VALHALLA, NEW YORK -- Dave Vandiver knew something special was going on at Westchester Community College when a certain high-profile Big East coach strolled into his windowless gym two weeks ago.
"When we saw Coach Calhoun walk in, it was like, 'Wow, this is serious,'" Vandiver, the WCC associate head coach, said Wednesday, recalling the visit of UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "That definitely did put it over the top. That put it over the top."
Calhoun is the most well-known, but certainly not the only, Division I coach in pursuit of WCC's biggest attraction -- Jarrid Famous, a skilled 6-foot-11, 235-pound center with big-time dreams and a name to match.
"That's my main goal, to get out of here and go play D-1 basketball for two years," said Famous, 20. "Go to a situation [where] I'm going to play and be able to do my best."
Entering his second year at WCC, the Bronx native is a preseason third-team junior college All-American. A year ago, he averaged 21.6 points and 10.9 rebounds en route to All-Region XV honors.
"Jarrid Famous is a big, strong, physical rebounder," wrote Van Coleman, a national recruiting analyst for CBS College Sports. "He can score in close to the basket. He's a very mobile kid who has great hands and probably will be one of the top 25 to 30 kids in junior college basketball this coming year."
Every kid gets teased about his name. And Famous was no exception.
"'Famous, you better be famous,'" he says people tell him. "Famous Amos cookies. All that kind of stuff."
Famous and his cousin, 6-4 guard Curtis Dennis, attended Blessed Sacrament High School in New Rochelle and led that school to the Class B New York State Federation finals.
At 6-9 coming out of high school, Famous initially committed to the University of Hartford, but when he didn't qualify academically he went the prep route. He and Dennis attended Houston Inner City Academy. That school, formerly Gulf Shores, which produced NBA player Gerald Green.
"It didn't work out there," Famous said. "I still didn't get the SAT [score]."
So Famous returned home to the Bronx to be with his father, Jerome, who is 6-6 and played high school ball at Samuel Gompers High in the Bronx.
"That's how he got his skills, through me," Jerome joked.
When Jarrid was 3, his mother died during childbirth, and a tattoo on his left bicep commemorates her with the inscription "Dianne Famous, 1957-91, RIP."
Jerome and his mother helped raise Jarrid and his three siblings.
On Famous' right bicep, another tattoo reads "PC," for "Prince of the City," a nickname given to Famous by an uncle.
After coming home from Houston, Famous planned to attend Delaware Tech, another junior college, but instead ended up at WCC upon the recommendation of Julius Allen, a Bronx native who is now an assistant coach at SUNY Binghamton.
When Vandiver first met Famous in the spring of 2007, he said, "You're big, but can you play?"
"Yeah, I can play, Coach," Famous said.
The two men began meeting twice a week for individual workouts that summer, and a bond soon developed.
"That established a rapport between Jarrid and me," said Vandiver, who is now running the WCC team because head coach Winston Nicholas is battling cancer. "That's when I really saw his work ethic. That's when I really saw his determination and his passion. And once I realized that he had those intangibles in addition to his size and skill, I said, 'If you buy into what we're selling here at Westchester, next year at this time you will have all the schools that are presently coming.' We foreshadowed that it would come."
Added Vandiver: "His learning curve is immense and his best days are ahead of him. The best thing he has over a lot of big men is how hard he plays and how hard he runs. That is the common denominator every coach that comes in here says. You don't find many big guys who play as hard as he does, and go as hard as he does. He's going hard all the time."
Famous seems to have bought into the system. After a couple of missed foul shots during a recent practice, he ran sprints up and down the floor as a penalty.
"It's wonderful here," Famous said of WCC. "I got a good coaching staff. I can relate to them. They want us to come and work hard every day. That's my main objective, work hard every day to get better. It's a good situation for me. Close to home and I can get done what I need to get done."
Famous broke out this past summer when he excelled at Jerry Mullen's Top 120 Elite junior college camp in Oklahoma.
Since then, coaches from Seton Hall, St. John's, UConn, West Virginia, Louisville, DePaul and other schools have trekked to Valhalla. When Famous reaches into the top of his locker, he pulls out a stack of recruiting mail from those and other schools.
The letters that stick with him the most come from DePaul. One particular note now hangs on his bedroom wall: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work that hard."<>
And what does he think when he sees UConn's Calhoun and Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez come into his gym?
"I must be doing something right," he said. "It makes me feel good."
Famous has taken unofficial visits to both St. John's (for Midnight Madness) and Rutgers (for the Fresno State football game). He took his first official visit to Seton Hall last weekend and took a tour of the new Prudential Center in Newark.
"It was a great visit," he said. "It showed me a lot about Seton Hall that I didn't know."
He already has a connection to Seton Hall because Pirates assistant Dermon Player coached Famous for a year with the MetroHawks AAU program.
"It's close to home," Famous said of Seton Hall. "It's a Big East program. I don't want to be too close to home, and I don't want to be too far. My father likes the school. My father's a big influence in my decision. He likes the school. That was our No. 1 school. You have to visit the No. 1 school first."
Famous plans to take a few more official visits in the spring, perhaps to Missouri, UConn and West Virginia, before making a decision in April.
Eventually, he wants to take his Famous name and game to the NBA.
"That's my main goal. That's my main objective," he said. "That's why I try to come and work hard every day and do what the coaches tell me to do, because they know what it takes."