Interview: FLASHBACK talk with the Fab Five of ‘Shooting Stars’

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CHICAGO – On Friday, June 2nd, the new film “Shooting Stars” will begin streaming on the Peacock Network. It is the story of the launch of “King” LeBron James through the “Fab Five” high school crew of the Akron, Ohio, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s team, one of the greatest in Ohio basketball history.

This is the story of LeBron’s team, a group of four lower middle class boys from Akron, Ohio, who came together as a team in Salvation Army league basketball, coached by Dru Joyce (Wood Harris) who grew to also be coached by Keith Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney) at the local Catholic School. The team consisted of the core Little Dru Joyce (Caleb McLaughlin), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills Jr.), Sian Cotton (Khalil Average) and LeBron James (Marquis Cook, in his film debut), and became the Fab Five with the addition of Romeo Travis (Sterling Henderson). As a unit, there were one of the greatest high school basketball teams in history, with state championships, national championships, a number one nationwide rating and a future NBA Superstar.

Shooting Stars
Photo credit: The Peacock Network

The film is based on a book by LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger (author of “Friday Night Lights”), and there was a previous film, the well-received documentary “More Than a Game.” It was that film in 2009 that led to an interview with four of the Fab Five … Dru Joyce, Willie McGee, Sian Cotton and Romeo Travis … with an early career LeBron James joining in later for a photograph. That photograph and excerpts of the interviews from 2009 are below … What impressed me the most about your team was the determination to find the best in the country and take them on. What was the most satisfying aspect of beating a team that took you for granted being from Akron or simply didn’t give you any respect?

Romeo Travis: Oakhill was probably the biggest game for me because we lost to them the previous two years and their coach was talking too much and wasn’t really worried about the game, they had eight Division 1 players on the team. That was the most satisfying victory for me, because they simply thought they were better than us.

Dru Joyce: That coach called us a junior varsity team, and we were coming off a state championship. The previous game was the toughest of that season, we really should have won that one, we let it slip away. He then had the nerve to not give us respect and call us a junior varsity team. At the peak of your team’s and Lebron’s popularity, what behavior did you find to be the strangest?

Sian Cotton What surprised me was about grown men and women putting a negative spin on a group of kids. You’d think they want to help you along, but there was a lot of people who wanted to see you fail. It was strange that grown people had it out for us.

Joyce Also that adults were so inclined, and so attentive, to what a group of 17-year-olds were doing. It was ridiculous. We were actually a better draw in Ohio that most of the colleges.

HollywoodChicago: Since you won so many games in high school how did it feel to move onto other teams where winning wasn’t as common?

Willie McGee: It’s difficult to go to another team just because of the camaraderie we had at St. V’s. Then you get new teammates, I played football in college so I went from 12 people to 50. You don’t have the close bond, you have to re-learn how to communicate with people. You have to learn how to approach certain teammates to get positive results. It’s was a difficult transition.

Travis: Winning is a mentality. Everyone doesn’t have that mentality. Some people can lose, and because they played good. They can say they had 30 points and be happy. But we lost. That’s missing the whole picture. You have to look at the big picture.

‘Shooting Stars’: Sian Cotton, LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis and Willie McGee in High School
Photo credit: File Photo

Joyce: Romeo and I walked into a team where losing was contagious. There were guys who won before but the success of the university from those years effected everybody. We’re coming from a program where we lost five games in four years. Romeo and I were ready to fight our teammates, how could they accept losing? We lost 15 games our first season, under .500, I’d never been in that position. That was unheard of to me.

Cotton: A lot of people don’t know how to win. I feel like I was a born winner, even in life, even in basketball. That is how I was brought up, I’m a winner and you don’t lose. But everyone is not a winner. LeBron has talked about the ‘brains of basketball’ that you guys had, that even players in the NBA don’t possess. Who was the smartest ballplayer of the Fab Five and can you give an example of his court sense?

Travis: Everyone brought different elements because we all played different positions. Everyone brought their game. Dru brought the point guard knowledge, Sian brought that defensive post player, Willie brought the passion and determination to the game. Each person saw it differently, but winning made it the same.

McGee: I think we all were taught the game, and we had a good understanding of the game even before we got to high school. I think Coach Dru [the core four’s first coach] did a good job of showing us the fundamentals. When we got to high school, that’s why we did so well as a unit. We were all on the same page, we understood the game and we were ready to compete.

Joyce: I think the biggest thing was we were always willing to learn. Whether it was from the coach or Willie, Sian, Romeo and LeBron. That plays tribute to your I.Q. when you’re willing to learn and handle criticism. That’s why we were able to understand the game, because we never shut it down and said we know everything about basketball. Even when we lost, we learned from it. Sometimes in a sports position you are asked to represent the entire African American community. What does that mean to you and what can you tell me about that representation that you think that other Americans don’t know?

Travis: It makes me proud to be able to represent anything. To stand for something means a lot, because that means people respect you and hold your position. They want you to be their catalyst and show people how you feel, because they don’t have a voice.

Cotton: I feel the same way about the pride. At times, though, it’s a double edged sword – it can work with you or work against you. I feel that all of us here, as well as LeBron, are special people. I believe in God and everything happens for a reason. And I believe we were put in this position for a reason. The Lord doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle. And we could handle it.

Fab Five, Chicago 2009: Willie McGee, Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton and LeBron James
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for Dru, your father is a very introspective man and a supreme student of the game and human nature. How did that make him, outside being your coach, a different man as a father?

Joyce: It’s hard to separate him on-the-court and in being my father. We were on the court as much as I was at home. They say there is a separation between father and coach, there wasn’t with us. He was always my father and my coach.

He coaches basketball, but he also coaches life. You make think he’s talking about basketball, but when you break it down it’s really a life lesson. He’s getting you ready for something you can’t envision yet. Can anyone give an example of how did your approach to the game of basketball help you in other areas of life?

McGee: When sports becomes a factor it keeps you honest, that’s what I maintain. I kept up with my books because it gave me an opportunity to play. I was fortunate to take that approach.

Travis: It made me better prepared for life, because before I really got into basketball I wasn’t taking responsibility for my own actions. I did what I wanted, I was kind of a loose cannon. I never had a father figure or another male telling me what to do. Basketball allowed me to adjust to that and accept criticism. That helped me grow as a man.

CLICK HERE for the full 2009 interview by Patrick McDonald of

“Shooting Stars” streams on the Peacock Network beginning on June 2nd. Featuring Dermot Mulroney, Wood Harris, Caleb McLaughlin, Avery S. Wills Jr., Khalil Everage, Sterling Henderson and Marquis Cook as LeBron James. Screenplay adapted by Frank E. Flowers, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor. Directed by Chris Robinson. Rated “PG-13”
. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Critic/Writer

© 2023 Patrick McDonald,

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