NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. What happens when a gifted freshman point guard grows about five inches in two years?
An ultra-skilled forward with the potential to be the best player in the Class of 2016 results.
Jayson Tatum stands 6-foot-8 1/2 right now, heading into his junior year, but he still handles the ball like a guard. And on Thursday, playing with the under-16 St. Louis Eagles in the Nike Invitational Sweet 16, Tatum pulled off a sequence that left all of the college coaches shaking their heads.
Tatum out-jumped two opponents to grab a rebound, excited a nifty behind-the-back dribble in traffic, dribbled down the floor and added a behind-the-back pass to one of his teammates on the opposite low block, who finished for the lay-up. It was an overwhelming amount of skill for a player with the height of a power forward.
"Just trying to stay aggressive and keeping my head up, seeing what guys are open," Tatum said when asked what was going through his mind during the sequence.
Wednesday night, in his debut, he put up 29 points, completely dominating his peers. One high-major college coach said he was a Kobe Bryant-type player. ESPN and Scout have him ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the class of 2016, but when it’s all said and done, many expect him to be at the top.
Tatum’s interest list reads like a who’s who of college basketball: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Arizona, among others. He said he does take note of which coaches are watching his games—"that’s a big thing for me," he said—and as he was going through Thursday’s list, he mentioned two in attendance by name: Duke assistant Jon Scheyer and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.
While Tatum has already undergone a significant growth spurt in high school, he thinks he’s still growing. He’s added two inches in the past year alone, and he said doctors expect him to be at least 6-foot-10. That’s quite the jump from 6-foot-4, his height as a freshman.
As his body changes, so must his skill set. While he said he loves being tall, his post game is still a work in progress. Tatum will need to add strength to his still-growing frame. That’s a nice problem to have, as he already has ball handling skills most bigs can only dream of possessing.
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