HARRISONBURG – Only a sophomore, Turner Ashby High School point guard James Sullivan appears to be going places. Division I places.
Sullivan, with three seasons of high school basketball remaining, picked up his first college scholarship offer last month when Longwood extended it at the university’s basketball camp on June 24.
It is believed to be the city/county’s first D-I boys’ basketball offer since Harrisonburg graduate Don Burgess – now Bridgewater College’s coach – received one from Radford, where he began playing in 1990.
TA coach Chad Seibert thinks it’s only the beginning of what could be a domino effect in the recruitment of the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Sullivan.
“The real question is: How high can he go?” Seibert said. “I think the sky is the limit.”
Seibert believes it was Sullivan’s toughness that drew the attention of Longwood coach Jayson Gee, who took over the Lancers in April 2013.
“He’s not going to recruit a kid no matter how good he is if he’s not just super tough, especially mentally,” Seibert said of Gee.
Like all coaches, Gee is not allowed under NCAA rules to publicly comment on a recruit until the player signs his letter-of-intent.
TA went 4-0 at the team camp in Farmville, and Seibert said Longwood assistant coaches fell in love with Sullivan over the first three games against Hanover, Fluvanna and McQuaid Jesuit (New York).
Gee watched only TA’s final game, against McQuaid Jesuit, and – to put it mildly – it wasn’t a banner offensive outing for Sullivan. Seibert said Sullivan hit his first two field-goal attempts (a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer) but didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, finishing in the neighborhood of 3-for-15 shooting.
“It might have been the best thing that happened to him,” said Seibert, who also coaches Sullivan’s AAU team comprised of rising sophomores. “… He’s relentless defensively, so they got a good look at how he can handle adversity and just the impact that he has on his teammates and the impact he has on winning.”
Sullivan also garnered significant interest from Liberty at a three-day camp at the Lynchburg school from June 26-28.
“In the last day of that one, they showed us around,” Sullivan’s mother, Diane, said. “They were very supportive of him, too, so that was neat.”
Sullivan, who is attending a Young Life camp for high school Christians in Rockbridge County and is out of phone contact until Thursday, is scheduled to play in three AAU tournaments with Big Shots Elite (Seibert’s squad) this month where he might attract more offers. AAU co-coach and TA assistant Chad Moellenberg said Sullivan will play in Myrtle Beach, S.C., from Thursday to Sunday, at the New24 facility near Washington on July 19-20, at Randolph-Macon in Ashland on July 24-25 and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on July 26-27.
Sullivan played in seven spring tournaments with Big Shots Elite. Moellenberg said the squad includes at least five other D-I prospects: three all-state West Virginians – Luke Frampton (Poca), Elijah Cuffee (Poca) and Jarrod West (Notre Dame) – as well as two players from this season’s Bullis Prep (Potomac, Maryland) team, Bryce Schneider and Deion Hammond.
West, a third-team all-state point guard, influences Sullivan’s role quite a bit, allowing the TA standout to “get out on the wing and get out in transition and be more of a scorer,” Moellenberg said. Occasionally, when West can’t play, Sullivan assumes point guard duties.
With less pressure on Sullivan as a ball-handler, he’s able to fill up the stat sheet and show college scouts his versatility. Plus, he’s averaging over 20 points a game, Moellenberg said.
Though Seibert wasn’t personally surprised by the offer, he said Longwood’s early commitment to Sullivan was impressive and served as “validation.”
“It’s awfully early for the 2017 class, but some coaches are relationship coaches and understand that some kids are relationship kids,” Seibert said. “The more time they can spend developing those relationships, the better off everybody will be.”
Spotswood rising junior Justin Kier, a 6-foot-3 wing, has attracted Division I interest, too, but did not have a D-I offer as of Monday. SHS coach Chad Edwards believes that could change after his July showcases. Kier has been contacted by James Madison, Davidson, Hofstra, Longwood and Old Dominion during the live recruitment period, which started on June 15.
The rarity of D-I boys’ basketball scholarships locally was not lost on Edwards.
“To be honest, in the history of our school, I don’t think we’ve ever had a kid have a Division I offer immediately upon graduation,” Edwards said. “The closest we got was a fellow by the name of Richard Bruce, and he was a recruited walk-on at VMI [who later earned a scholarship].”
Spotswood’s Marlon Organ and TA’s Brian Bocock were both state Players of the Year in basketball, but Organ went to D-II Mars Hill (North Carolina) and ended up at D-III Eastern Mennonite. Bocock chose to pursue baseball. Recent SHS graduate Tucker McCoy, the school’s all-time scoring leader, had a lot of hoops interest, but chose to play baseball at JMU.
Edwards said Spotswood’s Willie Lam was another local with D-I basketball interest, but he decided to play college football at Wake Forest.
Of course, Harrisonburg did produce Ralph Sampson in the late 1970s, a Basketball Hall of Famer who was the three-time college Player of the Year at Virginia and a four-time NBA All-Star.
As for Rockingham County, after more than two decades without a D-I boys’ basketball player, it appears to have two – with five combined years of high school hoops left between Sullivan and Kier.
City/county girls’ basketball has been much stronger in recent years, producing several Division I players. Among them: Harrisonburg’s Kristi Toliver, who went on to star at the University of Maryland and currently plays with the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.