USC Recruiting

A quest to become the ‘next ones.’ How Morant, Zion are inspiring SC’s top recruits

What’s it like to have over 20 scholarship offers? PJ Hall explains

Dorman forward PJ Hall, South Carolina’s top player in 2020 class, updates his recruitment on June 21, 2019.
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Dorman forward PJ Hall, South Carolina’s top player in 2020 class, updates his recruitment on June 21, 2019.

Myles Tate, done playing for the night, was casually walking the hallways of Richland Northeast High School when he was stopped to answer a direct question.

“Hey, Myles,” asked his Dorman teammate, “can you dunk like Ja? We’re comparing him to you right now.”

The slight 6-foot, 170-pound point guard didn’t break stride. “Yeah! Definitely!”

Tate eventually cracked and flashed a smile that all but admitted he’s a few squats shy of being able to rock a rim like the second pick of this year’s NBA Draft.

Less than 24 hours after South Carolina basketball was represented on a national stage like never before, some 30 college colleges covered the baselines at RNE. USC’s Frank Martin and Clemson’s Brad Brownell made the short trip. Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner, Virginia’s Tech Mike Young and Cincinnati’s John Brannen came a little farther for an NCAA-certified recruiting event.

No, they didn’t spot Tate throwing down tomahawk slams like Ja Morant. Nor did they see P.J. Hall punishing opponents like Zion Williamson. But notable boots were on the grounds of where Thursday’s top selections came from.

Dalzell’s Morant and Spartanburg’s Williamson are helping prospects like Tate and Hall, the state’s best in the 2020 recruiting class.

“Eyes are definitely on this state,” said Hall, Tate’s 6-9 Dorman teammate. “And they built that. They built the foundation for that and we’re just working to keep building that up.”

Of the 16 teams participating Friday night at RNE, 5A state champion Dorman was the main attraction for college coaches. Hall, ranked 63rd nationally by 247Sports Composite, has over 20 scholarship offers, including USC. Tate, No. 103, is also being pursued by ACC and SEC programs.

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The duo is plenty gifted on its own. But timing can be everything, and Hall and Tate just happen to come through the Palmetto State as Williamson and Morant are going 1-2 in the draft, Charleston’s Khris Middleton is an NBA All-Star and Charleston’s Josiah James is a McDonald’s All-American.

“It’s great,” Tate said. “It’s just a testament to all their hard work and dedication. And it just shows how much talent South Carolina has in basketball.”

During its draft coverage, ESPN posted a graphic that highlighted South Carolina’s best basketball products over the years — Morant, Williamson, Middleton, Columbia’s Alex English, Anderson’s Larry Nance and Mauldin’s Kevin Garnett. It failed to include Hillcrest grad Ray Allen, AC Flora’s Xavier McDaniel, Eau Claire’s Jermaine O’Neal or Lower Richland’s Stanley Roberts.

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Martin, new to this area when hired by the Gamecocks in 2012, is optimistic Morant and Williamson can spread the sport further than past big names.

“This has happened before,” said Martin, who recruited both Morant and Williamson before they signed with Murray State and Duke. “Kevin Garnett was a pretty high draft pick (No. 5 in 1995), Stanley Roberts was a pretty high draft pick (No. 23 in 1991), Ray Allen was a pretty high draft pick (No. 5 in 1996). I can’t speak for those guys because I wasn’t around here, but I wish those guys would have had a bigger impact in basketball and just for people in this state. And I’m not trying to say anything negative, I’m just saying it’s happened before.

“Now, the unique thing about this year is those two kids are going 1 and 2. I know their families, I know everybody there. 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.”

Aside from facing his Spartanburg Day team during the 2017-18 season, Hall said he hasn’t had much interaction with Williamson. But he still felt a special connection when the former South Carolina Mr. Basketball winner went No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Zion went up there and started to shed tears,” Hall said of Williamson’s emotional post-pick interview. “He did all of this for his mom and his little brother. He and Ja, they’re such great people.”

Tate, who as a sophomore scored 34 points in Dorman’s win over Spartanburg Day, relates to Morant the most.

“Ja being overlooked, it’s kind of like my path,” Tate said of the new addition to the Memphis Grizzlies. “Me and him come from the same state playing point guard, growing up, just doing what he can do, just showing people everything he can do.”

The immediate future for Hall and Tate involves a college decision and a run at a fourth straight state title. The long view is imitating Morant and Williamson.

“They’d love nothing more than to be the next ones,” said Dorman coach Thomas Ryan.

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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