CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The basketball career of her son began in tears. Shanda McNair clearly remembers the tears.
Before Rodney Purvis was designated North Carolina's next basketball prodigy, he had one minor issue, his mother said.
"He cried all the time," McNair said this week as she watched Purvis, 16, one of the youngest participants at the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp at Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena.
"He was 10 and when the ref called a foul on him, he started to break down and cry. He didn't stop the crying until he was 11, maybe 12. It was just downright embarrassing."
And she's volleying the embarrassment right back to her son by telling that story.
"I know, but it's the truth," she said.
In a short time, Purvis has come a long way from the tearful beginning six years ago in Plymouth, an old paper mill town on the Roanoke River, in the northeast corner of the state.
"I don't cry now," Purvis said, adding a protest to the veracity of his mother's memory. "I just wanted to win. I hated losing."
The tears have been replaced by talent.
Purvis, a 6-foot-3 combination guard who finished his freshman year at Upper Room Christian Academy in Raleigh, has attracted the recruiting attention of North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Kentucky and others.
"He's the best freshman in the country," said Tyler Lewis, who's one class ahead of Purvis and a point guard from Statesville, who also attended the NBPA camp. "And I'm not just saying that because I know him and he's from North Carolina. For a player his age, he can do it all."
'I get that a lot'
Purvis' build, with wide shoulders and a natural muscle mass, is the first thing that stands out about him. Given the Raleigh connection and a shared position, John Wall is the player that Purvis gets compared to, but Purvis' upper-body strength is more like a Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls star.
You look at Purvis' frame and he just doesn't look 16, only the braces on his teeth give away his age.
"I get that a lot," Purvis said. "I promise I'm 16."
Purvis was one of four class of 2013 prospects invited to the prestigious NBAPA camp. Playing against some of the best competition he has ever faced, he acquitted himself with an average of 11.5 points in the first six games of the camp.
There were moments at the camp when his talent was obvious. In his second game on Thursday night, he drove the lane and missed a running shot. As soon as he landed, he jumped back up and reached over two taller defenders to tip the rebound - without looking - to an open teammate under the basket for an easy layup.
There were also moments when the older players, the majority of which are two classes ahead, took the younger Purvis to school.
In a Friday morning game, as he's apt to, Purvis used his strength to take his defender off the dribble to the rim. At the Upper Room, that's two points. At the NBPA camp, Marcus Paige, a 6-1 guard from Iowa, leapt from behind and swatted Purvis' layup.
Chance to impress
Purvis got a late invitation to the camp. With 13 of the top 20 players in the class of 2011 by Scout.com committed to USA Basketball, there was an opening for Purvis.
Dave Telep, the camp's director and the national recruiting coordinator for Scout.com, said the experience has been good for Purvis.
"In North Carolina, everyone knows who Rodney is," said Telep, who lives in Cary. "Up here, there are only three or four guys who know him so he gets a chance to learn without a lot of pressure. He came in here with a great attitude and has shown an aptitude for listening."
Practically the only person here he doesn't want to rave about Purvis' game is his mother.
Asked when she first noticed her son was special on the basketball court, McNair, who played college basketball at N.C. Central, said: "I still don't really classify him as that. I'm serious, and I know people beat me up about that."
McNair is cautious of the media attention directed toward her son, and ignores the comparisons to Wall, the former Raleigh prep star and likely No. 1 pick at this week's NBA Draft.
"You have to take this stuff with a grain of salt," McNair said. "There's always room for improvement. You have to keep working and keep working."
A family bond
Don't confuse Shanda McNair's tough love for no love. McNair, 37, gave up her job as a division sales finance manager in 2004 to spend more time with her son.
When she got pregnant during her sophomore year at N.C. Central in 1993, she returned to Plymouth. Purvis' father, Rodney Lee Purvis, was killed before his son was born on Valentine's Day in 1994.
McNair's mother, Valeria, and grandmother, Hildred Bowens, cared for the baby - with the help of the late Purvis' family - and they insisted Shanda go back to NCCU and finish school.
She did, getting her degree in 1997, and then establishing a successful business career in the early part of the 2000s. Her job regularly took her to the West Coast, though.
She tried to convince Rodney to move to California with her. He didn't want to leave his grandmother and great-grandmother in Plymouth.
"That time helped me become a young man," Purvis said. "It made me learn how to be the man of the house."
McNair finally convinced her son to give life in Vallejo, Calif. a chance. The arrangement didn't last a month, McNair said.
"He hated it," McNair said. "I said, if you're going back, I'm going too."
Keeping options open
In North Carolina, with his Upper Room team and with his club team, the CP3 All-Stars, Purvis has quickly established himself as one of the best young players in the country.
Wake Forest and Virginia Tech have already offered Purvis, who has three years of high school left, a scholarship.
He grew up a UNC fan, and he said the Tar Heels are in pursuit of his services along with Duke, N.C. State, Tennessee, Kentucky, Xavier, Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma.
Purvis said one way he will follow Wall's lead is he's going to take his time to make a college decision.
"It won't be until the last minute," Purvis said.
McNair doesn't know which school her son will eventually pick, but after pointing out how long the move to California lasted, she's willing to make a guess.
"My guess, and I'm just guessing, is that Rodney won't go far from home," she said.
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