MU makes strong play for Jayson Tatum

07/29/2013 9:33 PM

07/29/2013 9:33 PM

The scholarship offers are pouring in now for Jayson Tatum, from a whos 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.

Its 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 dont 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 its 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 hell 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 wouldnt they? Everybody else does. Among the spectators for Jaysons 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 its safe to say more coaches will pack Okun Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Friday, when Jaysons 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 hes the kind of kid you would like to mold and teach, Justin said. As long as that coach and staff treats him like theyre his own, I think hell 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.

Im 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. Im a hometown guy. Id like my parents to come to most of my games. And Id look at where I feel most comfortable, where I could be on the floor to help the team win the most games.

If Jaysons riff about the importance of location sounds like good news for Missouri and Kansas, thats because it is.

Theyre 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 dont count out schools in surrounding states, either. Indiana isnt that far away from St. Louis, and neither is Kentucky, Marquette, Memphis or Ohio State, which Justin said was Jaysons 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 Tatums 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 wont 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 Im doing. They come to my games, they have great tradition there they dont get as many St. Louis guys as I or people from St. Louis would like them to, but they have a great program.