Clemson University

Lacing 'em up one last time

Daniel's DeAndre Hopkins (44) chases a ball in front of Lower Richland's Edward Stephens (11) during the Class 3A boys Upper State finals at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010.
Daniel's DeAndre Hopkins (44) chases a ball in front of Lower Richland's Edward Stephens (11) during the Class 3A boys Upper State finals at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010.

No matter what happens Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena, Deandre Hopkins will wake up Sunday morning a football player.

Hopkins, among the headliners of Clemson's 2010 football recruiting class, will say farewell to his basketball career as he tries to lead Daniel High to its first state championship since the program won titles in 1966 and '67. The Lions square off against Lake City for the Class 3A title.

"Soon as we win Saturday, I really don't have too much time to celebrate," said the Lions' 6-foot-3 guard. "I've got to get in the gym and start working out and commit myself to being the best football player I can be in college."

"I'm trying to enjoy it (basketball) now and soak it in, because soon my life is going to be all about football," Hopkins said Monday at the state championship news conference.

Giving up his first sport will be difficult. Hopkins said he has enjoyed being successful in two athletic endeavors for years.

"Not too many players can say that they are truly multi-dimensional that way," said Hopkins, who played wide receiver and safety for the Lions as they reached the Upper State final in November. In December, as the Lions' basketball team started the season on a six-game winning streak, Hopkins took a break to play in the Shrine Bowl.

Hopkins' transition between the two sports has been relatively smooth, basketball coach Jeff Maness said. When Hopkins returned to the team after football season, Maness said his ball-handling and shot were "a little rough around the edges."

"But you can tell he's not just a football player playing basketball," Maness said of the point guard, who leads the Lions in rebounds, steals and assists and averages 11.5 points per game.

"Good athletes don't always make good basketball players, and you can't just walk in off the street and do what he does. His biggest strength is his court vision. The unselfishness, too, is a team thing, and maybe that starts with him"

Hopkins said basketball was the sport that came naturally to him, and allowed him to develop the athleticism that has propelled him on the football field.

"I am a different athlete on the court than I am on the field," Hopkins said. "In basketball I'm more laid-back, less aggressive than I am in football."

"When I step on the court, I think a lot more about getting my teammates involved - that's the sport. In football, you get tackled by a gang of people, so once I get my hands on the ball, I kind of feel like it's me against the other team," he said.

It's a challenge Hopkins enjoys, and part of what is motivating him to focus solely on football - for now.

"I already talked to (Clemson basketball) coach (Oliver) Purnell, and he told me that if I decide I want to, I can not just be on the team, but play," Hopkins said. "It's possible that one day I might want to get back on the court, I can't say I won't. But for my freshman year, I'm going to focus on football."

Maness will be sad to see one of his best players give up the sport.

"As long as he's happy, I told him, that's what's important. I'll just go watch him play football like I have been at Daniel," Maness said.

Hard as it will be to say goodbye to his coach, teammates and the sport, Hopkins is hoping to give them all a parting gift.

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