The stars and storylines for the NCAA Tournament in Columbia
Before Duke’s Zion Williamson and Murray State’s Ja Morant were leading their teams into the 2019 NCAA Tournament as two of the biggest stars in college basketball, the two were teammates for the South Carolina Hornets AAU team and had big plans for their futures.
Williamson was a freshman in high school and Morant was a sophomore when the two played on the same AAU team and discussed what it would be like to help put South Carolina on the map as a basketball state.
Now, Williamson and Morant are projected to be two of the top five picks in the 2019 NBA draft. Even though neither player is playing college basketball in South Carolina, Williamson believes they have accomplished their mission.
“Especially with me, Ja Morant and Devontae Shuler, we were all three on that Hornets team,” Williamson said at last week’s ACC Tournament. “When I was in ninth grade at the time and they were in 10th, we talked about going to college and trying to put South Carolina on the map. You just hope it’s going to happen, but to see all three of us come this far, you’ve just got to thank God.”
Williamson, from Spartanburg Day School, has led Duke to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and is expected to be the first overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
Morant, from Crestwood High in Sumter, has Murray State as a No. 12 seed entering the tourney behind his 25 points per game. The Racers will face No. 5 seed Marquette in the first round.
Bleacher Report named Williamson and Morant the No. 1 and No. 2 players in this year’s edition of March Madness. They also are two of the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy, which is presented annually to the best player in the country.
Shuler, who Williamson also mentioned, is the third-leading scorer for an Ole Miss team that earned an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play in Columbia on Friday.
There are plenty of other players with South Carolina ties set to take center stage in the Big Dance, including Chevez Goodwin from Wofford and UNC’s Seventh Woods.
“I think we’re starting to get our respect now,” Williamson said.
Woods in particular was one of the first players to bring national attention to South Carolina during the social media era. While Williamson has had plenty of videos and dunks go viral, Woods’ “mixtape” on YouTube from when he was 14 years old has more than 15 million views.
Williamson didn’t grow up wanting to be like Woods because he wanted to be his own person, but he definitely respects the Tar Heels’ guard.
“Seventh was the man. When his mixtape dropped, he changed the game,” Williamson said. “Him, Tevin Mack, a lot of people form South Carolina, they kind of started putting South Carolina on the map.”
While there will be several players from the state of South Carolina playing in the NCAA Tournament, Clemson and South Carolina will not be. The only school from the state that did make the tourney is Wofford, which earned a 7 seed after going 18-0 in the Southern Conference and winning the SoCon tourney.
Even though Williamson is not playing for an in-state school, he insists he’ll never forget where he came from.
“No matter where I’m at, I’m going to always rep South Carolina,” he said. “It’s my state.”
NCAA Tournament players with ties to South Carolina
Jordan Bowden (Tennessee) – Played prep school year at 22 Feet Academy in Greenville
Robert Braswell (Syracuse) – Played at Blythewood High School
Jordan Bruner (Yale) – Played at Spring Valley High School
Gabe Bryant (Gardner-Webb) – Played at Dorman High School (Redshirting this year)
DJ Burns (Tennessee) – Played at York Prep High School (Redshirting this year)
Carier Diarra (Kansas State) – Played at West Florence High School
Ibrahim Doumbia (Central Florida) – Played at South Carolina his freshman year in 2017-18, sitting out transfer season
Malik Dunbar (Auburn) – Played at Spring Valley High School
Chevez Goodwin (Wofford) – Played at Hammond High School
Deriante Jenkins (VCU) – Began high school career at Lake Marion before finishing at Hargrave Military
Jake Lanford (Yale) – Played at Porter-Gaud High School
Ja’ Morant (Murray State) – Played at Crestwood High School
Matthew Pegram (Wofford) – Played at Wando High School
Devontae Shuler (Mississippi) – Began high school career at Irmo before transferring to Oak Hill
Zion Williamson (Duke) – Played at Spartanburg Day High School
Seventh Woods (North Carolina) – Played at Hammond High School
Eli Wright (St. John’s) – Played at 22 Feet Academy in Greenville
*Bold = will be playing at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia in NCAA Tournament