Young basketball star King growing, aiming higher

On the last day of USA Basketball’s minicamp in Colorado Springs in October, a group V.J. King’s teammates on the 16 and under team that won a FIBA Americas gold medal last summer convinced V.J. to get hip with the times and open a Twitter account.

V.J. did, a bunch of his friends started following, and by the time his flight back to Cleveland had landed, he had more than 200 followers.

That number quadrupled in the span of two hours later in the week when another guy he knows through basketball sent out a tweet encouraging his followers to follow @VJKing13.

LeBron James, he of more than 10 million followers and a few other notable accomplishments.

In case you haven’t heard of V.J. King or read about him in this space before, he’s a sophomore basketball player at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He’s a pretty good one, too, a gifted 6’7 shooting guard who holds scholarship offers from the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa State, North Carolina State, UConn, West Virginia and Georgetown.

Or, as LeBron put it in his Oct. 10 tweet, V.J. is a “sophomore at my alma mater with mad game.”

From the partial list of scholarship offers above, it’s clear many in the basketball world share LeBron’s opinion.

V.J.’s parents are from Northeast Ohio, but his father’s job had taken the family to North Carolina when V.J. was in middle school. When another job change opened the door for the Kings to return to Ohio in time for V.J. to start high school, the family chose St. Vincent-St. Mary and the basketball program that has LeBron’s thumbprint (and Nike logos) all over it.

Before moving back to Ohio, the King Family agreed to participate in this series chronicling V.J.’s growth, college recruitment, travels and basketball exploits. So far, we’ve chronicled V.J. going from just getting to know his high school teammates to signing autographs for opposing student sections to sitting in the front row for an Ohio State-Michigan game last year. He averaged better than 17 points a game as a freshman but won’t deem his season a success because St. V-M lost in the Div. II state title game, and V.J. scored just five points in that game.

“The No. 1 goal is to get that title,” he said. “Nothing short of it is success.”

V.J. is a mature 16 — he has to be considering the attention he garners for his basketball ability — but is in no hurry to pick a college program or even give the recruiting process much thought. He said college coaches stopping in to see him “is humbling” but has let them know he’s focused on school, his team and his own game. He brought home a 3.7 GPA in the first quarter, and when he’s not in the books he’s usually working on shooting 22-foot jumpers off the dribble.

He makes a bunch of them.

He’s going to be better this season and isn’t afraid to say it publicly. He was still growing last year, literally — he grew two inches in a six-week span last winter — and getting comfortable with his coaches, teammates and surroundings. He missed some dunks and some opportunities for others while trying to get his size 16 shoes to go at the same speed the rest of his body was going. He deferred to older players when times got tough.

He’s been in the gym since two days after losing that state title game last March working on a list of goals for this season he shared last month: First is that state title. Then comes a national top-25 ranking for the St. V-M team in those mythical but well-read national polls. Personally, “be a great teammate” is at the top of his list but chasing triple-doubles and Ohio’s 2014 Mr. Basketball award aren’t far behind.

That LeBron guy won Mr. Basketball as a sophomore 13 seasons ago.

“I’m not into LeBron comparisons because he’s the best basketball player in the world and I’m just trying to get better,” V.J. said. “But he is where I want to be. Those state banners that hang (LeBron just spent more than $1 million on turning St. V-M’s gym into LeBron James Arena) up there, I want to be on a team that wins one, then two and three. The way he’s improved and added to his game, I watch that. I work for that.

“I’ve been waiting since last March. I’m just really, really anxious. If we missed one single day in the gym, it’s because somebody didn’t get up and open the gym door for us.

“I worked on my ball-handling skills. I’m just stronger, better, smarter. I’m older. I’m more comfortable in my surroundings. We should have won (AAU) nationals last summer. I won a gold medal with Team USA. I want that state medal and I just want to keep improving.” 

V.J. had two bad games during last year’s high school season — against St. V-M’s neighborhood rival, Hoban, early in the season, and then in the state championship game.

The 2013-14 season opens tonight at Hoban. The state championship game would be last on the schedule.

“Those two I have circled,” he said. “All this work, it’s about getting to that last one.”