Not many people can say they blocked the King.
But math teacher Dan Schuler can count himself among that select few. He met LeBron James—“King James”—on the court at Youngstown State University in the Ohio Division III District Championship on March 8, 2001, when both he and LeBron were sophomores.
Schuler played forward for Springfield Local High School in New Middletown, Ohio, which was 22-0 at the time. James, of course, led a star-studded cast of players from St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in nearby Akron—in particular SVSM’s Fab Five, composed of James, Dru Jones, Sean Cotton, ROmeo Travis, and Willie McGee. SVSM drew national attention, and its games made national or regional TV frequently for a high school team.
Springfield, Schuler said, began thinking about the famous team once they realized the two would fall in the same bracket. The Springfield players scouted SVSM in regular-season games, watched film, and installed a new offense and press break.
But the intensity of their preparation stepped up a notch the week of the game.
“We actually went and practiced at Youngstown State University, blasted the sound system so we couldn’t hear anything, brought in alumni who had gone to our school that were really good, and then even put like six or seven players on the court to try and practice breaking press versus something that would be much harder than anything we could simulate in practice,” said Schuler.
The game atmosphere, however, exceeded anything that Springfield could anticipate. The game had been moved to Youngstown State from Salem High School to accommodate the extraordinary interest. Fans, most rooting for Springfield—New Middleton is not far from Youngstown—packed Beeghly Center.
“The atmosphere was completely electric and overwhelming,” said Schuler.
Schuler, the seventh man on the team, recalls being distracted by the huge crowd.
“I remember warming up and having a little bit of a hard time focusing in on the ball or on what was going on just because there were so many people everywhere, so many fans,” he said.
But James and company did not dazzle Springfield’s players. Though other teams made T-shirts about playing them and asked for autographs, Springfield came to knock SVSM and James off their pedestal.
“We were like, (James) is a player. He is a high school player. He is not an NBA player. And we’re going to beat them,” said Schuler. “We were there to compete. We weren’t there to be stargazers or something.”
Schuler’s older brother Jim, a senior forward, reinforced that message early. With SVSM up a few points four minutes in, LeBron got the ball on a fast break and took off. Springfield’s players sprinted down the court to prevent a dunk and forced LeBron to change his angle for a layup. The delay gave Jim Schuler time to catch up and swat the ball ricocheting ou =t to the three-point line.
Schuler himself had three early run-ins with LeBron. Early in the gamer, he went up for a shot in the post, and James blocked but fouled him. Schuler converted the two free throws for his only points of the game. He also gave up a three from the corner to LeBron when he backed off to guard the drive.
The third time Schuler faced LeBron became his best play of the game. James had the ball in the post and went up for a turnaround, but Schuler blocked it. To cap the play off, when the SVSM point guard picked the ball up and tried to drive in the lane, Schuler stepped up and drew a charge.
About the block, Schuler is humble, though. “I think of my block as very little compared to my brother’s outstanding, open-court, fast break, swat-into-the-backboard that was much more exciting and much more dynamic,” he said.
Springfield hung with SVSM through the first half, down 14 at halftime. Down 21 at the end of the third, Springfield’s top three players—Jim Schuler and fellow seniors Ben Hoeg and Isaac Smolko—fouled out near the end of the quarter. SVSM ran away with the game, winning 63-36 to ruin Springgield’s perfect record and State Championship hopes.
Schuler now views the game mostly as an interesting anecdote, but it still holds some significance for his basketball career.
“At the time (LeBron) was still a lot better, but at least I could compete on some level,” he said.
Schuler’s family and friends from New Middletown, who were Cleveland Cavaliers fans, followed James over his seven-year career with the Cavs.
“It’s just something that we kind of have some kind of interest in what’s going on with LeBrob,” said Schuler. “So when he was playing for Cleveland we were huge fans...and enjoyed seeing him play, watching the highlights.:
And what does Schuler think of “The Decision?”
“I don’t think it was a very considerate way of relaying the news that he was moving. But I don’t really follow professional basketball that closely anyways, and so I didn’t personally have any feelings one way or the other about him moving,” Schuler said, adding that King James’ move really disappointed his brother. “I thought it would have been nice for him to stay there because he’s kind of a hometown guy there and there's just a ton of local support and people who love him.”
Editor’s Note: This feature was published in Prep News Volume 75, Issue 5.