When Murray State’s Ja Morant was taken with the second pick in the NBA Draft, he heard from the head basketball coach at South Carolina.
Frank Martin’s relationship with Morant didn’t end when the skinny guard from Crestwood High School committed to the Racers in September 2016. It didn’t end when Morant rose from unknown to a college basketball star. It didn’t end when Morant became the future of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Morant confirmed as much Sunday when speaking to reporters at the South Carolina Pro-Am tournament in Heathwood Hall.
“He definitely congratulated me on everything that I’ve accomplished,” Morant said. “I know I didn’t go to South Carolina, but that’s just the type of person he is. He still has that relationship with players that didn’t even go to his school. I mean, it’s an honor to get an offer from South Carolina and have that relationship with Frank Martin, who’s a great dude, a great coach.”
USC was the only Power 5 school to offer Morant a scholarship. The Gamecocks also offered Spartanburg’s Zion Williamson, who chose Duke and eventually was drafted No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I know their families, I know everybody there,” Martin said before the draft in June. “They’re great human beings. When you couple that with their physical talent as basketball players and the fact that anyone can interview them from any country in this world and the first thing that comes out of those kids’ mouths is how much they love South Carolina.
“I hope it’s something real powerful not just for basketball, but for this state.”
Morant didn’t play Sunday, but he stayed and watched, among others, Hartsville’s Trae Hannibal compete in the Pro-Am championship. The Gamecock freshman guard is friends with Morant. He’s played on Morant’s backyard court in Dalzell.
Hannibal, who scored 28 more points Sunday, perhaps led the Pro-Am in dunks.
“He’s always been athletic,” Morant said, “so I’m not even surprised at the dunks he does.”