By Barrett Neale
Wes Unseld is a Kentucky native who achieved All-American status at the University of Louisville, but has lived in Maryland since the Bullets drafted him in 1968.
"That's what, 40 years?" he said. "That's all my adult life. I'm a Baltimorean now."
Unseld still stands as one of only two men who won NBA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season. The other was Wilt Chamberlain.
At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Unseld had a remarkable ability to rebound against others taller than himself and his outlet passing became a model for generations to come in pro basketball. Unseld's greatest achievement was leading the 1977-78 Bullets, who by then had become the Washington Bullets, to the NBA championship over Seattle. He was named MVP of the title series.
Unseld played for the Bullets through the 1980-81 season and coached the team for seven seasons during the late '80s and early '90s. He also served as general manager of the team and in 1988 was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
These days, he has a much different job description. Unseld may be best known as a basketball player, but his longest-standing tie to Charm City is Unselds School, a coed private school in southwest Baltimore he and his wife, Connie, founded in 1978.
"I would love to take credit for it, but I can't," Unseld said. "It was my wife. She was an educator, first of all. We both majored in education in college. She went on to graduate school here, at Towson.
"She started out in daycare, nursery school, kindergarten. The people that were in our program really liked it and kept encouraging her to maybe do something else. She kept adding grades, writing curriculum and getting approved by regulatory agencies."
The school on South Hilton Street has grown throughout the years. The Unselds added new buildings and expanded the age range of children admitted, which is now from nine months to the eighth grade.
But Unselds School is still a small, tight-knit community with fewer than 200 students. Unseld said some of the school's earliest students are now sending their children to Unselds School.
Other former students have come back to teach, including Unseld's daughter, Kim, who has been working at the school for 15 years. The Unselds' son, Wes Jr., also went to the school and has been part of the Washington Wizards organization for 12 years, five as an assistant coach.
This school has always been a family affair. Unseld's father-in-law, Herschel Martin, who recently passed away, used to be an administrator at the school, and Unseld said he got involved to help his wife. He described himself as a janitor and gopher, helping his wife and daughter in whatever way he can.
"I had no idea I was going to do this," the basketball Hall of Famer said. "I thought I was going to retire and live back on my veranda and eat bon-bons. I didn't think I'd be doing this 12, 13 hours a day. This was not the plan."
Instead, Unseld has become active at the school, even when classes are done. Last summer, Unseld and his longtime friend JoJo Parker held a week-long basketball camp for about 25 students.
Parker, who has helped coach basketball camps and mentor young athletes for years, always wanted to get involved at Unselds School. He said he was impressed with the way the Unselds ran the school and called Connie an excellent educator.
Unseld greeted the kids at 9 a.m. each day, and at 2:30 p.m., he and Parker would send them to Kim, who would review what they had learned each day. Parker said the students were equally excited about their time in the gym and in the classroom.
"Mrs. Unseld said that people have been calling, wanting to do another week," Parker said. "I talked to [Unseld] one day about three weeks later and he said there's going to be another session. … I really thought Wes Jr. was going to be there, but one week we had the camp was the NBA draft week and the coaches have to be there."
Instead, some of Parker's friends came to help coach the clinic. Parker said Unseld was a great coach, and he hoped they would be able to hold another camp this summer.
"What amazes me is the rapport he has with the kids," Parker said. "He was there giving them skills and drills. … He takes a very active role."
Despite the change in his career path, Unseld's attitude remains the same: work hard, treat people right and be happy. When talking to parents of prospective students about Unselds School, he simply tells them what the school has to offer.
"I am not trying to sell them on anything," he said. "I think all we have to do is show them and tell them and be truthful as to what we do here, how we do it and point out some of the things that have worked well. People have to make their own decisions.
"It's not like you're buying a car. It's where you're putting your child. It's not up to us to try and hand you a bill of goods as to what we do and what we can do. You've got to look at our track record and make your own decision."
Issue 156: December 2010