From the tips of his hair to the number on his chest to the city he was playing in, Trae Hannibal was a slam-dunking poster boy for South Carolina on Tuesday afternoon.
The recent USC basketball commitment was at Ridge View High School, a main attraction during a series of exhibition games put on by Phenom Hoops recruiting service. Hannibal is an explosive, 6-foot-2, 200-pound point guard. He pledged to the Gamecocks on June 1, giving Frank Martin a fully engaged first member of his 2019 class.
Hannibal’s hair? It’s a shade of red that can be confused with garnet at first glance. “It’s a little bright,” he said, “but it’s Gamecocks though.”
The number Hannibal wore for his native Hartsville High? Zero, the famous digit he plans to fashion at USC. “It was always special because I’m a big (Russell) Westbrook fan,” he said. “But wearing it after him (Sindarius Thornwell), it’s a blessing.”
Hannibal traveled some 60 miles west Tuesday. The drive, taken with Hartsville coach Yusuf English and the rest of the Red Foxes, is one that his family will soon get used to. Hannibal, despite offers from schools as far away as Oklahoma State, chose to stay home.
“It means a lot,” said Edward Wilson, Hannibal’s father. “There were a lot of other people talking with him and everything, but it meant a lot to be playing in-state, playing under coach Martin, who is a real great coach. It meant a lot.”
Hannibal, ranked by Phenom Hoops as the state’s fifth-best player, is the first of 2019’s biggest names to make his college decision. Josiah James, No. 1 on that list, has Duke and Michigan State offers. No. 2, Juwan Gary, recently visited Alabama. No. 3, Christian Brown, is coming off a visit to UNLV. No. 4, D.J. Burns, reclassified and signed with Tennessee.
“A lot of the response has been they respect Trae for it,” English said. “Not wanting to wait for more offers to make a decision, he got what he wanted. They respect him for his courage and his convictions, not allowing people to talk him out of doing stuff. They really respect what his decision is.
“Especially people around the state who believe in South Carolina basketball and just the ability for kids to stay in state, they really respect the fact that he wanted to stay in-state.”
James, who helped Team USA capture gold in last week’s U18 FIBA Americas Championship, teams with Hannibal on the AAU circuit. The Charleston native was quick to reach out to Hannibal on June 1.
“I changed my phone number, so I knew it was going to be hectic,” Hannibal said. “Somehow (Josiah) got a hold of me real fast. He was happy for me. Whatever he does, I’ll be happy with it, too.”
Hannibal’s now in a unique position where he can play part-time recruiting coordinator. His early commitment allows time for Gamecock-heavy communication with the likes of James and company. He wouldn’t reveal his plans Tuesday, but noted: “I've got something in the bag.”
In the meantime, Hannibal can play without the weight of a pending decision pulling him down. He looked relaxed Tuesday as he combined for 48 points (including 32 against Chico Carter’s 34 for Cardinal Newman) over Hartsville’s first two games.
“I’m mainly trying to get my teammates involved,” he said. “I’ve already made a name for myself, basically. They’re still building that up. So it’s just getting my other teammates involved, letting them get their name out there.”
But he doesn’t mind finding opportunities for himself, either. During an early win against Myrtle Beach’s Christian Academy, he split a double team en route to an emphatic slam.
Later, he swished a couple elbow jumpers.
“The biggest thing for him is his shooting off the dribble,” English said. “I’ve said consistently throughout his recruiting process that’s what he’s trying to improve on. It’s almost like he gets caught in between. He’s so explosive going to the basket that sometimes it’s hard for him to pull up off his dribble.
“But he’s been working on it. His catch-and-shoot has gotten tremendously better. His midrange has gotten tremendously better. He needs to work on his release, which we have been working on consistently.
“Other than that, defensively his intensity is always high. He flies all over the place.”
Just follow those garnet tips.
“I was happy to be down here today,” Hannibal said. “We go to USC on Friday as well. Just happy to be down here.”