Basketball shouldn’t be this easy for a kid who is barely 15.
But Class of 2016 St. Louis product Jayson Tatum controlled games against a field stacked with some of the Midwest’s best sophomores at the NY2LA Sports Swish ‘N Dish in Milwaukee like very few high school players, let alone freshmen, can.
Exhibit A: The 6-7 point forward led the St. Louis Eagles 16U squad to the Swish ‘N Dish Platinum division championship by putting on spectacular performances in front of hundreds of amazed onlookers, and earned tourney MVP because of it.
Playing up a division, Tatum scored in just about every fashion possible, created open shots for his teammates, defended and rebounded.
So where does he like playing on the floor the best?
“Wherever the coach puts me, 1 through the 4,” Tatum said. “I can post up, or get my teammates involved and I can score from the wing as well. One thing, since I’m younger, I’m trying to catch up with getting stronger and faster.”
Whenever he does catch up in the strength and speed department to his liking, the amount of players in his class who will be able to rival him can be counted on one hand.
Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Memphis have all offered already, but it’s only a matter of time until Tatum’s offer list looks just like the list of every high-major program in the nation according to ESPN National Recruiting Analyst Reggie Rankin.
“Obviously he’s talented and has size,” Rankin pointed out. “But his skill level is so far developed at this stage. He can make plays usually kids his age are not that advanced to do. He’s got great size and a feel for the game, and ahead of his time for his grade. Being a 6-7 wing player, and versatile, will give him the opportunity to be a special player.
“He’s going to get even better with maturity and as he adds strength, so his upside is off the charts. I think he’s a lock high-major player. If I’m an assistant coach at an elite program, I’m offering that kid based on what I know right away.”
During the semifinals against the Wisconsin Playground Warriors, Tatum put the Eagles on his back down the stretch to deliver a win. He hit shots, set up teammates for open shots, owned the boards and then sealed the deal from the free-throw line on the way to a 57-51 win.
He finished with a game-high 21 points, and then followed up with a team-high 15 points in the championship victory over DTA. His dad Justin is the coach of the Eagles, and a former player at Saint Louis University, and was as proud a coach as he was a father following his son’s introduction to the high school club circuit.
“It’s his first experience on the big circuit at this level,” pops said. “But he’s been playing AAU since third grade and I’ve been coaching him since then. It’s extremely exciting because it was a love and hate relationship early but now we understand what we can do for each other, and that makes it much easier.
“Just watching him out there, having the confidence and help leading his team in getting over some humps—as a father is great to see. Right now at this age, I just told him to worry about [recruiting] his junior year when he can go on official visits. I want him to soak this all in, and see how much harder he needs to work to get to where he wants to be. I don’t want him to sit around and think about what school he’s going to go to and that’s where our focus is right now.”
The tools Jayson utilizes on the court have been being sharpened since he picked up a basketball. Justin didn’t start playing until he was 13, but because of his size he was relegated to the interior. So Jayson’s advanced guard skills relative to his size is no coincidence.
“When I started [playing] they always had me in the post,” said Justin, who recently accepted the head-coaching gig at Christian Brothers College High School in the Lou. “So I always said when I had a kid he’d learn from the outside in. He took that and ran with it. He just wants to be able to handle it, see the court and get everyone involved.
“So now for the next couple years we’ll going to be working on his touch around the post, and have moves so he can be effective down that way as well. He’s just somebody who always puts in the work. I love his work ethic and that’s why he’s able do some of the things he can do.”
Jayson cited Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson as two college players he likes to model his game after, and will be compared to both—and many more—by scouts and fans alike as the years go on.
But he most likely won’t be listening.
“[My dad] told me not to let my head get big,” Tatum said. “I just have to accept the attention which is humbling, and work hard. I got a lot better [this year]. I just want to win games and get better. All the other stuff comes with winning.”