Fresh off leading Chaminade (MO) to a third place finish in the state tournament, and second straight honor as Missouri’s Gatorade Player of the Year, SLAM’s top ranked class of 2016 hooper Jayson Tatum embarked on his final go-around on the spring and club circuit with the St. Louis Eagles Friday night at the loaded NY2LASports Swish ‘N Dish tournament in Wisconsin.
His final stat line of seven points, four boards, four assists, two steals and one block in relatively limited action during the Eagles’ 74-53 win over Chicago powerhouse Mac Irvin Fire won’t blow anyone away, but some context is needed before anyone cools on his game.
“Today was my first time playing since my high school season,” said Tatum, who didn’t touch a ball until Thursday to get some shots up. “I really just took break. So I tried to come out (Friday) and get my feet back under me, and get back into a rhythm. It’s going to take a little time. I just wanted to have fun. It’s really just about that and getting better as a player.”
The 6’8 wing averaged 26.5 points and 11.7 rebounds during his junior season with Chaminade, and possesses a floor game offensively which is as seasoned as you’ll see on the high school level. His handle, vision and passing ability has been evident from an early age as we saw at the Swish ‘N Dish when he was just a freshman.
As he’s naturally grown into his body, his athleticism has continued to increase by the day and he gave the packed house in suburban Milwaukee a glimpse with a ferocious tomahawk dunk on a break against the Fire Friday. He also stuck a three in transition, utilizing a continually improving stroke with picturesque form and rotation.
Tatum’s well-documented versatility on offense can overshadow what he brings to the court defensively, but his ability to guard both shooting guards and small forwards is just as attractive to the likes of every big time program that is waiting on his pledge. It’s also helped him stand out on Team USA’s U17 gold medal squad at the FIBA World Championships last summer in Dubai, and earned an invite to try out this summer for the U19 World Championship in Greece beginning June 27th.
“I like the perimeter,” Tatum said. “But I also really like playing on the inside. I just feel comfortable anywhere on the court, really.”
Despite the two-week hiatus from the court, he remained ever comfy on the hardwood and wasn’t forcing the issue Friday with the Fire doubling him on almost every touch – and was never sped up.
“I’m used to it,” Tatum said. “It’s been happening for years now. Being face-guarded, doubled, guarded physically – all that. I got used to it.”
The St. Louis Eagles are expected to be one of the best teams on the Nike EYBL circuit this spring and summer because of a cast of other high major recruits that surround Tatum. On Friday, the Eagles were led by 6-9 class of 2017 blue-chipper Jeremiah Tilmon (East St. Louis, IL) and 6-8, 240 bruising class of 2016 forward Tyler Cook (Chaminade) collective dominance in the paint.
Tilmon finished with a team-high 15 points, while Cook added 11, and the duo combined for several dunks in transition and put-back dunks on defenders’ heads.
“They help me out a lot,” Tatum said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me because I feed them down there. They block shots and rebound. They’re a lot of fun to play with.”
The feeling is most likely mutual.
But perhaps the most telling revelation from Friday about what Tatum strives for on the court came after we asked for his vote for the NBA’s MVP and why.
“I’d say Russell Westbrook,” said Tatum following an emphatic head-shake, exhale and brief pause to think. “I feel like right now he’s the most feared NBA player. You know, when people have to play OKC I feel like they get chills or get nervous with the way he’s been playing.”
When asked if that’s what he’s working to impose on his opponents.
“Exactly,” he responded.
That’s a scary thought for Tatum’s opponents as he starts to get back into the flow at the Swish ‘N Dish, and beyond.