LAS VEGAS — Recruiting during the month of July tends to focus on players approaching their senior year of high school and with good reason, as there is just one year separating them from the college level. Obviously this doesn’t mean that non-seniors are ignored, as it’s just as important for college program to get started on “who’s next” as it is to keep tabs on the rising seniors.
And while it isn’t a lock that the schools who invest the most time over a two or three-year span (or longer) will land the player they desire, for some recruits such devotion sticks out as they evaluate their options.
With this in mind many of the nation’s top programs are following around 2016 forward Jayson Tatum, a 6-foot-8 phenom from St. Louis who some consider to be the best player in his class. With his athleticism and ability to score from anywhere on the court, Tatum will undoubtedly be a player to watch not only this summer but throughout the 2014-15 high school season as well.
This spring and summer has essentially been a continuation of a fantastic sophomore year for Tatum, who won Gatorade Missouri Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors at Chaminade College Prep. Tatum posted averages of 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots per game as he helped lead his team to a 24-3 record and a spot in the Missouri Class 5 district final.
Yet even with many already praising Tatum for his smooth offensive game, that’s an area where he’s looking to continue his growth this summer.
“Just being able to score from a variety of areas on the court,” Tatum told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week when asked what he’s working on. “Being able to attack from all positions and being versatile.”
Many analysts believe that Tatum will be able to help a college program immediately in 2016, and having the chance to do so is something Tatum mentioned when asked the question of what he’ll be looking for when the time comes to pick a school.
“I want to be able to help the team out as early as possible as a freshman,” Tatum said. “And if I do decide to leave my hometown or home state to play college basketball, I want to feel very comfortable with the coaching staff.”
There it is. “Hometown or home state.” And for fans of Missouri and Saint Louis, the recruitment of top in-state players has been a topic of conversation in recent years. Back in May, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a column discussing the fact that a number of elite in-state players have left Missouri in recent years, with Mizzou and SLU having to do a better job when it comes to making the effort needed to keep that from occurring in the future.
And in the case of Tatum, the connections to SLU go much deeper than the fact that he’s a native of the city.
Jayson’s father Justin, who is now the head coach at Christian Brothers College High School, played his college basketball at SLU and so did godfather Larry Hughes (like Justin, Larry is also a CBC alum). They stayed home, joining a program that would make two NCAA tournament appearances in 1998 and 2000. Those NCAA appearances would be the last for the SLU program until 2012, when the late Rick Majerus led the Billikens to the first of three consecutive appearances.
With those connections it’s understandable that the allure of remaining home would be there for Jayson, despite the fact that programs such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky have all offered the elite forward. And in discussing the possibility of staying home, Jayson touched on not only the opportunity to play in front of family and friends but to also serve as an influence on other young players in the area.
“It’s a pretty big factor because I have a lot of family and close friends who would love to see me play there if I do decide to go to SLU,” Tatum said. “I think it would be great for the city if I were to stay. Younger guys coming up would look to me, and maybe that would help them make the decision to stay home as well.”
As a 2016 prospect Jayson has plenty of time left before he makes a decision, meaning that he’ll hear numerous pitches from programs across the country along the way. Many recruits over the years have gone through the process of considering whether or not to play for their hometown school, and the exterior pressure that comes with this can be tough for some youngsters to deal with.
Will that be the case for Jayson as he approaches a decision? Only he and those closest to him can truly provide that answer. But if his skill level and on-court achievements (to this point) are any indication, Jayson Tatum’s capable of navigating this with the same manner in which he plays: smoothly.