OAKLAND -- Basketball legends don’t grow on trees. Sometimes, they don’t grow at all.
Jason Kidd kept growing and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. LeBron James kept growing and will enter the Hall as soon as he is eligible.
Schea Cotton, whose breathless teenage hype matched that of Kidd and James, even sharing their status as being subject of features in Sports Illustrated, was not as fortunate.
Once described by AAU opponent Kevin Garnett as “LeBron before LeBron,” Cotton was not as fortunate. A star sophomore at powerhouse Mater Dei High School in Orange County, he was the biggest name in West Coast prep basketball. Folklore at 16.
An emotional wreck by 19.
A shattered dream before he turned 21.
Cotton, now 41, wants you to know of his journey. He has produced a documentary, “Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story,” that will be shown Friday night at Castlemont High and Saturday at Oakland Tech.
“It’s a humanitarian story," he said Thursday morning. “I was the No. 1 player in North America in 1995. I was 15, 16 years old and everybody thought I was sure-fire, can’t-miss NBA lottery pick. And the car came off the tracks.
“If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Cotton was 6-foot and throwing down dunks at 13, winning dunk contests at 14, leading Mater Dei to a state championship at 15 and being stalked by shoe companies. He was, by many recruiting services, the top prep in the nation at 16.
What followed, though, was a couple troublesome injuries, leading to a meandering road of junior colleges and colleges, the last being the University of Alabama, and miles of NCAA red tape, mostly related to challenging Cotton’s academic status.
And, ultimately, there was the abject disappointment of declaring for the 2000 NBA draft and not hearing his name called.
One of the labels that cost Cotton was “tweener.” At 6-6, 220, he was considered too small to be a power forward and too muscular to be a wing.
The Orlando Magic invited Cotton on its Summer League team, which competed only once before being canceled when another invitee, Conrad McRae, collapsed and died at a practice in Irvine. From there, Cotton got no further on American soil than the minor leagues, such as the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the Continental Basketball Association (CBA).
Cotton’s professional basketball career consists of a few seasons abroad -- Europe, China, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
It’s not what he visualized in high school, and he didn’t see it clearly until his early 20s. Along the way, he fought off bouts of depression and even considered suicide.
Cotton wants to share his experience with youngsters aspiring to reach the NBA, their parents and anyone else looking out for their best interests.
“I want them inspired,” Cotton said of his audience. “I want them to realize they have to take their education seriously and to very conscious of their support group. Like they always say, ‘If you want to see your future, look at your circle.’ Take this story very seriously, because if you don’t it could be you.”
The documentary upon its initial release in 2016 was shown at several Southern California film festivals and received rave reviews. Cotton also took it to the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Toronto in 2017.
Former Warriors Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, as well as Paul Pierce and Elton Brand are among those appearing in the film. Current player Tyson Chandler also shares his memories of young Schea, as does NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
"Schea Cotton is the best high school athlete I've ever, ever seen," said Moss, a two-time West Virginia basketball high school Player of the Year.
Cotton lives in Long Beach and is the CEO of Schea Cotton Basketball Academy, where he serves as coach and mentor to young athletes, with the hope they will avoid the pitfalls he did not. You might say, he grew up late.
“I know I had the talent. I was better than my peers, and they know it,” Cotton said. “That’s why they’re giving these interviews (in the documentary).
“The thing is, God didn’t want that for my life. He allowed me to go through all these trials to be in the position I’m in now.”
Tickets are $10 for the Oakland showings and can be purchased at therealmanchild.com.