Raytown launches a country boy into the big leagues.

Mexico's Pride 

Raytown launches a country boy into the big leagues.

Mark Scanlon teaches physical education at Raytown High School and coaches the varsity basketball team during the winter. During the summer he's a driver's ed instructor. So how did he and his wife, Jane, end up tooling around Rodeo Drive in a chauffeur-driven Jaguar and holing up in a $2,500-a-night suite at W Los Angeles last month? Two words: Tyronn Lue.

Scanlon was Tyronn's head basketball coach at RHS. As a sophomore, the not-yet-six-foot Tyronn boldly predicted to his coach that he would one day play in the NBA. Tyronn proved to be as good a fortune-teller as he is at breaking down an opposing guard with his dribble. He has two NBA championship rings, pay stubs adding up to $1.5 million a year and a dancing role in Shaquille O'Neal's new "It Takes Two" video to show for his three years with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tyronn had been after Scanlon for three years to accept an all-expenses-paid invitation to L.A. Scanlon's schedule never jibed with Tyronn's until this June. "I told Coach that he better come this time because he'd never been to L.A., and next year I might not be with the Lakers," says Tyronn. Scanlon and his wife were Tyronn's guests for game two of the NBA finals.

Tyronn double-parked his car at LAX and ran into the airport to meet the Scanlons. When he returned with his guests, a policeman was there preparing a citation. "When the cop saw it was Tyronn, he forgot all about giving him a ticket and asked him for an autograph instead," remembers Scanlon. "After Shaq and Kobe [Bryant], he's the crowd favorite. They just go nuts when he gets into the game. He still looks like he's fifteen. We stopped at a stoplight and people recognized him, and they just went nuts."

So how does a 24-year-old with so much so soon remain grounded enough to thank his high school coach six years later with the trip of a lifetime? "I don't ever want him to forget where he came from," says Kim Lue, Tyronn's mother. Kim raised Tyronn and his brother and sister as a single parent. "One thing I won't stand for is him coming home with a head so big it won't fit through the door."

Home for Tyronn as a boy was Mexico, Missouri, near the middle of the state. His father was never a part of his life, and Kim feared that without a strong male presence around the house, Tyronn might head down the wrong path. "His friends were going off and doing things that I wasn't comfortable with," says Kim. She shipped him to Raytown after his freshman year to live with her brother Kevin Graves. "His uncles, Jay [Graves] and Kevin, taught him how to be a man," Kim says, beaming.

Tyronn left the University of Nebraska after his All-Big-12 junior season and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the first round, then quickly traded to the Lakers. Tyronn's play in the NBA championship series, especially his suffocating man-to-man defensive pressure on rival six-footer Allen Iverson, the league's MVP, got him noticed. As a free agent this summer, Tyronn is one hot commodity.

"We're still in negotiations with L.A., but I have talked to some teams in the East," says Tyronn. "Miami, Orlando and the [Washington] Wizards are all interested." And how would Tyronn like teaming up with Michael Jordan if he lands with the Wizards and the team's owner dons a game jersey? "That would be real sweet, wouldn't it? How about going from playing with Shaq and Kobe to playing with MJ?" says Tyronn, laughing.

How good can Tyronn be? His mom thinks he could be great. "I think we have another Shaq or Kobe on our hands," states Kim matter-of-factly. "All he needs is for somebody to give him the chance to play."

Whether Tyronn attains superstar status on the court isn't nearly as important as how he spent the Sunday before the Fourth of July, back home in Mexico, Missouri. Tyronn invited and paid for everybody who could make it to Garfield Park -- where he learned the game -- for a free picnic. A crowd of nearly 2,000 friends, fans and strangers showed up to eat barbecue, drink sodas, listen to music and grab an autograph from the kid who made it big ... but never forgot how he got there.

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