Demetrius Henry grew up in what he considered the “slums” of Dayton, Ohio.
“Where I come from, you don’t get a Division I scholarship,” he told a packed gymnasium at Oakland Park Northeast High in south Florida on Wednesday. “I came down here and decided to change my life around.”
The 6-foot-9 standout who played his final year at Faith Baptist Christian School in Brandon, Fla., will be taking his talents to Columbia and not — to the surprise of many in the room — South Beach and the Miami Hurricanes.
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Henry silenced the sporadic chants of “Canes” and “The U” by slipping on a Gamecocks hat to make the commitment official.
A consensus 4-star recuit, Henry gives Frank Martin’s second recruiting class something it sorely needed — an immediate threat in the post.
Henry’s recruitment included Clemson and a large swath of SEC country, but was narrowed to Miami and South Carolina by early this year.
Martin and assistant coach Lamont Evans had been recruiting Henry during their time at Kansas State and, according to Henry, that contact did not slow once the staff moved to Columbia.
Perhaps as an indicator of how dire the need to bulk up had become for this class, Martin eventually took the lead in the recruiting.
“It wasn’t just his assistant coaches recruiting me. It was him,” Henry said. “I just believe in what he was doing at South Carolina and I want to be a part of that.”
Another person who wanted Henry to be a part of it was fellow incoming freshman Sindarius Thornwell. Considered one of the nation’s top talents in the 2013 class, Thornwell exchanged phone numbers with Henry in October and the two have talked roughly twice a week ever since.
“We’re great friends,” Henry said. “I saw how much he believed in Frank Martin and I’m like, wow, this is going to be something special.”
Henry earned first-team all-state honors after averaging 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his senior season at Northeast. Upon graduation, he reclassified and played another season for Faith Baptist Christian, where he averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Northeast coach Gerald Gillion said Henry carried a 3.0 grade-point average and scored a 21 on the ACT, downplaying talk that Henry was not able to qualify for college out of Northeast.
Though he believed in Martin and was building a strong friendship with Thornwell, it was not until last week that Henry had settled on USC over Miami.
“I was 50-50,” he said. “There were nights I would wake up and I said I’m definitely going to Miami, then in the morning I would wake up (thinking) I’m definitely going to South Carolina.”
Henry’s commitment gives USC the potential of seven incoming freshmen and eight new players overall with Villanova transfer Ty Johnson becoming eligible for the second semester of the 2013-14 school year.
The large class means at least four current members of the team will have to transfer if all are to be accommodated. So far, no current Gamecocks have announced their intent to leave the team.