Campus Corner

MU makes strong play for Jayson Tatum

Updated: 2013-07-30T02:33:18Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

The scholarship offers are pouring in now for Jayson Tatum, from a who’s who list of schools, no less.

Kentucky. North Carolina. Michigan State. Indiana. They all want the silky-smooth 6-foot-7, 185-pound point-forward, who is rated by ESPN as the fifth-best prospect in the Class of 2016.

But long before the letters started pouring in, long before the traditional powers started ramping up their recruiting efforts, there was the home-state school, Missouri, and its coach, Frank Haith.

Before Tatum had even played a high school game, Haith — who had long been eying Tatum — extended a scholarship offer. It would be the first of many for Tatum, but it was his first, nonetheless.

When interviewed Thursday at a local AAU tournament in held Shawnee, it became abundantly clear that neither Tatum, nor his basketball coach of a father, Justin, has forgotten that, though a college decision remains perhaps years away.

“It plays a (factor) in my decision, to see who noticed me first or took a chance on me,” said Jayson, who averaged 13 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists while leading Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis to an 18-9 record as a freshman last season. “It does mean a lot to me.”

Justin, who led Soldan to a Missouri Class 4 state title in 2012 before taking the head coaching job at Christian Brothers College this March, said the early offer made a big impression on his family.

“It’s an honor to get a scholarship offer to any school right now, but for Mizzou to do it, it lets our family know that Coach Haith and his coaching staff is really on point,” said Justin, who played basketball for St. Louis University and professionally in the Netherlands. “They don’t want to lose any other big-time players coming out of St. Louis, or at least not have a chance to recruit them.”

For various reasons, Missouri has whiffed on a number of top prospects from St. Louis in recent years, including high-scoring guards Bradley Beal, who went to Florida, and Ben McLemore, who went to Kansas. Both went to the NBA and became lottery picks.

But Justin said it’s evident Missouri, led by Haith and lead recruiter Tim Fuller — who Jayson said routinely cracks him up — has made his son a priority for the Class of 2016.

“Coach Haith is a good guy, just a down-to-earth type of person and he’ll keep it real with you, and I really respect him for that,” Justin said. “(He) and his coaching staff have really been on (Jayson), showing up to games during the course of the open period like ‘Hey, we really want you here.’”

Why wouldn’t they? Everybody else does. Among the spectators for Jayson’s opening game of the KC Prep Invitational on Thursday night was Kansas assistant Norm Roberts and Ohio State assistant Dave Dickerson, both of whom sat in clear view from start to finish. And it’s safe to say more coaches will pack Okun Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Friday, when Jayson’s St. Louis Eagles play again in the round-robin portion of tournament.

“I just want somebody who is going to love him just like I do, not even as a basketball player but as a person because he’s the kind of kid you would like to mold and teach,” Justin said. “As long as that coach and staff treats him like they’re his own, I think he’ll be fine, whatever decision he makes.”

Though Jayson says he might not even begin to narrow his list down until next summer, he does have a clear picture of who he is as a player. With his height and ball-handling, he sees himself as a tall point guard in the mold of former Syracuse star Michael Carter-Williams (who stands 6-6) and UCLA forward Kyle Anderson (who stands 6-9).

He also has a clear idea of what he wants in a school.

“I’m looking for a great coach, someone who has (my) best interests at heart and someone who I can build a relationship with,” Jayson said. “Location also has a lot to do with it. I’m a hometown guy. I’d like my parents to come to most of my games. And I’d look at where I feel most comfortable, where I could be on the floor to help the team win the most games.”

If Jayson’s riff about the importance of location sounds like good news for Missouri and Kansas, that’s because it is.

“They’re in the mix,” Justin said, when asked specifically about Mizzou. “His grandmother is a big Mizzou fan, and he loves her to death. His auntie is a big KU fan, so you can just imagine what we go through in the household. But I think Mizzou is going to be right at the top of the chart.”

But don’t count out schools in surrounding states, either. Indiana isn’t that far away from St. Louis, and neither is Kentucky, Marquette, Memphis or Ohio State, which Justin said was Jayson’s favorite college team growing up.

“He grew up rooting for Ohio State,” Justin said. “He has Ohio State socks and a sweatshirt. He liked Evan Turner, Greg Oden … and he likes the quarterback, Braxton Miller.”

So yes, plenty remains up in the air when it comes to Jayson Tatum’s recruitment. A lot can change in three years, after all.

But by the sound of it, it appears that for now, at least, if Missouri loses out on another big-time St. Louis kid, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

“They were the first (to offer),” Jayson said. “They reach out quite often to check on me to see how I’m doing. They come to my games, they have great tradition there … they don’t get as many St. Louis guys as I or people from St. Louis would like them to, but they have a great program.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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