When it comes to USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin’s 2013 recruiting class, it is possible the last recruit proves to be the most important once the season begins.
Jaylen Shaw, a 6-1, 175-pound point guard who led Hartsville High to consecutive Class 3A state championships, rounded out Martin’s first full class by signing his letter-of-intent Friday afternoon. The ceremony had been delayed for a week so that it could be a part of a school-wide celebration of several state championships.
In Shaw, the Gamecocks land a much-needed point guard. For the first half of the season, he will be the lone true point guard on the team as Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson completes his eligibility waiting period and Bruce Ellington plays football.
Shaw’s recruitment unfolded late in the recruiting period. Shaw progressed through his junior and senior seasons with offers from Big South schools and a few larger schools and seemingly had settled on committing to Tulane before USC came calling.
Once the Gamecocks got involved with Shaw this spring, so, too, did Clemson and several other schools. In the meantime, Shaw led Hartsville past Eastside for that second consecutive state title, scoring 23 points with eight rebounds and seven assists.
He then joined fellow USC recruits Justin McKie and Sindarious Thornwell in consecutive all-star games. He said that experience helped him gain the confidence that he could play alongside such top talent and do so with good rapport.
“Sindarious helped me out a lot, made me look better as a player,” Shaw said with a laugh, referring to the Columbia vs. South Carolina All-Star game, in which he scored 36 points and shared co-MVP honors with Thornwell. “Justin he’s a tremendous player as well. Very skilled, very fundamental and plays safe, the way I play. So, I really like both of them.”
Hartsville coach Aric Samuels said he had no doubts Shaw would be able to step in at USC and contribute immediately.
“He always rises to the occasion,” Samuels said. “He has the opportunity to enroll in summer school and get down to the University of South Carolina early and get into the weight training program. He will have a chance to improve a lot before heading into that challenge.”
A key to Shaw’s game is a willingness to do other things besides scoring.
“I knew (he) would do what needed to be done to win,” Samuels said. “If that meant Jaylen had to score 30 points, or Jaylen had to score 10 points with 10 assists and 10 rebounds.”
Despite his ability to score in bunches, Shaw said he prefers to be complementary.
“I’m a point guard; I’m not much of a scorer unless I have to,” Shaw said. “I love to share the ball and get my teammates the ball and letting them score the ball.”
Another appeal of USC was that of proximity to family. Shaw’s parents – Calvin and Ronda – both played basketball for Hartsville. Ronda won a state title. Both said on Friday they were happy their son was staying close to home.
“It is close to home,” Shaw said. “It’s a chance for me to play for my home state.”
Samuels was excited about that prospect as well.
“Choosing USC is the best fit for him because he’s a family guy,” Samuels said. “He had to turn down a great university like Tulane and Clemson came in late, but now he gets a chance to play in downtown Columbia and turn that program around.”
If Shaw is a part of a USC renaissance, it may have as much to do with a history of success as much as his talent. In addition to seeking out physical players with length who were compatible with his philosophy, Martin also has concentrated on players whose teams have had an abundance of success.
Hartsville won the state championship this season after rattling off 27 consecutive victories. McKie led Irmo to an unbeaten season and a state title as well. Another incoming freshman, Desmond Ringer, led his school to its first-ever state championship in Georgia.
“We’re excited about Jaylen Shaw,” Martin said. “The young man is an ultimate competitor. He’s proven that he’s a winner by getting back-to-back state championships.”
That hunger to win cuts both ways. Shaw said it was after talking to Martin he realized USC was a program that wanted the same things he did.
“They became my top pick because they were so dedicated to winning and getting better and they were so ready to achieve big goals,” Shaw said. “And I’m all about achieving big goals.”