Carmelo Anthony, of Syracuse, gets a hug from his mother,...

Carmelo Anthony, of Syracuse, gets a hug from his mother, Mary, after he was the third pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. (June 26, 2003) Credit: AP

There are few secrets on Myrtle Avenue in West Baltimore. Carmelo Anthony's family had been living there for only a few weeks when Eric Skeeters began hearing about a hot young basketball player who had just moved in from Brooklyn.

"I went right over there to check the kid out," remembered Skeeters, now an assistant coach at the University of South Florida who then was the junior varsity coach at Baltimore's St. Francis Academy. The kid was Tavares Graham, Anthony's older cousin, who lived with the family. Skeeters began coaching Graham, giving him rides to and from practices. More often than not, the 8-year-old Anthony would tag along in the backseat of Graham's car.

"Carmelo was just this kid coming along for the ride," Skeeters said with a laugh. "Hard to believe."

It sure is. Today the kid who came along for the ride is the man in the driver's seat. For the entire first half of the season, Anthony coyly kept fans on pins and needles as the Knicks and Nets tried to figure out a way to pry him out of Denver.

A late bloomer

During this "Melodrama," much was made of Anthony's Brooklyn roots, and you can bet that much more will be made now that the Knicks have landed him. The truth, however, is that there's much more Baltimore than there is Brooklyn in Anthony. He moved from the borough when he was 8 and wasn't even considered a legitimate basketball talent until years later when he was a sophomore at Towson Catholic outside of Baltimore.

This is a fact that Anthony himself acknowledges in "It's Just the Beginning," the autobiography for kids that he wrote when he was just 21.

"Not many of my homeboys would have predicted I'd play in the NBA," he wrote. "Back in the day, between the ages of 6-13, I had trouble breathing, let alone running up and down the court. Asthma squeezed my lungs glove-tight."

According to the book, Anthony stopped having asthma attacks as a teenager.

Anthony was born in Brooklyn on May 29, 1984, and first picked up a basketball there. He spent the first eight years of his life living in a ground-floor apartment in the project complex on Loraine Street in Red Hook. Not far from the front door of that building is a concrete court, and Anthony logged time out there with kids in the neighborhood. He must have had some skills, because when he was 7, he participated in a tournament called the Paradise Classic and won the MVP trophy for his age group.

Family relocated

Long before he could develop into the next Brooklyn playground legend, however, his family moved. Anthony's father died of cancer when he was 2, and after hanging on for six more years in Brooklyn, his mother decided to head to Baltimore, where she had some family.

Skeeters said Anthony became the unofficial ball boy for his team, and Skeeters said Anthony started referring to him as his godfather. Skeeters let Anthony come along on the team bus, and worked out with him after practices. Though Skeeters moved on to the college ranks before Anthony was in high school, the two remain close. Skeeters remembers Anthony as painfully skinny - as a high school freshman he was just under 6 feet tall and weighed 120 pounds - and partly because of that he failed to make the school's varsity team that season.

"He was all arms and legs. He was like a string bean," said Mike Daniel, his coach at Towson Catholic. "But he was very competitive and very confident. Carmelo thought he was the best player on the court. He always does."

By his sophomore year, he almost always was. Two things happened when Anthony was 15 that changed his life. The first was he grew five inches. And the second was he lost Graham.

Graham, a 6-3 guard that Skeeters said was a sure Division I prospect, had begun skipping school and hanging out on the street. He split time between Baltimore and Brooklyn, where he had a child. Skeeters said that while Graham was visiting his child in Brooklyn, the boyfriend of the child's mother killed Graham by shooting him in the back.

"I think the thing that turned his life around was that tragedy," Skeeters said. "You have to understand what the neighborhood he lived in was like. He walked out his steps, and he was surrounded by drugs. There were clowns standing right there on the corner.

"Carmelo's mom and I were really scared about which way his life was going to go after Tavares was killed. But I think Carmelo saw what happened, and decided it wasn't going to be his life. His friends were mostly athletes, and he made a decision to stay away from all that."

Victory over LeBron

At Daniel's urging, Anthony enrolled at Oak Hill Academy, the Virginia boarding school and basketball power, for his senior year. Anthony, Skeeters said, needed to get his ACT score up.

One of the biggest highlights of Anthony's prep career came when he scored 34 points to lead Oak Hill to a 72-66 win over LeBron James' Akron St. Vincent-St Mary High School. James, a junior who scored 36 in the loss, had struck up a friendship with Anthony the summer before at a USA Basketball Developmental Festival. The game established a rivalry that could be played out on a regular basis now that Anthony is on the Knicks, an Eastern Conference rival of the Heat.

After leading Syracuse to a national championship during his freshman year in 2003, Anthony left school and was drafted No. 3 overall by Denver, behind James and Darko Milicic.

Since then, according to the Carmelo Anthony Foundation website, he has taken great pains to remember his Baltimore neighborhood, contributing $1.5 million to build a youth development center there.

Could the same be coming to Brooklyn now that Anthony is a Knick? Anthony has sponsored a summer basketball tournament there, but so far it seems as though his heart, and his cash, have remained in Baltimore.

Anthony, when asked which city he identified with most, repeatedly has told reporters: "Born in Brooklyn. Manufactured in Baltimore."