For most of his EYBL opener agaist Team Penny, it looked like Jayson Tatum was struggling. He had picked up two early fouls, and the length and size of K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson were creating issues for him scoring the ball.
And then you check the box score at the end of the game, and he finished with 26 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Tatum just finds ways to make plays. He wasn't getting clean looks against the Lawson brothers, so he attacked the rim and drew contact, getting to the free-throw line 13 times. He was active on the glass, and took on more of a playmaking role with the defense focused on him.
“I'm just showing I can play up an age level, and compete with anybody,” Tatum said. “Come out here and play my game.”
Tatum, a 6-foot-8 small forward from Chaminade Prep (Mo.), is one of the best players in the sophomore class – but he wants to get a little stronger to be able to really hold his own, inside and out.
“Being more physical,” he said. “You've gotta be tougher down here in the paint.”
Tatum has plenty of suitors, with Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas and Saint Louis in heavy pursuit recently.
Duke and Illinois recently went to Missouri to watch Tatum, and big-name coaches from around the country kept an eye on Tatum while in Sacramento.
Tatum likes Mike Krzyzewski and the history of Duke.
“They've got great tradition,” he said. “They're one of the legends of college basketball, and they've got one of the best coaches.”
Illinois is making an effort for Tatum, and he has built a relationship with head coach John Groce.
“I like coach Groce a lot, because he has a lot of energy with his guys,” Tatum said.
John Calipari and assistant coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen watched Tatum last weekend, and the Wildcats' ability to get guys to the pros is attractive to the elite sophomore.
“Everybody's dream out here is to go to the NBA, so you go to Kentucky, he's proven to send kids to the league,” Tatum said of Calipari. “So that's a plus about them."
Along with Duke and Kentucky, Tatum said North Carolina is also coming at him the hardest.
“North Carolina, they're kind of like Duke,” he said. “They've got great coaches and great tradition.”
Tatum is ranked No. 4 in the 247Sports Composite for the class of 2016. He averaged 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists last weekend.