By LARRY VAUGHT
There’s not much that St. Louis sophomore Jayson Tatum can’t do on the basketball court. Or at least not anything that jumps out at Chaminade College Prep coach Frank Bennett. However, Bennett thinks what the 6-7 Tatum does best might be a surprise to many.
“He can score at will. He is pretty athletic, but I really think the best thing he does is doing a phenomenal job of getting teammates involved,” said Bennett. “He really does take joy in getting guys opportunities to score the basketball. As a result, he makes guys around him who are already good even better. I tell him all the time how special that is. He has every reason in the book to be as selfish as he wants to be, but he knows to go far in this level and beat the best teams he needs his teammates. He whole heartedly embraces that, too.”
Tatum helped the Team USA junior squad win a gold medal in Uruguay by averaging 10 points and 4.6 rebounds per game coming off the bench, shined in summer league play and even came to Big Blue Madness at UK. He was back in Lexington earlier this month to play in the Goodfellas Pizzeria National Shootout at Lexington Catholic and UK coach John Calipari was there to watch him — again.
“It was an awesome experience,” Bennett said. “Everybody enjoyed being there and seeing the campus and it was really a good event.”
The trip included watching a Kentucky practice.
“Watching the practice was good for Jayson and all our guys. We were really able to see what the college expectations are and the rigors of college ball. It opened their eyes. From my perspective, I can tell them things but when they see it in play at a place like Kentucky it makes me look like a genius,” Bennett said. “It was really fun watching Calipari teach kids how to play basketball. I liked how they played a lot of competitive games and did a lot of one-on-one. Calipari does a great job challenging each guy. He does a great job making sure practices are intense and guys are competing. You’ve got to be able to do that. It was fun to watch these guys that are very talented players going that hard to make each other better.”
Tatum, who will not turn 16 until March, is ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class by Scout.com and 10th best high school player in any class because of his shooting ability along with his defense and rebounding.
Tatum got early scholarship offers from UK, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State and Florida among his 14 offers and has received strong interest from Duke even though the Blue Devils have yet to offer. However, Bennett thinks Tatum benefited from his time watching UK practice, too
“He is very goal oriented, and seeing that practice he knows he has to stay the course and work hard,” Bennett said. “We are fortunate he is one of our hardest workers, especially since he is so young. It was good for him to see the practice and reinforces what we are doing. We won’t let him settle for being average. He’s working his tail off so he can be the best he can and wearing a top program jersey in the future.
“Our goal as a team now is not to be a one-trick pony. Our goal is to be a multiple dimension team. When your superstar buys in, that makes life a lot easier. He’s a great kid that way. He is really a blessing to coach. He’s not a huge ego. He knows he is good, but knows in a way you should know. He knows very few can hang with him. He is very high character. You don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble or bringing negative publicity to your school, program or family. He will be special at the next level.”
His father, Justin Tatum, played basketball for St. Louis University and professionally in the Netherlands. He started playing basketball when he was only 3 1/2 years old and Bennett says he still accepts coaching well.
“He is young and good, but he still makes mistakes,” the coach said. “But when you challenge him, he does not push back. He doesn’t shift blame at all. It’s cool to watch because as he fills in the gaps in his game, you can see the even bigger impact he could have and how much better he could be.
“One thing I have challenged him on is to become the most efficient player possible. The more efficient he is, the better we are. I challenged him one day to get a triple-double and a day after that he had one. He’s had a couple of other near misses. He shoots well (almost 60 percent overall and from 3-point range and 90 percent at the foul line). I just encourage him to go to the basket because the defense almost has to foul him to have a shot at stopping him.”