Travon Pearson gathered a bounce pass at the right wing. He needed one dribble to get inside the lane, where he took off with his right foot and dunked with two hands, bending the rim and rattling the backboard.
A crowd of roughly 100 was spread across a few rows of bleachers on both sides of a court inside Heathwood Hall’s auxiliary gym last Saturday afternoon. Prior to Pearson’s team taking the floor against the South Carolina Stars in a Big Shots AAU event, an opposing coach mentioned to no one in particular: “I just passed this kid in the bathroom. He had a jersey on. And he’s got a beard. How tall is he?”
“7-2,” someone responded.
“7-2?!?” he replied. “And we've got to play him??”
Within minutes, Pearson was slamming through the layup line, slowing turning up the volume on one of the state’s best kept secrets.
Yes, Coach, Pearson is 7-foot-2. And, yes, he’s only 14 years old.
Pearson, an eighth grader at Lee Central Middle School in Bishopville, is playing this spring for coach Bobby Richardson and Team Wall Southeast Marion. He’s a 2022 college prospect already in size 15 shoes.
“Last year he was in seventh grade and he was 6-5,” Richardson said. “So he grew from 6-5 to what he is now. And he’s really like a guard. It’s a transition of him knowing his body and getting familiar with the post.
“But I’ve measured him. He’s 7-2, almost 7-2 ½.”
Pearson’s only dunk came in warmups Saturday. He blocked a few shots and grabbed some rebounds, but the adjustment to growing so tall so fast is still very much ongoing.
Lance Gurley, who helps lead the Team Wall SE program, was connected to Pearson through the teenager’s trainer.
“We just got him less than a month ago,” Gurley said. “His trainer has worked with us on numerous occasions. He told me that he had a kid that was 6-11. He’s kind of still raw, but he can shoot the ball well because he was training him as a guard initially.
“And then he said he’s in a bad situation – this, that and the third. He said as an eighth grader, he’d love for him to be a part of our program. So I reached out to Coach Bobby and I told him about him and he went and met the family. So they just started to let him come and we allowed him to be a part of the team.”
The charting of Pearson’s growth has a few accounts. Richardson mentioned the eight-inch spurt in a year. Gurley said he’s shot up from 6-11 since the season started.
When asked how he’s adapted to the sudden rise, Pearson said: “Good.”
He’s a quiet kid with a deep voice. His favorite part about basketball? “Shooting and dunking.” His favorite player? “Kyrie.” His career goal? “Play in the NBA.”
“He’s quiet-natured,” Gurley said. “I think as we can instill in him certain things, certain values, just make sure that he knows we’re there as a family first – not necessarily just about basketball – I think that we’ll be able to continue to help get him to where he wants to be, being a kid of that stature.”
There’s minimal college interest in Pearson for now, but Gurley said he’s been hearing from prep schools and basketball academies.
“And since he’s played in Columbia, the cat’s kind of out of the bag,” Gurley said. “It’s all over the place. I know people have been reaching out to him, I know people have been coming to the school and trying to meet up with him and things of that nature.
“Hopefully we’re able to hold on to him. That’s one of my concerns. Even if we don’t, hopefully whoever’s angling to get him has the best interest in mind. And that’s development. He just has to continue to develop.”
Gurley has a plan.
“I don’t see him getting very thick,” Gurley said. “I think he can be more Kevin Garnett-style – kind of slim, but pack on muscle as he goes. He can play with his back to the basket, but it appears he’s going to be more of a face-up forward.
“I think he needs to continue to focus on timing as far as shot-blocking, mastering that, and rebounding. From a skill standpoint, we just need to make sure he’s focusing on footwork because I think that’ll be a key to his growth.”
Eventually, Pearson will save a couple slams for the game.
“Being 7-2,” Richardson said, “you’re going to have endless opportunities once you nurture your craft.
“He’s gonna be all right.”