Chaminade College Preparatory School (St. Louis, Mo.) senior Jayson Tatum was today named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year. The 6-foot-9, 205-pound wing led the Red Devils (27-5) to the Class 5 state championship this past season, averaging 29.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and three assist per game. The state’s three-time Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year, he is also a 2016 American Family Insurance ALL-USA First Team selection. Ranked as the nation’s No. 2 senior recruit in the ESPN 100, Tatum anchored Chaminade’s run to the No. 7 slot in the USA TODAY Super 25 Expert Rankings.
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We sat down with Tatum, 18, to better understand how he outshined more than 485,000 high school boys basketball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: You liken your game to that of Golden State Warriors’ guard Shaun Livingston. He won Gatorade State POY honors in neighboring Illinois in 2003-04. You’ve won three times. Doesn’t that suggest that you’re better at this point in your career?
A: Not at all. He’s an NBA veteran and a world champion. I’m still in high school. I hope to someday do those things, but I haven’t done much of anything compared to him.
Q: Basketball has taken you to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Greece, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Mexico and the Caribbean. What’s your biggest non-basketball takeaway from all those travels?
A: The overall experience of seeing different cultures and ways of life and meeting people from those places and getting an idea of how other societies work.
Q: You were amongst the crowd as an 8th-grader inside the Chaminade gymnasium when (current Washington Wizards guard) Bradley Beal received the National Gatorade Basketball POY award. Did that make an impression on you?
A: Yes. I looked at everything Bradley Beal accomplished and tried to model his success. I thought if I did the same things he did that maybe I could someday win this award.
Q: At age 15, you told a major media outlet that the attention you were getting was a little ‘weird.’ What do you think now given how much more attention you have received, and deservedly so?
A: I’m pretty sure the 15-year-old version of me would not know to handle it. It’s been a lot of hours and a lot of hard work and I’m just honored to be mentioned as someone who’s in consideration for these awards. I truly appreciate every time that happens.
Q: There was a point a while back when your parents wouldn’t let you ride in a car without one of them being present. Do you understand that level of supervision and tough love now and appreciate it since you’ve grown beyond that point?
A: I’m really appreciative of everything they’ve done. Even if the ‘young Jayson’ didn’t understand it.
Q: Your dad, Justin Tatum, has been a tremendous overall influence, especially on the court. But how much strength do you draw from your mother, Brandy Cole, who gave birth to you at the same age you are now and put herself through law school at the same time she was raising you?
A: I couldn’t even imagine having a kid at my age let alone trying to go to law school and pass the bar at the same time. My mom always jokes with me that her life was so much harder than mine is growing up. I’ll tell you what, I never complain.
Q: You got an offer from Duke more than two years ago. How have you found the inner reserve to push yourself to keep improving when you achieved so much so early?
A: I think my parents never let me get a big head. They never let me settle. It’s been good for me.
Q: (Oak Hill Academy, Virginia, senior) Harry Giles, a future teammate, is neck-and-neck with you in terms of recruit ranking. If he’d stayed healthy this season, would we be looking at Co-POYs?
A: Possibly. It’s just been a lot of friendly competition between us. We want to be special together next year at Duke under Coach K.