Trae Hannibal, slumped into a bleacher seat at James Island Charter High School, casually yelled out to the most high-profile teammate of his basketball career.
“Hey Josiah,” he said, “Spurs Up.”
Josiah James caught eyes with Hannibal, grinned and held out a pinky and thumb. Around his wrist sat a garnet band.
“Spurs Up,” James replied.
Over the next couple hours, James and Hannibal shared more than laughs with one another. There were no-look passes, set-ups for mid-range jumpers and corner traps. They created dunk opportunities, open shots and steals.
It was a Saturday afternoon in July and a pair of Division I-bound guards were representing their AAU team during a friendly exhibition. One, Hannibal, is committed to becoming a South Carolina Gamecock starting in 2019-20. The other is considering USC — along with the likes of Duke, Michigan State, Kansas and Clemson.
It’s a thriving relationship that could have a big impact on the future of Carolina’s program.
“He’s a great teammate,” James said. “I know he’s a USC commit, I could definitely see us playing together at the next level. That’s somebody I would want to play with at the next level.”
James is a 6-foot-6 point guard with a five-star rating who helped the United States capture gold last month in the FIBA under-18 Americas championships in Canada. The Charleston native has long been part of TMP, his hometown AAU program. Hannibal used to play for the Carolina Wolves on the AAU circuit.
His reason for switching to TMP? James.
“He wanted me to come play with him early in April, that first live period, and I told him I had to talk it out with my parents,” said Hartsville’s Hannibal, who pledged to the Gamecocks on June 1. “After I did that, he was still begging me to come play with him. So I was like, ‘I’m going to give it a shot.’”
James has admired Hannibal since the two squared off against each other last summer at a team camp at Coastal Carolina. James, then a rising junior at Porter-Gaud, thought Hartsville’s best player was already a senior.
“That’s how good he was,” James said. “I was like, ‘This dude has to be about to graduate.’”
Hannibal, according to James, dropped more than 30 points, but it was a James half-court shot at the buzzer that gave Porter-Gaud the win.
The back-and-forth leading up to the climatic ending was intense — “We were talking a lot of smack to each other,” James said; “I heard about Josiah being the top-ranked kid in the state and I wanted to be in that position,” added Hannibal — but mutual respect was established.
“We actually started out as enemies and then we hit each other up on social media and stayed in touch like that,” James said. “Before the AAU season, I tried to get him to come to TMP. That’s when we were more friends.”
On the court, Saturday, James and Hannibal traded off point guard duties. Whoever was closest to the ball, grabbed it and pushed, while the other sprinted to a wing. It was a snapshot of the summer, said TMP coach Antoine Saunders.
“The game’s a lot easier when you have two top-flight guards like that,” Saunders said. “Both probably split time at point, but they both do things off the ball. So when we do get in a set, we might do something different for Trae than what we did with Josiah because they have different strengths. … It’s been a joy to coach.”
Something Frank Martin can look forward to?
Off the court Saturday, James and Hannibal teased each other during interviews with a reporter. It’s a genuine connection that has both sides thinking about what’s next.
That band James wore around his wrist? It says, “I bleed garnet and black.”
“It looked good on me,” James said, “so I wore it.”
Hannibal, an active recruiter who rocks garnet hair, claimed he had nothing to do with his teammate’s intriguing fashion statement.
“When he showed me earlier,” Hannibal said, “I was like, ‘Oh man, what’s that on your wrist?’ He just told me, ‘Spurs Up.’
“That’s my guy.”
Saunders said it wouldn’t surprise him if James, who’s expected to announce before his senior high school season, chose to stay in state.
“He’s got a lot of stuff he’s got to figure out,” Saunders said. “We’re here to help him when he gets to that point.
“But he likes Columbia, he likes Clemson. He loves Trae, he loves coach Martin and them, he loves coach (Brad) Brownell and them. He has a relationship with them probably longer than anybody.
“So there’s a comfort level there and a trust that’s pretty good.”
None of the other schools among the nine finalists for James features a committed ‘19 recruit he knows as well as Hannibal.
In Saturday’s first half, Hannibal ruined an assist opportunity for James when his one-handed slam rocked hard off the back iron. Two possessions later, James, passing from nearly the same spot on the floor, found Hannibal again near the top of the key. This time, the Gamecock to-be pulled up and swished a 12-footer.
One assist for James. Two points for Hannibal. They slapped hands.
“He doesn’t come down to all the practices,” James said, “but every one’s he at he’s talking about us teaming up together. I definitely think it could happen.
“We’d be a good combination together.”