ST. LOUIS — On the morning of the 2013 NBA Draft, Jayson Tatum sank into the couch in his mother’s living room, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and admitted that, yeah, sometimes all this attention makes his life a little weird.
“To me, it is,” he said. “It’s probably something I’ll learn how to manage, as it gets bigger and bigger.”
The way Tatum talks, soft-spoken and confident, it is easy to forget he is just 15 years old. His body, which has shot up two and a half inches in less than a year, fools the mind. He recently hit 6′ 7.5″, and his doctors forecast a stopping point somewhere between 6′ 10″ and 7′ 1″.
His height isn’t the only thing increasing.
The hype. The expectations. The noise. All of these things are also on the rise.
“Sometimes it is a little strange,” Brandy Cole, Tatum’s mother, said. “He may be 6-foot-8, but he’s still my baby.”
It is believed by many that Tatum will one day be selected in an NBA Draft, that he is the next budding star in the St. Louis incubator, a region that since 2000 has churned out David Lee (Golden State Warriors) and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), along with two players (Ben McLemore and B.J. Young) who will be selected this year.
It’s a heavy load for the soon-to-be high school sophomore at Chaminade College Preparatory School, a young man who isn’t even allowed to drive without a parent in the car. But Tatum is taking it all in stride.
Locally, he has been considered a prodigy for a while — probably since he started running with kids two years his senior during trips to a local YMCA when he was three. He has all the right connections, too. He is the son of former Saint Louis University player and current Christian Brothers College High School coach Justin Tatum. Former NBA player Larry Hughes, a teammate of Justin Tatum’s at SLU, is his godfather. And Beal, who also went to Chaminade, has become an additional mentor.
It is on the national stage where his name has recently grown. Tatum has been a force on the traveling AAU scene since his eighth grade season. This summer he brought home a gold medal as a member of the United States team that won the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Maldonado, Uruguay. When ESPN released its Top-25 rankings for the 2016 class, Tatum claimed the fifth spot, first in the Midlands region and first in the state of Missouri.
He is summarized as a smooth, versatile wing with a high basketball IQ, a player who can handle the ball or go into the post.
“He can play point guard. He can play two-guard. He can play small forward,” SCOUT.com national recruiting analyst Brian Snow said.
“He hits 3-pointers,” Snow added. “He gets in the lane. He is a great passer with a great feel for the game. And he is getting more athletic. His body is going in the right direction. Really, he’s just the complete package as a player.”
Colleges seem to think so. Tatum’s first scholarship offer came when he was in eighth grade, compliments of Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith. It wasn’t long until more rolled in. Kansas and Memphis offered before he played one high school game. The number, now in the double-digits, includes Kentucky and SLU, his dad’s alma mater.
Tatum has wisely decided to let his options build. He says he will wait to pick a school that suits him — likely one that won’t pigeonhole him by forcing him to stay in the paint. He’s got three more high school seasons to play, after all.
“I don’t really have a favorite school right now,” he said. “They’re all the same to me. I will just wait, take the process one step at a time. When it gets down to that time, I will make my decision.”
Between now and then, the hype, the noise and the expectations will only grow. There will be days life is maybe overwhelming, probably exhausting and, without a doubt, weird.
“Especially in the last year or so, I never thought I would get this much attention,” Tatum said.
It’s a good thing he’s handling it well. Because it’s growing as fast as he is.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org