A secret admirer recently sent Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard a box of flowers shaded in Magic colors.
Of course, Howard has a lot of admirers these days -- most of whom aren't secret. But few people were onto him
before us. More than five years ago, he first appeared on our cover and then was one of our Class of 2004 picks for
"The Future" (along with Candace Parker and Adrian Peterson -- not that we're bragging).
Back then, Howard was
a Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) senior who we compared to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
Since becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft out of high school, Howard has averaged 17.3 points and 12.6
rebounds. The three-time All-Star has also won two rebounding titles, a blocks title and an Olympic gold medal. But
he's remained down to earth through it all, using the lessons in humility he learned in high school.
ESPN RISE: What do you remember about being on our cover?
Dwight Howard: It was sweet. I remember looking at it and
saying, "Man, I'm in high school and I'm on the cover."
Our school was so small that once one person saw
the cover, the whole school saw it.
ESPN RISE: Did teacher give you a break after that?
Howard: No! They were tough on me. Very tough. They
made sure I did everything the right way. No matter
what it was. They made sure I was in school on time and
had my uniform on right. I was a role model for all the
little kids and they wanted to make sure I was in line.
ESPN RISE: When did you first start thinking about the NBA?
Howard: I thought about going to the NBA when I
was 10. Really -- at 10. I remember the first time
somebody said I would be going to the NBA, I was in
the eighth grade. I was already playing against some
of the high schoolers and I was beating them bad.
ESPN RISE: At what point did you decide to make the jump?
Howard: Before my senior year. I didn't tell my teammates.
I didn't make a big deal about going to the
NBA because I didn't want my school or my team just
getting attention because I was going to the NBA.
ESPN RISE: What advice would you give to other players with pro aspirations?
Howard: Try to stay grounded. Everybody sees this
fantasy world that we live in, but it's tougher than
people think. They have this perception of what they
think the NBA is like because all they see are the cameras,
the lights, the jewelry, the big houses and "MTV
Cribs." But the average NBA day is not like that.
ESPN RISE: How have you stayed so grounded for so long?
Howard: I've had that experience growing up where I
thought I had a little success and I was getting attention
from the media, from fans, from girls. Then one day
all that stuff went away. I broke my leg (before sophomore
season) and nobody thought about Dwight
Howard after that. So I realized all this can be taken
away in one moment so I need to keep myself humble.
ESPN RISE: What do you see in your future?
Howard: I want my team to win a championship. I
want to dominate, keep getting better. I want to be
one of the great players. But I really want for the
Orlando Magic to win a championship.
Brian Schmitz covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.