Josiah James wore bright yellow shoes. Trae Hannibal’s were light teal. Watching from above was Frank Martin. He had on a black long-sleeved T-shirt with the familiar South Carolina Gamecock logo across the chest.
The trio stuck out in their own individual ways Friday evening at Spartanburg Christian Academy. This was the beginning of five offseason evaluation periods — or "live periods" — for college coaches at AAU events. Martin was joined in the gym by colleagues from the likes of Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Clemson’s Brad Brownell.
“Phenom Challenge” was the tournament, but James vs. Hannibal was the matchup attracting the most eyes, including Martin’s from a second-floor perch.
Martin has visited with each class of 2019 point guard this month. James, representing TMP out of Charleston, is a five-star prospect USC has offered. The Gamecocks are joined by Virginia, Stanford, Tennessee and others in that club. Hannibal, out of Hartsville, has offers from Oklahoma State, Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston.
“It was really good playing against him,” James said after TMP’s 68-54 win over Hannibal’s Carolina Wolves. “I think he’s really underrated. He’s a great kid. I think he’s one of the top point guards in the nation. And it’s really good playing with him, seeing how our games add up, because I played him when he was at Hartsville this season. He’s gotten a lot better since. I think I have, too.”
James, with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, got the better of Hannibal, who was limited to five points. James, at 6-foot-6, is an ideal fit for Martin and the Gamecocks, who are two seasons removed from a Final Four run that featured a 6-6 P.J. Dozier at PG.
Hannibal, at a sturdy 6-1, 200 pounds, presents dynamic qualities, too. He averaged 16.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists this past season for Hartsville. Playing in front of both Frank Martin and Carolina assistant Chuck Martin at Ben Lippen in December, Hannibal put on a dunking showcase.
“With him becoming a better passer, he’s done an extremely good job,” Wolves coach Major Williamson said . “Everybody knows that he can put it on the deck and get to the cup whenever he wants to. But shooting the ball and becoming a better passer is something that he’s done extremely well.”
Frank Martin and USC assistant Bruce Shingler stopped by Hartsville last Friday.
“(Martin) likes everything,” Hannibal said. “He likes my dog. He thinks I’m a good player for their program.”
Late in Friday’s first half, Hannibal lost possession at mid-court, but raced back and blocked a TMP layup attempt at the buzzer.
“I think the thing for Trae is that defense travels,” Williamson said. “So for him, with defense traveling, he’s going to be OK. Where he felt like he struggled and didn’t have a good game, when you go back and watch the film, from a defensive standpoint, he was engaged in every possession.
“My thing with our kids is if I can convince you to buy into what we’re trying to do defensively, the other end will come. We’re not going to make every shot, we’re going to find ourselves down in some games. But if we continue to work hard defensively, like a Frank Martin team will do, you’ll find yourself right in the mix at the end.”
The end is approaching on the high school careers for both Hannibal and James. The rising seniors have college-playing futures, with Columbia as a possible destination.
James, who visited with Martin and USC assistant Perry Clark last Wednesday, wants to make his decision in the fall. Hannibal expects to visit South Carolina this summer with his family.
“It’s fun watching those dudes play basketball on both ends of the floor,” Williamson said.