By Clay Fowler
Killeen Daily Herald
From his perch in the bleachers Matt Addison soaked in Ellison High School's basketball practice. He couldn't resist being there even if just to watch.
As soon as the team vacated the floor he knew he would only have 10 minutes to shoot, 15 if he was lucky, before the gym lights were extinguished and he was sent home.
Most of the time Addison didn't go home. If he did, he came back. The basketball addict would sneak into the dark, deserted gym whether it was 8 p.m. or 1 a.m.
It was the most time he could get on the court, despite being in the midst of his high school basketball career.
Addison cracked Ellison's starting lineup as a sophomore. The emerging talent averaged 10.8 points per game for the Eagles, helping the team to a regional semifinal the 2003-04 season, his first on varsity. With two games between them and the final four, the Eagles fell to Houston Wheatley 66-62.
"I can remember it like yesterday," said Addison, "coach Manley coming up to me after the game, telling me that I played good and not to worry about it, that I had two more years left."
Years, as it turned out, barely deserved to be plural.
Addison played just 10 games his junior year at Ellison for head coach David Manley before failing a class, prompting his mother, Clara Addison, to finally act. She pulled him off the team for the rest of the season.
"I made a lot of mistakes at Ellison," Matt said. "I was struggling in school. It wasn't the teachers or anything else. It was my fault."
He didn't play high school basketball for nearly 11 months.
"It was real tough," he said, dropping his gaze towards clasped hands. "I love basketball. I mean, without basketball who am I?"
More than a year later Addison is averaging 20.4 points, 4 steals and 3.5 assists a game for the recently crowned District 13-5A champions, Harker Heights.
On the heels of a 29-6 season and the first district championship in school history, the No. 20 team in Texas, according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, will begin the state playoffs on Friday. Addison will play his first postseason game in nearly two years.
Celneque Bobbitt doesn't much follow programs outside his own. The head basketball coach since Killeen High's ninth-grade center became Harker Heights High School in 2000 was largely informed by his own players about the kid in the gym every afternoon, eyes glued to the court.
"(Addison) sat in my practice every day since the day he got here. Every day." said Bobbitt. "He would pick up on every drill we did. He'd be in his blue jeans going back and forth doing defensive line drills."
"Then that boy would be shooting on the sidelines. He'd keep on making and keep on making. I said '(Assistant) coach (Reggie Huggins), he can't shoot like that with defense on him.' Then we had open gym and he came in there. Boy, I was skinnin' and grinnin'."
Addison's talent was evident even before transfer rules permitted him to suit up for Heights, but it wasn't until this season Bobbitt realized the full capability of his new addition. After scoring 18 his first game, then 13 in a blowout, the 5-foot-8 shooting guard exploded for 27 in a 10-point loss to the current No. 15 team in the state, Pflugerville. He netted 22 his fourth game, 32 his fifth, a 71-59 win over Killeen High, which finished its District 16-4A title run this season on an 18-game win streak.
"Goodness gracious, after the first couple of games it was just known this kid is on another level," said Bobbitt. "This kid's jump shot is like a lay-up. It is. If he is near the free throw line it's like shooting a lay-up."
Addison broke Heights' single-season scoring record by 72 points. He shattered the single-game record of 34, dropping 40 on 17th ranked San Antonio Reagan in a seven-point win Dec. 10.
He was 12-for-12 from the field scoring 32 points in an 82-53 win Jan. 31 at Shoemaker, an eventual playoff team.
"Sometimes I just get in a zone. It's like everything else is blocked out," said Addison. "You just know you're unstoppable."
Even at 5-8 the bowlegged guard is fearless in the lane. Adept at floaters and angling shots off all portions of the glass, Addison's game has proven effective from 25 feet all the way in.
He was second-team all-district as a sophomore at Ellison, but arguably the best player in District 13-5A this year. "If he's not we need to scrap the whole season, just call it off," said Bobbitt.
Eagle in flight
With a new house under construction in Harker Heights the Addison's sold their residence in the Ellison school zone in early February of 2005. They moved to an apartment in Harker Heights and Matt transferred to his new school the same month.
Clara Addison believes her son better appreciates basketball now. She felt guilty plucking him off the Ellison team in November of 2004. But his academics have since been straightened out; not a single problem has arisen at Harker Heights.
However, after having a promising junior season severed after 10 games, Matt didn't hide resentment for his mother's actions.
"Matthew is the type of person, who, if he knows he's wrong he'll be upset for a while then he'll comply if he knows he's wrong," said Clara Addison. "It was humiliating for him, me taking him off the team, more with his peers. You know how they can be."
Despite not being on the team Addison didn't miss an Ellison practice. He never passed up a chance to learn about the game.
Addison would sneak into the Ellison gym because the neighbors complained about the late-night echo of a bouncing basketball. He moved his practice sessions outside the Grace Christian Church until surrounding residents began to gripe. Clara Addison didn't know her son was sneaking into the Ellison gym until receiving a call from a security guard one evening.
"I got caught twice," Matt said. "I'm always trying to work on my shot. I didn't want to lose my touch even though I wasn't playing."
Although UIL transfer rules prevented Matt from joining the basketball team until the following season, Clara Addison met with Bobbitt shortly after her son began attending Harker Heights.
They exchanged concerns, not solely of the academic variety. The no-nonsense Bobbitt made it clear, if a player makes it through his program, they'll have earned it.
"I heard about Matt being a bad kid and all, having a bad attitude," said Bobbitt. "I think nobody ever took the time to just sit down and talk to the kid."
There have been some non-academic issues for Addison at Heights. In a competitive environment, acceptance of a player the caliber of Addison was not an entirely smooth process. During a midseason practice frustration escalated into an altercation between Addison and a teammate.
"It came to blows," said Bobbitt. "Not that we're condoning fighting, but it was the best thing that ever happened to this team. Matt thought some of the guys on the team weren't supporting him. Now everything is cleared up and they're all the best of buddies.
"If Matt is a bad kid I want my kid to be as bad as him."
Basketball is Addison's strength, but its also his weakness. When he got in trouble, it was usually basketball related.
"He would skip class, but it was always to play basketball," said Clara Addison. "It wasn't ever to party. Thank God he's always been smoke-free, drug-free, alcohol-free. He just can't help himself when it came to basketball."
Suffering the consequences of the worst trouble he's known, Addison kept his distance while finishing out the 2004-05 school year at Harker Heights, even from the basketball team. He wanted "a fresh start," feared running with the wrong crowd. But after a full season with the Knights, he is not only acclimated, but experiencing something he never has before.
"With this team I bond with them, I go places with them," said Addison. "I haven't done that with any other team I've been on."
The University of Houston and Texas State are expressing interest in Addison. This is no small feat, according to Bobbitt; attracting Division I attention in Killeen is extremely difficult.
"If I could take Matt Addison and put him in Houston or Dallas he would be getting looks from every school in the Big 12," said Bobbitt. "You could be all-world and you just won't get the recognition in Killeen."
Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech signees Brandon Webster and Leslie Jackson scored a collective total of five points in Heights' district-clinching 63-46 win over second-place Bryan on Tuesday. By the time the Knights had a 28-8 first-quarter lead, Addison had nearly doubled the Bryan duo's eventual total. He finished with 19 points and seven steals.
The best platform for college exposure, however, begins Friday the playoffs.
"We're going to get the recognition we haven't been getting all year," said Heights point guard Walt Harris. "All the college scouts are going to be there and they're going to realize this is a really good team."
"I tell these kids 'The further you extend your season the better the things that can happen to you," said Bobbitt.
'I want to redeem myself'
Harker Heights has the potential to make the final four, according to Addison. If it does, it's a safe bet he'll relish every second of the journey to Austin's Erwin Center.
Addison doesn't take much for granted anymore.
"I want to redeem myself for what happened at Ellison," he said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to fix it because it was my fault."
Only memories remain of Ellison, some forgettable, some worth remembering.
Manley can recall Addison draining 77 of 100 3-point attempts as a squatty eighth grader.
"We were blown away, the whole coaching staff," said Manley, a seven-time district coach of the year at Ellison. "We had to run him out of the gym if we were going to get him out of there, but its obviously paying off for him. I'm happy for him that he's had a great year."
Addison's practice habits apparently haven't changed much in five years.
"If he misses three of four shots during practice we have to walk him out to the parking lot, put him in his car and make sure he's gone," said Bobbitt. "Or he'll sneak back into the gym."
Sneaking into the Erwin Center? That may be a different matter. There are 95 other teams providing security.
Contact Clay Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org