. His parents met on a court.
"If I make this three-pointer, you're gonna be my girl," Julio told Michelle.
"OK," she replied.
He missed. He asked for another try. OK. Missed again.
"And I never miss," Julio said.
Finally, he made his third attempt, and Michelle granted him a date. They've been a couple ever since.
Michelle calls it "that corny story." Jashaun laughs at his parents.
Both played in high school — Julio in Alaska, Michelle at Skyline High School in Sammamish — but the father mostly influences Jashaun's game.
When he was 5, Jashaun would watch his dad play pickup games. Sometimes, Jashaun would get on the court and wow the men with his feel for the game. He could already dribble with both hands, and he knew how to pass the ball and direct an offense.
"I would just watch what my dad was doing and then practice it," Jashaun said.
Now he's a fifth-grade point guard who loves defense, drives to the basket at will and possesses a jumper with three-point range.
He's a perfectionist at everything. He gets upset if he doesn't make the best grades in school. He never wants to commit a turnover during a game. His shooting drills require him to make 100 shots without ever missing three in a row.
Last week, he made 50 jumpers and then missed three straight. Julio thought his son was about to cry.
"Well, maybe you're not feeling it today," the father told him. "It's OK."
Julio could empathize. He was just as obsessed as a child. He was the product of a Haitian mother and a strict Puerto Rican father, the kind of man who scares you into good behavior.
The Agosto family grew up in New York but moved to Alaska. Julio played at East Anchorage High School with former Duke star Trajan Langdon. He used to watch as Langdon's father would put his son through drill after drill. Julio should've been doing the same, but he preferred to play one-on-one.
During his junior year, Julio injured his knee, ruining his basketball career. As an adult, he has introduced the game to all eight of his children, but only Jashaun has taken to it like Julio did.
After Christmas, the family's car was stolen. So Julio and Jashaun took the bus and then walked 1 ½ miles to get to the community center.
"We couldn't let that stop us," Julio said.
Fame and backlash
During Jashaun's workout Thursday, a teenager entered the gym and exclaimed, "This is the most famous little guy in the world!"
Jay Leno called last week. Jashaun might be on "The Tonight Show" soon. "Good Morning America" made an inquiry, too. KOMO 4 did a piece on him. UCLA sent the kid a brief note and questionnaire.
Jashaun shrugs. "I like it," he says of the attention, but that's all he offers.
To strangers, he's quiet and respectful. Only his family sees his goofy side.
He's a kid in every way. He has an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3, but he doesn't use the PlayStation. It's only good for watching movies, he says. His parents don't let him watch television on weekdays, except if there's a basketball game he really wants to see.
Kobe Bryant is his favorite player, and he has actually turned a couple of Bryant's spectacular moves into drills. Julio talks to his son about "owning the move," and using it only at appropriate times. He doesn't allow Jashaun to play flashy, but he does teach him the fundamentals and thinking behind highlight-reel plays. He wants Jashaun to know how to react to any situation.
Including this one: What if his son loses interest in the game when he gets older?
"I'm totally OK with that," Julio insisted. "I've talked to his mom about that. One of my sons, Julio, doesn't really like basketball. He wants to go into photography, and I'm all for it."
If Jashaun maintains his desire and continues to progress, then the challenge will be controlling the hype — and the hatred. Julio typed his son's name into Google recently and stumbled upon some comments about Jashaun.
Some were mean-spirited. The father grew angry. Then he relaxed.
"I was worrying about animosity and people judging and assuming things," Julio said. "People were saying I was living my dreams through him. I'm not naive. I knew that would be out there.
"Then I read people saying Jashaun would grow up to be a thug, and they'd never hear from him again. Those things upset me. But then I told myself, 'It's just how the Internet is.' I just accepted it."
The father stands on the baseline as he reveals his worries. Jashaun is on the other side of the court, dribbling. As Julio wonders how much his boy can handle, Jashaun dribbles toward his dad, points at the basketball in Julio's hands and declares, "OK, I need it."
Dad passes the ball. Hands full, Jashaun walks away, grinning at the thought of his next challenge.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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