Lexington coach Bailey Harris said it’s a good time to be a fan of boys basketball in the Columbia area and South Carolina with the talent in the state.
“I think it is the best individual talent in the 30 years I have been in the state. The depth of talent is amazing,” Harris said. “When we were doing preseason lists for the coaches association, we were leaving off some guys who were going to play Division I. And it stretches all across the state and in all classes. It is as good of group as I can remember.”
The Midlands has five of the eight players on the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Elite Boys list, and 11 players signed in the early period this month. Nine signed with Division I schools, including former Irmo standout Devontae Shuler who’s now at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. That number will grow as several other senior prospects will sign in the spring.
“I think we are now seeing the closest with what we had when I played in high school, and there was almost a college prospect on every team,” Columbia native and former USC point guard Carey Rich said. “There is a lot of momentum in the Columbia area and South Carolina as far as basketball recruiting. It is becoming a destination for college coaches. We can attribute it lately with guys like Tevin Mack, P.J. Dozier and Seventh Woods coming through.”
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Rich was a member of C.A. Johnson 1989 state title team when Columbia was a hotbed of future Division I and NBA talent. From 1980s to late 1990s standouts included Tyrone Corbin (A.C. Flora), Xavier McDaniel (A.C. Flora), Stanley Roberts (Lower Richland) and Jo Jo English (Lower Richland). Jermaine O’Neal (Eau Claire) came along a few years later.
It’s too early to say if any NBA players will come out of this crop, but there’s no denying the talent.
Gray Collegiate’s Jalek Felton is the best of the seniors. The nephew of NBA player Raymond Felton is the No. 1 ranked combo guard in the country by 247Sports and 24th overall prospect by ESPN. He averaged 24.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists at Mullins last year and has scored more than 2,000 points in his high school career.
Other top seniors and Division I signees include Lower Richland’s Clyde Trapp (Clemson) and Ja’Cor Nelson (Campbell), Dutch Fork’s Jordan Davis (Dayton), James Reese (Buffalo) and Blythewood’s Keith Matthews (Stetson).
There’s plenty of talent in the SCISA ranks. Heathwood Hall’s Josh Caldwell (Army) and Cardinal Newman’s Christiaan Jones (Stetson) have signed with Division I schools, a year after Hammond’s Seventh Woods (North Carolina) and Chevez Goodwin (College of Charleston) did.
Zion Williamson, the state’s top prospect and one of the top players in the country for the Class of 2018, attends Spartanburg Day.
“When we came through, we thought SCISA schools, it was mainly for academics,” Rich said. “But then you had guys like Austin Ajukwa (Cardinal Newman/Charlotte) and Milton Jennings (Pinewood Prep/Clemson) and then Seventh Woods, when he decided to play at Hammond really increased the profile and level of talent in those schools. There isn’t that much separation between the private or public schools.”
The high-profile talent won’t be gone after this year, as A.C. Flora’s Christian Brown and Gray Collegiate’s Juwan Gary are two of the best sophomores in the country. In the latest ESPN Top 25 for Class of 2019, Brown is 10th and Gary 12th.
“I am so excited about the talent in the Midlands and it is going to continue to get better,” A.C. Flora coach Joshua Staley said.