At 6-4, 220 pounds, there is almost nothing diminutive about Terry Wallace.
Except maybe his nickname.
Known as “Baby Shaq,” the 13-year-old seventh-grader wears size 14 shoes and has made a colossal impact in his middle school and on the basketball court.
TV cameras are a common interruption at Ruben Dario Middle School, a magnet school where Wallace studies aerospace, mathematics and science. He sometimes is called out of class to meet with reporters.
“This is really the first time that we’ve ever gotten this much publicity for one kid,” said assistant principal Harrabey Friedman.
“Sizewise, I’ve had some big kids,” he added. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one with the combination of height, physical structure … and his intellect, too.”
Wallace is impossible to miss as he rambles through the school’s hallways. He stands head and shoulders above the moving masses of teens and pre-teens, many of whom yell “Hey, Baby Shaq” as he passes by.
He gets his nickname from the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal - who himself was a massive middle-schooler. As a 12-year-old in a military family stationed in West Germany, O’Neal easily topped 6 feet. He now stands at 7-1, 300 pounds.
“I’ll probably be bigger, I don’t know,” said Wallace.
Doctors have told him he could grow to 7-2.
Wallace does not brag to teammates of his strength or speak much about the possibility of playing in college or the NBA. He says that’s not his style.
As a sixth-grader last year who dunked for fun on the 8-foot rims, he tried not to concern himself with toppling the other players.
“I just like playing the game,” he said. “I didn’t think about anybody else.”
Off the court, Wallace says he’s focused on school. If he doesn’t land a spot in the NBA, he says he wants something to fall back on.
“If you break your leg or something and you don’t have an education, you’ll be out,” he said.
Despite the marquee nickname and the implied pressure it contains, Wallace has not been affected by his celebrity status, says his mother, Rochelle Wallace.
“I never thought at this young age my son would be in this starlight,” says Ms. Wallace, who played basketball for the University of Miami in the mid-1970s. “But being that it’s here, it’s nice. But at the same time, … my child and I have the same mellow homestyle way of living.”
A social worker in Dade County’s schools, she said she has seen the damage a lack of love and communication can do to children. So she said she keeps a tight rein on Wallace, his 16-year-old sister, Florence, and 8-year-old brother, James.
She always has encouraged her children to be involved in athletics or music, though in Terry’s case it wasn’t always easy.
When she tried to sign him up for a football league at age 8, she was told he could not play because he was too big. And he was too inexperienced at the rules to play at a higher level, she said.
“He had to sit out,” she said. “I knew his body was growing and he had to use it.”
So she got him into basketball by age 10. By age 12 he could palm the ball.
Though Terry’s only in seventh grade, Rochelle Wallace said she already has had to teach her son that some people may want to exploit his talent. And though recruiting in high school is illegal, they say they expect it soon.
“Terry may be quiet and may not express, but he has a strong mind when he sees something wrong,” she said. “He knows a lot of crooked dealings have happened with a lot of other players. He knows not to take no money, no gifts from nobody.”
Fame, if it comes at all, will not come easy, and that’s a message the adults in Wallace’s life try to reinforce.
“It’s not going to all come in one big package,” said Ruben Dario coach Billie Long.
“He’ll be a very good high school player, and has potential, with a lot of work on his part . . . maybe onto college. I like to take it one step at a time. But I do see him going on to greater things,” Long said.
Wallace’s size, his deep voice and the expectations for him make it easy to overlook that he’s just a big kid. He is softspoken and likes to “mellow out” to music. His mother just started allowing him to take phone calls from girls.
His teammates, however, see a different Wallace. They see Baby Shaq. And even a baby-sized Shaq is frightening to players going against him for a rebound, they say.
“He almost trucked me once, ran me over,” laughed teammate Ernesto Guevara, 14, a skinny 5-5.
“When we were playing together, he stuffed me twice,” added Eliahoud Billar, 15.
“He blocks my shots most of the time,” said Phil Vargas, 14. “He works really hard to do what he wants to do. He’s not like other players because he wants it to be his job.”