College Sports

Whatever happened to the ‘best player ever’ from Shelby High? He’s finally getting his shot

Clemson's Gabe DeVoe, the former Shelby High standout, might be the key to the Tigers making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
Clemson's Gabe DeVoe, the former Shelby High standout, might be the key to the Tigers making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. AP

You could say the legend of Gabe DeVoe began eight years ago, before he ever put on a Shelby High boys’ basketball jersey.

DeVoe was was an eighth-grader then when one of his classmates, the son of a Shelby High administrator, bumped into basketball coach Aubrey Hollifield walking down the hall. The boy told Hollifield to watch out for DeVoe, that he’d be something special, that DeVoe would be the best player ever from Shelby High.

Hollifield chuckled and went on his way. Two years later, that same boy was a sophomore when Hollifield again saw him roaming the hallways at Shelby. The coach approached him and acknowledged that the boy had been right all along.

DeVoe was for real – or as Hollifield called him, the “best player to ever come through this school.”

Fast forward to today, and DeVoe is a 6-foot-3, 207-pound senior guard at Clemson, projected to start for a Tigers team dreaming of making the NCAA tournament. It’ll be his first season as a full-time starter, and his best chance since he left Shelby to reclaim the magic he displayed in high school. If he can, it might be enough to push Clemson into the tournament for the first time since 2011.

“I put in a lot of work this offseason,” DeVoe said. “I think it’ll be a big year for me.”

‘Started off with a hard step’

The reason Hollifield sought out that administrator’s son all those years ago was because he knew just how good DeVoe would be.

From the time he was a freshman, DeVoe turned Shelby into a playoff contender, and while the team never won a state championship with him, DeVoe was the big reason they were in the hunt. His senior year was the culmination of all that, when he averaged 34 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 steals and two blocks per game. He was the All-Observer Player of the Year, North Carolina Associated Press Player of the Year and made the Parade All-America team.

“Shelby, all it is is high school sports,” DeVoe said, acknowledging the celebrity status of high school stars like himself. “Especially for the younger kids and things like that. They love seeing you.”

Still, it was a small town (thus why fishing is his favorite hobby, even still at Clemson), and how his talent might carry over to a bigger school was to be seen.

The reason he ultimately chose Clemson, he said, in addition to ACC basketball and academics, was because he could be near his parents.

“Clemson was right down the road, only an hour and 40 minutes away,” DeVoe said. “They come to every home game.”

Still, it was a rough transition for DeVoe, who went from carrying the team in high school to riding the bench as a college freshman. Struggling to adjust to college isn’t unusual, whether it’s because of homesickness or competition or just trying to find your niche. DeVoe was no different.

“He started off with a hard step, and if he hadn’t stayed positive he would’ve stayed where he was then,” Clemson forward Donte Grantham, DeVoe’s longtime roommate, said. “The progress that he’s made has been huge. ...He just battled adversity when he first got here.”

While Grantham, a fellow freshman, started from the start, DeVoe went through the season barely playing, scoring 2.3 points per game in less than nine minutes per contest.

What had happened to the ‘best player ever’ from Shelby High?

Making the jump

For all of DeVoe’s struggles as a freshman, he stuck it out at Clemson, determined not to allow his slow start define his entire career. After all, he knew how well he could score. He just had to get back into a rhythm.

DeVoe’s numbers have improved each of the past two seasons, as he’s regained confidence that once made him so dynamic on the court. He went from shooting 26.8 percent as a freshman to 37.9 percent as a junior. His 3-point shooting similarly rose from 25 percent to 32.3 percent. With it, his scoring output more than tripled, going from the 2.3 average his first year to 7.1 last season.

Also preventing DeVoe from breaking out were the players in front of him. With former star Jaron Blossomgame off to the NBA and guard Avry Holmes also gone, there’s suddenly a good chunk of scoring to be replaced. Enter DeVoe.

“He’s much more comfortable and confident,” coach Brad Brownell said. “He feels like, ‘Hey, I should go make this play now.’ And sometimes we’re calling on him to make this play more than he ever has been, and so yeah, I do think he’s going to make a nice jump as a senior.”

There are such big expectations for DeVoe from within the program, but if he can meet them, perhaps he can similarly do for Clemson what he did for Shelby: lead the Tigers into the postseason, in this case the NCAA tournament.

It’ll take his scoring, but also his energy. Grantham described DeVoe as high energy, always motivating the team. Positive. From his smile throughout the day at ACC Media Day on Wednesday, it’s easy to see why.

“I know I can really shoot the ball,” DeVoe said, “and I think it’ll show this year.”

He’s still fishing, and he still has that legacy as one of the best players to come out of Shelby. Now this season, he’ll finally get a chance to show those same skills for the Tigers.

After all, there’s an administrator’s son somewhere watching, and cheering, from afar.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks