March 25th marks 13 years since the majority of Ohio was introduced to “The King,” LeBron James. He doesn’t have the same personality, physical attributes or game, but Akron SVSM freshman Vincent “VJ” King will make his presence felt at this weekend’s D-II state
tournament. Expect an encore in some form…
Ohio HS Boys Basketball State Tournament
Another Akron freshman ready to perform
On March 25th, it will be 13 years since the majority of Ohio was introduced to “The King,” LeBron James. A handful of talent evaluators and fans in Northeast Ohio had seen or heard of James, but the phenomenon around the entire Buckeye state had yet to catch on.
The venue was the Value City Arena and the occasion was the 2000 OHSAA Division III State Boy’s Basketball Tournament. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary came to Columbus with a spotless (25-0) mark led by senior Maverick Carter and a group of soon-to-be nationally-known freshmen.
Carter was the AP Player of the Year in DIII, but James quickly stole the show in Columbus scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a semifinal win over Canal Winchester followed by a 25-point and seven-rebound effort as the Irish raced past Jamestown Greeneview in the finals. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thirteen years later the memory of that weekend still illuminates in many onlookers’ minds. Perhaps, we could be in line for some form of an encore.
He doesn’t have the same personality, physical attributes, or even the same game, but Akron SVSM freshman Vincent “VJ” King has the talent and ability to make his presence felt at this weekend’s Division II state tournament. To this point, King has helped the Irish to the state’s biggest stage with an outstanding rookie campaign, which resulted in a spot on the 1st Team All-Northeast Inland District and 2nd Team All-Ohio.
King’s demeanor on and off the floor has allowed him to fly under the radar as much as a kid possibly can in this age of social media. It truly is amazing considering the 6-foot-7 frosh has been nationally-ranked for a couple years and he received an offer from Ohio State among others before playing a single game at SVSM.
However, this isn’t King’s first varsity experience. King played varsity at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina as a 7th and 8th grader before his father (Vincent King Sr.) moved the family back to its home state. King was a starter as an 8th grader alongside Florida freshman Braxton Ogbueze.
Several naysayers speculated as to whether King was deserving of the recognition he was receiving before ever playing a game for the Irish. They quickly found out it was legit. Despite being a high profile player, King carries a low profile attitude, which is a rarity with today’s society focus on self-promotion.
King left little doubt in his first three games that he was worth the hype and he wasn’t your typical talented frosh. He was averaging over 20 points per game, but the Irish were just (1-2). The young Irish continued to struggle, but King was still producing aside from a three-point showing in a loss to rival Akron Hoban. He put up 18 points against Lakewood St. Edward, and 16 and 20 respectively in losses to Lafayette (KY) and Dayton Dunbar.
King, who may be the new King of Akron, helped SVSM to a five-game winning streak, which included wins over Cleveland Benedictine and Cleveland St. Ignatius. The Irish now stood out at (7-5), but would lose four of their next six games to the likes of Thurgood Marshall, HCYA (TX), Cleveland VASJ, and Mansfield Senior. Not exactly an easy slate. He averaged 17 points per game over those six contests.
Though, a breakthrough was on the horizon, King and his court began to gel and the Irish haven’t lost since February 9th winning 10-straight heading into this week’s match up with once-beaten Vincent Warren.
In all, King has been held under 10 points just three times all year despite playing one of the best schedules in Ohio. He enjoyed season and career-highs of 25 points against Cleveland Central Catholic and Cleveland VASJ. King is averaging nearly 16.3 points and just under five rebounds per game. He leads the team in scoring and blocked shots, and is second in rebounding. He could use a little work at the foul line, where he shoots just under 65-percent.
“We have high expectations,” King’s father, Vincent King Sr. said. “VJ has high expectations. This season could have gone a lot worse and could have gone a lot better.”
So what makes him so elite at such a young age? We should start with the great guidance and structure from his family. King is quiet and humble, and excels at a high level in the classroom. He has a burning desire to get better and he rarely talks about schools or rankings. He is content with who he is as a person, but as a player, he is always looking to improve.
“As parents, we just want to facilitate an avenue to get him to where he wants to go,” King’s father said. “One day, back in the summer, after a 5:30 a.m. workout, we got in the car and I realized something. I told VJ you can become whatever you want and do all these things, but remember, LeBron (James) has done all of them already. The only thing you can do that he didn’t do is win four state championships. He took that and ran with it. He wants to leave the school with four rings.”
To describe King as a player, let us use this analogy. If you were playing a basketball video game and you were allowed to create exactly what your player would like, it would more than likely resemble King. He is long with broad shoulders, which will allow him to put on size once he stops growing. As a player, he is silky smooth with the ability to make shots on all three levels. He can catch-and-shoot or beat you off the pull-up. King is a terrific passer with excellent vision, can handle the ball, and rebound well for a guard. His offensive skill package is mature beyond his years possessing the ability to make plays that you would see in the over-40 league.
King’s father believes his son’s offensive game and overall feel for the game of basketball speaks for itself, but he did point to the defensive end as an area of continued improvement.
“I’ve never been worried about his offensive skill set or his feel for the game,” King’s father relayed. “That part of the game is hard to teach. On the defensive side, he has worked very hard. I want him to play both sides of the ball. He is not the quickest, fastest, or someone who jumps the highest, but he is up for the challenge and wants to do it.”
King, who is without question the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 in Ohio, needs to continue to add strength to his frame, which will allow him to attain some lofty goals.
“He wants to get stronger, which is causing some gaps in his game right now,” King said. “He also wants to make the USA National Team. He has bigger aspirations than being the best in the state of Ohio, and that is no disrespect to anyone else.”
The 6-7 guard has all the natural tools to be the complete package, but his father wants him to continue to improve his overall defensive skills.
“I think with VJ a lot of the gaps in his game are tied to his strength,” King believes. “What surprises people is really how strong he is. It’s very difficult to be a 6-foot-7 perimeter player as a freshman. His willingness to be a better defender is something he needs to continue to work on, so he can be that stopper and be a better close out defender.”
King’s father points to one player in one particular on the SVSM roster that has helped VJ immensely. Junior Jalen Hudson, who transferred from Benedictine HS in Richmond, Virginia, has been a rock for King to lean on.
“Jalen is a true Godsend,” King said. “VJ has absolutely needed Jalen, and he has been there for him.”
Following King’s high school season, the freshman will “take his talents” to the AAU circuit where he will play for the King James Shooting Stars. King will be playing up a grade with the 16-and-under unit, which features some of the state’s top 2015 talent in AJ Harris (Dayton Dunbar), Nate Fowler (Cincinnati Moeller), Luke Kennard (Franklin) and Kyle Ahrens (Versailles).
“We are looking to get better through AAU,” stated King’s father. “If he gets better, than his teammates will get better. He wants to be a good teammate, a willing passer, and win games. He believes in this wholeheartedly. Hopefully it will never stop.”
King has been followed by several schools throughout the season with some making the trip to Akron to see him play and others still lining up to make the trek to the Buckeye state. The long list includes USC, Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Memphis, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama, North Carolina, Harvard, Akron, Delaware State, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina State, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, UNC-Charlotte, and UNC-Greensboro.
School lists and interest for King are pretty much pointless to mention at this stage in the game, because virtually every high-major in the country will be courting this youngster at one time or another.
“Schools don’t motivate us,” King mentioned humbly. “If he stops playing well all this will stop. You have to continue to get better, because someone below you wants your spot. We try to keep it right, simple, and close-knitted. We don’t look too far ahead. We have practice today and a game tomorrow.”
Schools aren’t a motivator and neither are stats. For King it’s about getting better and the wins that come along with the improvement.
“When you lose it doesn’t matter what you did,” King told us. “Nobody cares how many points you had in a loss. It’s a process to learn how to win. The great thing about SVSM is there are no days off on our schedule. You either step up or step out.”
If there is one person that knows about stepping or stepping it’s James.
Before King ever had an official practice with his Irish teammates, he got the chance to interact with the reigning MVP and NBA Finals MVP himself, the one and only, LBJ.
“He had some interaction with ‘Bron this summer,” said the former Beachwood star. “For a dad, it was incredible to watch my son working out in a gym with him and Kevin Durant. You can’t describe that experience. He told VJ don’t worry about being me. I know they will try to compare you to me. I’m not walking around trying to be you, so you shouldn’t try to be me. Immediately, a calm came over VJ’s face. His advice was be a good teammate. Play your game, but be a good teammate. VJ took that to heart. It was exactly what he needed to hear, and it relaxed him.”
James, who won three state championships and three Mr. Basketball awards in his high school days, set the bar very high, which would almost certainly be unattainable for most high school players. However, King isn’t most high school players.
“The last thing he (LeBron) told VJ was that he was here for him,” King’s father said. “He made it known to him that he has been through everything he will go through. They just hit it off right away, which was very cool.”
Following the days with his conversation with James, King looked up on the wall in the SVSM gymnasium, and he couldn’t help but notice his predecessor’s jersey. Immediately, he was inspired. Not only to have his uniform placed beside the others, but try and accomplish the one thing arguably the greatest high school basketball player of all-time was unable to attain.
“He wants his number on the wall, four rings, and a college scholarship,” King extended.
The quest for four starts this weekend as King and his Irish teammates make the trek to Columbus for the OHSAA Boy’s Basketball State Tournament.