Williamson Heads a Talented Group of Boys’ Basketball Players to Be Honored by the HSSR at the Winter All-State Banquet
By Billy G. Baker
Columbia—The 2016-17 HSSR Mr. Basketball in South Carolina is Zion Williamson, a (6-7, 235) junior from Spartanburg Day. If it were not for a mandated one year college participation requirement by the NCAA, Williamson would likely be the third in-state player to go directly from high school to the NBA.
Williamson is expected to arrive at the 31st annual HSSR Winter All-State awards banquet via a flight from an AAU major event in Texas on April, 23 after spending most of his time Friday and Saturday displaying his awesome talents that have seen him garner over 40 major college offers over the past year. Is he indeed the next LeBron James?
In just the past few weeks head coaches from programs like Kentucky and Duke have shown up with their staffs in tow to pay their respects to Williamson who has averaged 36.8 points a game his junior season in leading the Griffins to their second straight state title. USC’s Frank Martin, recently named the National Coach of the Year after coaching the Gamecocks to the NCAA Final Four, and spent most of the day in the Williamson home on April, 9. Some insiders feel that in the end Williamson will choose between Kentucky and South Carolina but the once in a generation South Carolina prep player says he remains open at this point, even showing interest in nearby Wofford College.
Those previous two HSSR Mr. Basketball’s who went to the NBA from high school were Jermaine O’Neal of Eau Claire and Kevin Garnett, who actually left Mauldin High after his junior season to attend a school in Chicago, one year before he went straight into the NBA.
Williamson is only the third SCISA player to be named an outright HSSR Mr. Basketball from all classifications in the state of South Carolina. The other two were former Pinewood Prep stars Chuck Eidson who went on to USC and Milton Jennings who went on to Clemson.
After Williamson poured in 51 points to lead his Griffins team to the SCISA Class A state title in a packed house in the Sumter Civic Center on February, 25 the nation’s top 2018 prospect said, “It’s amazing because this has been our goal since October. Of course, I do want to excite the crowd (with his patented no- two- a- like monster dunks) but I am going to still win the game by sticking to the parameters of my game.”
Williamson’s coach is Lee Sartor, the HSSR-SCISA 2016-17 Class A Coach of the Year, and he said this about Williamson’s play in the title game, “He’s not going to let his team lose if her can help it,” said Coach Sartor. “He just did what he needed to do. I thought the game was real physical with him, but as usual he keeps his composure and keeps moving forward and making plays.”
Coach Sartor played high school basketball at Spartanburg High where he was a star player for Hall of Fame coach Doug Lowe before graduating in 1982. “We have everyone back next season and with a player like Zion leading us we like our odds of winning three in a row,” said Coach Sartor. “Zion makes his teammates around him better.”
Coach Sartor and Williamson walked in the door together at Spartanburg Day three years ago. “I had coached against Zion’s step father (Lee Anderson) for years in AAU basketball and one day a few years ago he called me from the Florence area and said they were looking for a tough hard nosed coach like myself to push Zion and to make him all he could be,” said Coach Sartor. “I told Lee I was taking the job back at Spartanburg Day and they soon moved up from Florence. Zion and I have had a close relationship since he has been at Spartanburg Day. I have known about Zion for many years and he is a special player. His skill set on the perimeter is off the charts and his basketball I-Q is off the charts as well. Zion displays a lot of intangibles on a basketball court that you simply can’t coach.”
The top HSSR SCHSL Statewide Boy’s Player of the 2016-17 season is Clemson signee Clyde Trapp Jr who scored 16 of his game high 20 points in the final period to lead his team to a finals win over Wren. “I definitely had a different mindset,” said Trapp of his fourth quarter performance. “All of us can put the ball in the basket but that fourth quarter, I knew we had to bring it home so I stepped up.”
From the AAAAA ranks Zach Butler of state champion Dorman is the Player of the Year. Butler has signed with Ohio and he came into the game averaging nearly 13 points a game. Butler’s back-door cut to the basket with 40 seconds left against Blythewood gave the Cavaliers the lead for good.
The HSSR-SCHSL AAAA Boy’s Player of the Year was Lower Richland’s Ja’Cor Nelson who scored 12 points in the state finals and came into the game with a 15.3 average on the season. The AAA Player of the Year is spark-plug Jalen McKelvey of Southside who paced his team with 19 points in the finals over Dillon. The AA Player of the Year is Tariq Simmons of Keenan who has signed with The Citadel. He had 30 points and 10 rebounds in the finals won by Burke. The Class A HSSR-SCHSL Boy’s Player of the Year is Desmond Pressley of Hemingway who led the Tigers to a thrilling 72-71 win over Lewisville with 21 points and seven rebounds.
The HSSR-SCISA Boy’s Statewide Player of the Year is Aaron Nesmith of Porter-Gaud along with teammate Josiah James the AAA Player of the Year for the state champion Cyclones. Mike Greene of Christian Academy is the AA Player of the Year and Kegan Boone of Charleston Collegiate is the Class A player of the Year.
In the coaching ranks the HSSR-SCHSL Statewide Coach of the Year is former Lexington stand-out Thomas Ryan who won several all-state awards in multiple sports from the HSSR during his prep career. “I’m at a loss for words right now,” said Coach Ryan from the court after the back-and-forth win over Blythewood. “Our guys competed. It was two really good basketball teams that played for 32 minutes. We were just fortunate to make the right play at the right time. I’m so proud of our kids. It was a great effort.”
Other HSSR-SCHSL coaching superlatives are Zeke Washington in AAAAA, Caleb Gaither of Lower Richland in AAAA, Steve Beasley of Southside in AAA, Deon Richardson of Burke in AA, and Greg Lawson won a state title in his rookie season at Hemingway.
The SCISA coaching superlatives are represented by HSSR-SCISA Statewide Coach of the Year John Pearson, the AAA Coach of the Year Phillip Deter of Cardinal Newman, the AA Coach of the Year Lee Sartor of Spartanburg Day and the Class A Coach of the Year is Jay Godbolt who won his second straight state title with a win over Anderson Christian.