ELKHART - Before Danny Boussom's first birthday, his dad, Steve, had already hung a tennis ball from the basement ceiling in their home and was routinely picking up Danny so the pre-toddler could take swings at it.
"I was a little nuts back then," confesses Steve, a tennis lover and a fair enough player himself.
But even Steve couldn't have reasonably projected, and insists he wasn't obsessively shooting for, what was about to come - his son routinely "cleaning my clock" on the tennis court by the time the son turned 10.
Today, Danny Boussom of Goshen is 13 and the No. 1-ranked age 14-and-under player in Northern Indiana by the U.S. Tennis Association.
He's also rated No. 50 in the Midwest (encompassing all of five states plus part of another), and is expected to move up to the 30s after a break-through third-place finish in a USTA national event last weekend at Columbus, Ohio.
Danny says he has no memory of hitting that ball in that basement at age 1, but his memories do go back fairly far nonetheless.
"I remember going to the Goshen College courts when I was 2 or 3 and we'd be hitting at the service line - because I couldn't hit from the baseline - and these college girls would walk by and say, 'Aww, he's so cute,'" Danny recalls. "That would annoy me so much."
Now Danny typically annoys whoever's on the other side of the net with his caliber of play.
In the Columbus event, featuring a field of 46, the lanky lefty allowed just 12 games while winning each of his first four matches in straight sets. He lost his semifinal when the eventual champion rallied for a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 win, but roared right back to take the third-place match 6-1, 6-0.
Danny says he's playing out of his own love of the sport, not out of any pressure from his dad, who remains his coach.
"In January, I actually wanted to quit and took two weeks off, but that's the only time I've felt that way," he says. "(Other than that) I've never felt that way. I really never get tired of it, because when I get home I refuel with all that food and have the rest of the evening to do whatever I want."
Danny also enjoys basketball, running, golf, hanging with friends and participating in church activities, but says he feels a sense of power and self-reliance unlike any other when he's playing tennis.
"When you're in the middle of a point and it's like 95 degrees outside in the middle of a match, and you can outlast a guy, there's this feeling that it's all you," Danny says. "You have the choice to stay out there all day, and you can do it because you're fit enough. And when you do put a shot away, there's no feeling like it."
Danny, who is 5-foot-11 as he enters eighth grade, lives in the Wa-Nee district, but is home-schooled by his mom, Melissa.
He anticipates he'll continue with the home-school route once he starts high school - "so I can train on my schedule" - but even if he attends a traditional high school, he probably won't play tennis there, where he'd rarely be challenged.
As it is, Danny practices six days a week virtually year-round at the Lakeland Tennis Academy in Niles, Mich., putting in three to four hours a day on weekdays and up to five hours on Saturdays. He says he hits with college and post-college players at the club "who are better than me, so that helps me."
Danny credits Lakeland tennis director Auggie Guimaraes with talking him though his two-week layoff in January, and credits his dad with immeasurable assistance.
"My dad schedules tournaments, practices, everything and gets me to the club every day," Danny says of his father, a 1984 Memorial High graduate who played No. 2 singles for the Chargers and is now a self-employed certified public accountant. "He's always a great supporter. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for him, and I won't go anywhere if he doesn't keep helping me out."
Where Danny wants to go is something he's not shy about.
"I want to make a ton of money as a pro player and win more grand slams than anybody else," Danny says without flinching when asked about his goals.
Um, got a backup plan?
"If I'm not good enough to be a pro, play Division I in college," Danny says. "I guess what I really want to say is that Jesus has given me the ability to do what I'm doing, and if He wants me to, I think I can keep going all the way. We'll see."
Danny Boussom by the numbers
1 - Boussom's U.S. Tennis Association Northern Indiana ranking among players ages 14 and under. Northern Indiana includes all of the state from Kokomo northward. Boussom turns 14 on Nov. 5.
2 - Siblings. Sister Lindsay, 15, is entering her sophomore year at Elkhart Christian, where she participates in softball and cheerleading, and sister Lilly, 11, is a sixth-grader active in volleyball.
35 - Minutes from Boussom's Goshen home to Lakeland Tennis Academy in Niles, Mich., where he practices six days a week. His parents, Steve and Melissa, provide the transportation.
40 - Tournament titles Boussom has won. That's out of 92 tournaments entered, the first as an 8-year-old in September 2006.
50 - Boussom's USTA Midwest ranking among players ages 14 and under. The Midwest includes all of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of West Virginia.
70 - Boussom's winning percentage in all USTA matches.
748 - Boussom's national ranking among all 14-and-under players, though he is expected to move into the 300s with his third-place finish at last weekend's July national in Columbus, Ohio.