Four-time NBA All-Star Anfernee Hardaway starred in the most recognizable shoe commercials of the 1990s, but “Lil’ Penny” downshifted into a supporting role today as Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.) senior forward Jayson Tatum became the headliner. Disguised as a beat writer and sitting amongst local media, Hardaway ambushed an unsuspecting Tatum at a bogus press conference in the school auditorium and handed him the 2015-16 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year trophy.
“I think it’s pretty shocking for me to be holding award this right now,” said Tatum, 18, a Duke signee. “To be listed among the guys who’ve won it before, well, I’m honored just to be a finalist, let alone win it. This is right up there with winning a state championship. I was in the audience the day (Chaminade alumnus and Washington Wizards guard) Bradley Beal won this award. This was always a dream of mine.”
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 assists 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.
“I’m honored to be part of what is such a special day for Jayson,” said Hardaway, 44, now a devoted philanthropist and the head coach of Memphis East High (Memphis), which produced the 2015-16 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, sophomore guard Alex Lomax. “I’ve known Jayson a long time and I know how hard he’s worked. I coached a Gatorade state winner this year, so I know what it’s about. But national, that’s numero uno.”
Regarded by player-profile analysts as the most versatile scorer in this year’s senior class, Tatum shot 52 percent from inside the arc and 86 percent from the free throw line. He ranks first in school history with 2,676 points and 1,028 rebounds as well as No. 2 in assists (393) and blocks (200).
“Jayson Tatum has clearly developed into one of the most complete offensive basketball players in the high school game,” said Paul Biancardi, National Director of Recruiting for ESPN Basketball. “His offensive versatility is what makes him special and he’s what I like to reference as a four level scorer: He makes 3’s, scores with efficiency from the mid-range and finishes in the paint while creating fouls and converting at a high percentage from the line. What’s most impressive about Tatum, however, is his desire to put winning above everything else.”
Last summer, Tatum recorded the second-highest point total for the 2015 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Championship Team that won a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Heraklion, Greece. Tatum is Missouri’s first three-time Gatorade State Player of the Year and has been a member of three gold medal teams with USA Basketball. He was a 2015 Nike Elite Basketball League First Team honoree and was also the MaxPreps National Sophomore and Junior of the Year in each of the past two seasons.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. Tatum is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Tatum has maintained a B average in the classroom. A student ambassador at his school, he has volunteered locally by cooking and serving food for the needy on behalf of the Father Dempsey Charities. Tatum has also donated his time as a guest speaker for at-risk youth in Ferguson and as a coach and instructor at numerous youth basketball camps and clinics.
In addition, Tatum has played a fundamental role in the development of a program for supporting single mothers attending school as well as an initiative to educate student-athletes regarding social responsibility, good digital citizenship and financial literacy. Both programs will launch once Tatum’s amateur athlete status expires.
Tatum becomes the 4th athlete from Missouri to earn national Gatorade honors in any sport, and represents the second in boys basketball. He now shares that distinction with Beal, who graduated from Chaminade Prep in 2011 and was Gatorade’s national winner as a senior.
With 65, California has produced the most national Gatorade winners across the program’s 12 sports. Texas (30), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13) round out the top five.