More than 37 years after his own image graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, former N.C. State football player Don Buckey has some advice for Raleigh's John Wall.
Wall, the Kentucky freshman point guard from Raleigh who is an early favorite for college basketball's national player of the year award, is on a regional cover of the Jan. 11 edition of the weekly magazine. (The SI cover for the rest of the nation featured Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin.)
Buckey was on the cover of the Oct. 30, 1972, issue with twin brother Dave, when they were freshman football players at N.C. State. Don Buckey, 56, said he thinks great things are ahead for Wall, 19, and he encourages him to stay humble.
"Don't make it any bigger than it is," Buckey said. "... You'll always be known as a Sports Illustrated cover boy. But it's probably one of many covers he'll be on, and one of many honors that he'll have down the road."
The many young basketball phenoms who have been on the cover of SI have gone on to varying levels of success. After early SI cover appearances, LeBron James (Feb. 18, 2002, as a high school player) and Kevin Durant (Feb. 19, 2007, as a freshman at Texas) ranked Nos. 3 and 4 respectively in the NBA in scoring this season through Monday's games.
But Sebastian Telfair (March 8, 2004, with Lincoln High of Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Felipe Lopez (Nov. 28, 1994, as the St. John's "Super Freshman") have had far more modest pro careers.
Wall appears to be keeping his own success in perspective. In his college debut, he made a 15-footer a half-second before the buzzer to defeat Miami of Ohio. He later set Kentucky's single-game record with 16 assists against Hartford. He has led the Wildcats to a 16-0 record and No. 2 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll heading into Tuesday night's game at Florida.
Still, after Kentucky's Jan. 2 win over in-state rival Louisville, Wall said he has a lot to learn.
"I thought I had reached my potential in high school," Wall said. "I am nowhere near my potential."
Nonetheless, Wall's early SI cover appearance is impressive.
According to SI's online archives, former Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan has been featured on 57 SI covers.
But Jordan didn't make the cover of SI until he was a junior at North Carolina, and he shared that one with teammate Sam Perkins (the Nov. 28, 1983, edition). During Jordan's first season with the Tar Heels, though, a freshman from a different team was on the cover of the March 22, 1982, issue.
The following week, cover boy Patrick Ewing and Georgetown lost 63-62 to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game.
The Buckey twins went on to successful N.C. State careers under coach Lou Holtz. As freshmen, they led the Wolfpack in passing (Dave) and receiving (Don) in a victory over Bobby Bowden and West Virginia in the 1972 Peach Bowl.
Dave Buckey was N.C. State's leading passer in 1973, 1974 and 1975, and the team played in bowl games in each of the twins' four seasons. Don spent a year in 1976 with the New York Jets, who drafted both twins in the 12th round but cut Dave during training camp.
Even though the Buckey twins didn't go on to professional football stardom, about once a month they receive a package from a fan somewhere who collects the magazine.
Typically, fans send a copy of the magazine or the cover, a Sharpie pen and a self-addressed package with pre-paid postage.
"I imagine the Michael Jordans and people like that will get a lot more requests than we do," said Don Buckey, who along with his brother works at L&M Transportation Services in Raleigh. "But still, 37 years later, eight or 10 times a year we'll get a little package asking for an autograph."
The Buckeys promptly sign and send the packages back to the senders.
Wall still has a lot to look forward to. And at the very least he will always be an SI cover boy.
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