PAWTUCKET — It doesn't take you long to see the gift.
It starts the first time time you see him handle the ball, as if it is something he grew up with, as if the ball always does what he tells it to do, like some personal little pet.
It's there the first time you see him look one way and pass the other, as if he's some seasoned player and not just some kid in high school, a junior at Shea High School to be exact.
And it's there when you see him take his first 3-point shot, the ball rolling off his fingertips as he shoots, his arm fully extended, back spin on the ball, his hand pointed to the basket. Perfect form. As if he came of age in some basketball laboratory and not in some schoolyard somewhere. To the point that you are not surprised when the ball goes in; you're surprised when it doesn't.
In short, Erickson Bans has a gift.
When did he get it?
But it's there, no question about it, to the point that when he gets the ball in his hands you don't need some advanced degree in Hoopology to know that Bans has an affinity for the game. On the night I saw him in the small gym inside Shea, a gym so old it looks like the place in Springfield where James Naismith once invented the game, it would be the third straight game in which he'd score in the high 30s. He also had a 40-point game earlier in the season.
The gift is just part of it, of course.
All lives are complicated?
Especially someone whose familial roots are in Cape Verde, though he was born here.
But in many of the important ways basketball has been very good to Erickson Bans.
"Basketball is everything to me,'' he says. "I stay out of trouble because of basketball.''
This is said very matter-of-factly, with no dramatics. As if somewhere along the way he used basketball to begin to grow up, to begin to come of age, the sense that the game has potential to change his life, if he only gives it a chance to.
"Without school there is no basketball,'' he says.
Wisdom comes in many ways.
It even comes in this little gym on a cold winter night, this little gym that's all but a monument to the game's past, with its short and narrow floor, and its ambience that all but says 1957. Close your eyes and it could be Elvis on the radio, Bill Russell a rookie with the Celtics, and Ike in the White House. But no matter. To watch Erickson Bans play is to, in a way, watch an old basketball soul. So maybe it's only fitting that this old basketball soul plays in this old basketball gym.
But he's already come to know that the game has served him well.
He also seems to play in an old school kind of way, no insignificant thing in a basketball world where everyone too often seems to play as though the shot clock is winding down and the gym is on fire. In short, he is different.
And maybe this is Bans' great strength as a high school basketball star, this strong sense of self that's so apparent, this sense of self that seems to run through everything he does on a basketball floor? Maybe this is what makes him so unique?
For unique he is.
This kid who is lighting up this Rhode Island high school basketball winter.
This kid who seemingly has come out of nowhere.
This kid who is a certified treat.