Mark McClam’s initial vision for Saturday’s Hammond-Spring Valley basketball game was grand.
The Skyhawks coach foresaw the two schools battling it out on a neutral site, namely Colonial Life Arena or the Carolina Coliseum, with a national audience watching on ESPN.
“I had grandioso ideas of pulling that off,” he said. “Then it fell back to playing at Spring Valley.”
No problem, coach. The stage is plenty big enough.
The two teams will square off at 7:30 p.m. with a pair of the nation’s most coveted prospects taking the court. For the Vikings, it is P.J. Dozier, a South Carolina signee who chose the Gamecocks over Louisville, Georgetown and Michigan. In the other corner is the Skyhawks’ Seventh Woods, a junior who has drawn the attention of USC, North Carolina and a host of others.
“For them to be in the same state, we’ve never seen them on the court together, other then when they were younger,” Vikings coach Perry Dozier said. “So, it’ll be a big rivalry to see these kids play against each other.”
Anticipation has grown steadily since the matchup between the two nationally ranked guards first came to be. Spring Valley officials say the game is a sellout in the 2,800-seat gym.
“People are excited about just seeing two great athletes,” coach Dozier said. “(To) say who is the best player and all that, I don’t know if that’s what they’re looking for. But I think they’re looking for, more than anything, to see these kids play well.”
The Vikings are hoping to have Dozier at full strength by tipoff. He scored seven points in about 15 minutes during his first game back Monday against Sumter after having his surgically repaired knee scoped a few weeks ago. The plan was to bring him along slowly on Thursday against Zion Lutheran, when he had six points..
Woods is healthy after missing a few weeks during the summer with a wrist injury. He’s averaging 16 points, four rebounds, four steals and four assists for the Skyhawks despite playing just a couple of minutes in a lopsided victory earlier this season.
Both teams are off to hot starts. The Vikings are 4-0 – including a 1-point win against Sumter on Monday – despite not having much of Dozier or 6-7 forward Jordan Bruner, another highly touted junior who might miss the season with a knee injury. The Skyhawks are 6-1, with their loss coming to Ballard (Ky.).
“I don’t know whether I’m excited about P.J. versus Seventh as much as I’m excited about Hammond versus Spring Valley,” McClam said. “Whether they guard each other is another thing.”
Both coaches, each a South Carolina native, have seen their share of talent come through the Midlands. But showdowns like this have been few and far between.
“I’m more excited about the talent level that’s ... in the Midlands and all the nationally ranked players that are now surfacing in the Columbia area,” McClam said. “I’m just excited that we can provide a Saturday night matchup that people in the city are excited about. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Dreher’s Tevin Mack, Irmo’s Devontae Shuler and Mullins’ Jalek Felton represent more opportunities for high-profile games in the years to come. But for now, the focus will be on Spring Valley and Hammond, with two elite prospects in the spotlight.
Columbia “has always been good at basketball,” Dozier said. “But now that we’re getting nationally recognized, I think it’s a great thing and a big accomplishment. It’s really exciting. I think it’s good for the kids and good for the state more than anything.”