Antavion Collum and Damion Baugh were once again hundreds of miles apart, each impressing coaches at different events to start college basketball’s live evaluation period earlier this month.
And Harold Rayford Jr., their coach at Tennessee Prep in Memphis, couldn’t have been happier.
“It means the world to Tennessee Prep because now when we go out to recruit and say we have a high major backcourt,” Rayford said over the phone last week, “it has some substance because you can Google these guys’ names.”
In the process, this duo is helping to put the fledgling prep school based out of LeMoyne-Owen’s campus, which will begin its fourth year of existence next month, on the college basketball map.
Tennessee Prep has seen 18 of its basketball players reach the Division I level, including former Georgetown center Chris Sodom. But none had the momentum, or prestige, Collum and Baugh do right now as Class of 2019 prospects.
Collum, who played for Hardaway at East High School before transferring to Tennessee Prep ahead of last season, has received more than 50 scholarship offers, Rayford said. Collum recently cut down his list to a top seven featuring Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Missouri, Ole Miss, Georgetown and UNLV.
Baugh, meanwhile, came to Tennessee Prep from Lincoln Academy in Georgia after spending two years at Nashville’s Cane Ridge High School. Playing for Memphis-based Team Thad on the Under Armour Association, the 6-foot-3 guard has seen his recruiting stock explode since the high school season ended, with scholarship offers from Vanderbilt, Florida, Auburn, Texas, Miami, LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss, among others.
Along with guard Brandon Nicholas from Alabama, another high major prospect in Tennessee Prep’s program, this trio is as talented as any playing on the Memphis high school scene right now.
“I feel like last year we were really underrated, but we had a lot of good players. It’s just nobody was really noticing,” said Collum, who played for North Carolina-based Team CP3 on Nike’s EYBL circuit this offseason.
“But we had a lot of great players, and for us to be breaking out like this, we’ll get more recognition, and more players from our team will get offers. (Rayford) is really putting us out there with Tennessee Prep. It’s like he’s letting the world know we’re with Tennessee Prep, so they won’t overlook Tennessee Prep.”
Tennessee Prep plays in the Grind Session, a league featuring basketball-focused academies from around the country and Canada.
Rayford, who also serves as Tennessee Prep’s president, comes from a college basketball background. He had stints as the head coach at SUNY-Ulster, a community college, as well as assistant coaching positions at Norfolk State and Florida International.
Before arriving in Memphis, he served as the head coach at Concord Prep in North Carolina. But he left after one season when a friend told him of “a void without any viable prep schools in the Memphis area.”
Rayford said there were 32 students enrolled at Tennessee Prep last year, and almost all of them are basketball players. The school has high school boys and girls teams, as well as two prep teams. The latter feature students who have used up their high school eligibility but are using an extra season to try to earn a college scholarship. Students are housed in dorms on the LeMoyne-Owen campus.
Rayford said the school uses a Christian-based curriculum, and its academics are administered through teachers employed by Tennessee Prep, not another off-campus educational institution, which is often the case with basketball-focused academies.
“It’s like college, so it teaches us life skills,” Baugh said. “I feel like Tennessee Prep is better because they have me on a weight program and getting up shots every day.”
It’s also providing Collum, Baugh and Tennessee Prep with a higher profile with college basketball coaches.
Luring Collum, who starred on two of East High’s state championship teams under Hardaway, proved to be the biggest development for Rayford given Collum’s status among local basketball observers and coaches.
Rayford pitched the 6-foot-8 forward on playing point guard to better take advantage of his multi-dimensional skill-set, and the experiment proved to be successful last season when Collum watched his list of scholarship offers explode.
Collum said he maintained a good relationship with Hardaway despite leaving for Tennessee Prep. But once Hardaway took over at Memphis, “he just started offering and I never got the offer,” Collum said, adding he hopes to make a college decision before October.
Baugh is still getting used to all the attention he’s suddenly receiving, which served as more confirmation to him that he made the right move in January to come to Tennessee Prep after facing it in an event in Arlington, Tenn., with Lincoln Academy in November.
Baugh played in only about five games with Tennessee Prep last season, Rayford said, but Baugh and Collum nonetheless were able to lead the team to the USA National Prep championship in South Carolina in March to close the campaign.
It was, as it turned out, just the start of this tandem’s ascension.
“You could see some real serious flashes of how them two could play well together,” Rayford said. “It’s rewarding knowing that we’ve helped get these guys to that level.”