Garinger High athletics director Tony Huggins first saw shooting guard Jaden Springer play a year ago as a freshman. He thought he was pretty good.
When Huggins saw Springer again Tuesday, he saw something entirely different. Garinger was playing Springer’s Rocky River team in the first round of the Southwestern 4A boys’ basketball tournament.
“I remember he did a back-door cut,” Huggins said. “Then he was just standing there talking to a (teammate). Just doing small talk. The next thing you know, the ball is flying through the air and he jumps up and catches it, way up high, with so little effort. I was like, ‘(Darn), he’s as good as I’m hearing people say.’
“He’s going to be one of the next good kids to come out of the area.”
YouTube and Twitter are filled with highlights of Springer soaring for dunks and blocks and shooting jump shots off the dribble, something of a lost art in today’s game. Huggins marvels at Springer’s ability to pass and handle the ball, saying the 6-foot-4, 195-pound sophomore “can control” a game with his knowledge of the game as much as his athletic ability.
Butler High coach Myron Lowery sees it, too. Lowery saw Springer play for the first time when Springer was 10. Lowery recalls thinking that he was watching a potentially dominant high school player.
Five years later, Lowery now coaches against Springer. He believes the Ravens’ standout can be better than he ever envisioned.
“He’s the one kid around here you look at and go, ‘You’re going to see him play in the (NBA),’” said Lowery, a 28-year coaching veteran. “You can look at (Stephen) Curry (in high school), for example, and you never thought you would see him in the NBA, but you look at Jaden and you think that.”
Springer, who turned 15 in September, is blessed with explosive leaping ability. He’s the No. 11-ranked player nationally in the class of 2020 by 247 Sports. The recruiting service also ranks Springer, a 5-star recruit, as the nation’s second-best shooting guard in the class.
“Man,” Lowery said, “he’s just way beyond. He might be the youngest kid to ever score 1,000 points in (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools). You just don’t see that many players that physical and that athletic who have those type of skills, especially at such a young age.”
Doesn’t take days off
For a player so gifted physically at such a young age, Rocky River coach Jason Moseley said Springer’s the hardest worker he’s been around.
“He doesn’t take any days off, no short cuts,” Moseley said. “He’s the best player on our team, but he’s also the hardest worker on our team. I tell every (college) coach I talk to that he’s a better kid than basketball player. He’s a good basketball player on his way to becoming great, and his work ethic and attitude and approach make him what he is.”
Springer, who always has a ready smile, said he works out three times per week at Velocity Sports, a specialized strength and conditioning center in southwest Charlotte. Most other days, he is at the YMCA on the treadmill with his father, Gary, or getting up shots at a local rec center. That’s in addition to practice or playing every weekday.
“I want to be the best player I can be,” Springer said. “I just push myself. I see the national rankings and I see they’ve got players ahead of me, and I don’t feel anybody is better than me. That makes me work harder.”
Springer said that work shows in his improved vertical leap and dunking prowess. His shot has also improved. It’s no coincidence that his scholarship count has swelled to more than a dozen, including Charlotte, N.C. State, Tennessee and UCLA.
With his national ranking and status as the consensus No. 1 player in the N.C. Class of 2020, Springer said he knows he receives scrutiny his teammates don’t.
When he doesn’t put up his typical numbers - 24.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.4 blocks - fans attending his games will pick up their iPhones and text a friend or hit Instagram, saying, “He’s not that good!” Springer said he sees the posts, but he doesn’t pay much attention to them.
“I don’t look at it as pressure,” Springer said. “I’m trying to play the best I can. If I do, I’ll be happy with myself and not worry what anybody else thinks.”
Accomplished athletic family
It probably doesn’t hurt that Springer comes from an unusually high-achieving basketball family. His cousin, DeAndre’ Bembry, once played at Rocky River and is now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. His brother, Gary Jr., played at Iona as a 6-9 power forward from 2004-09. Another brother, 6-7 forward Jordan Springer, played at Butler High before playing at Army from 2009-13.
The Springer boys’ father, Gary Sr., was a member of what’s considered one of the greatest New York high school teams, the 1980 Benjamin Franklin High squad that included future St. John’s star Walter Berry. Gary Sr., who is 6-7, played in the 1980 McDonald’s All-America Game with Doc Rivers, now the Los Angeles Clippers’ coach, and with Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty, who helped lead North Carolina to the 1982 NCAA championship.
Gary Sr. was a three-time honorable mention All-American at Iona, where he was recruited by former head coach Jim Valvano, who later would famously win a national championship at N.C. State in 1983. Gary Sr. was drafted in the NBA by the 76ers but never played professionally, as injuries ended his career.
And now comes Jaden, whom doctors predict could grow to anywhere from 6-6 to 6-10, according to his mother, Barbarita.
“I think he’s one of the top four players in the state regardless of class,” said N.C. recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report. “He’s very underrated as a team player. He has good ball handling skills, good vision and he makes timely passes. He’s also one of the most efficient players I’ve ever seen.
“He doesn’t have to be ball dominant to score 32 points. The game comes so easy to him. Everything’s effortless. And look at his father. If Jaden grows a few more inches, it’s like, ‘Wow.’”
Springer actually played varsity basketball in eighth grade in Tennessee, and he’s now scored 1,826 points in high school. With this year’s playoffs and two more seasons to play, Springer could become what’s believed to be the third N.C. boys’ player to score 3,000 points, joining former Eastern Alamance star James’On Curry and current Wilson Greenfield standout Coby White, a McDonald’s All-American and UNC recruit who has scored more than 3,400.
The college interest, like Springer’s points total, continues to grow. Coaches from Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan have been on campus, and coach Moseley said his phone almost never stops ringing with calls from recruiters.
And what he tells each college coach is some version of the same story:
“If he isn’t a McDonald’s All-American and no less than a top-five player in the class of 2020, I’d be very surprised,” Moseley said. “The things you guys see in games are not even close to what we see in practice, like him shooting from (35 feet out at) the volleyball line. ...He’s two plays ahead of the game right now. It’s very scary. It’s not fair. I’m blessed.
“I thank the good Lord every day for not just him but all my kids. He makes the game easier and makes me look good even when I make a bad play call. He just always makes it work.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr