Christopher Wuensch, CWuensch@ExplorerNews.com
Anthony Lever-Pedroza will walk into the gym at Canyon Del Oro High School sometime this month, take a deep breath and marvel about how small it now looks.
Basketball has taken Lever-Pedroza a long way since his playing days at CDO, from third world countries to first class hotels. As the NBA prepares to tip-off its fifty-ninth season, Lever-Pedroza is embarking on the biggest challenge of his hoops life, claiming a roster spot with the Phoenix Suns.
"I remember going in there and I was like 'Man, this gym is huge,'" said Lever-Pedroza with a wide smile and a look in his eyes as if he was back in the green and gold CDO gym. "Now going in there after playing in the world games and playing in 50,000-seat arenas, it's probably going to feel a little bit smaller."
Back then he was known as Anthony Norwood and since graduating in 1998, Lever-Pedroza would appear to have played for as many teams as he has had last names. After setting out from CDO to Southwest Louisiana University for a semester, the son of former NBA star Lafayette "Fat" Lever made his way to the University of Oregon.
Return trips home playing for the Ducks, however, often resulted in hostile crowds at the McKale Center - the very same arena he is now using as the proving grounds for the next phase in his career. At Oregon he became a shooting sensation setting the school's single season mark for 3-point shooting at 50 percent during the 2001-02 campaign. A year earlier, he was a member of a Ducks squad that quieted the boos by handing Lute Olson one of the worst losses, the hall of fame coach endured on his home court: 104-65.
But after Oregon the NBA did not come calling, so Lever turned toward international play. For the last three years he has starred for the Mexican National team based in Guadalajara. With dual-citizenship - his mother is Mexican - Lever-Pedroza traveled the world playing against formidable opponents such as Canada's Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa of the Brazilian National team.
A glance across the McKale Center court - where Phoenix is training for the upcoming season - reveals both Nash and Barbosa, Lever-Pedroza's teammates should he make the Suns' roster.
Despite the NBA's effort to globalize the game over the course of the last decade, Lever-Pedroza would become the third Hispanic player to grace the professional hardwood. It's a job as hoop ambassador he takes seriously.
"Just to represent them," said Lever-Pedroza of the honor of representing his Mexican heritage. "Everything they've given me and to be able to bring it back here is special."
In Mexico he was treated like a celebrity. Fans stopped him for autographs and restaurants even named dishes after him. Last summer when he brought his younger brothers to the Lute Olson basketball camp, he was swarmed by Mexican children who recognized him from his playing days with the national team, where he recently averaged just fewer than 10 points a game in the FIBA America Championship in late August.
For the Suns, the 6-foot-3-inch Lever-Pedroza will switch between No. 1 and No. 2 guard, a transition he says will not affect his play. Despite his experience playing on the international level and being 26, he his still considered a rookie on the Suns - a role that Suns center Amare Stoudemire said will result in some good-natured hazing.
Even if he doesn't make it up to the CDO gym in between running extra laps or taking time after practice to shoot, Lever-Pedroza is already home.
"The whole state of Arizona is like home basically."