Vincent King is a basketball man, and he’s also a basketball dad.
He’s not Crazy Basketball Dad, though he understands why someone would ask if he was.
On Wednesday, that someone was me.
That’s when word started leaking through various hoop-related circles that King’s son, who goes by VJ, is going to play his high school basketball starting next season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron.
More accurately, that’s where VJ King is going to resume his high school basketball career. He’s currently an eighth-grader who plays on the varsity team at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, NC, where his coach is former NBA guard Mugsy Bogues and one of his teammates is Braxton Ogubeze, the 45th-ranked player nationally in Scout.com’s list of 2012 college prospects and a University of Florida recruit.
I was curious as to why a kid playing at one of these “name” basketball programs in North Carolina would need to seek out another “name” program in Northeast Ohio. I wanted to see if there was more to the story, some background, some outside influence. So I started sending emails and performing Internet searches and before too long I was on the phone with Vincent King.
This is news — or at least something close to it — for many reasons. High school sports are a huge deal ’round these parts, for one. For two, the quality of high school basketball in and around Akron hasn’t been the same since Zac Jackson graduated from Manchester in ’98 and LeBron James graduated from St. V-M in ’03. Also, there are people who do national rankings of middle school basketball players, and lots of those people list VJ King as an elite talent in the class of 2016. Yes, these kids are barely out of diapers and lots of them are already envisioning their own Nike shoe design, but people are ranking them. One site touts its rankings as “exceptionally accurate.”
The whole thing would be exceptionally laughable except for one thing: People are reading these rankings. You’d better believe the top college basketball programs are reading them and probably studying them. In recruiting, the early bird often gets the worm.
In terms of being an eighth-grader, a 6’6 worm often grows to 6’10 or taller. Thad Matta and Roy Williams dream of one day eating dinner in these kids’ dining rooms. John Calipari has a nationally-televised PRACTICE in the middle of the season for a reason.
Anyway, Vincent and VJ King have reasons that VJ will be attending St. V-M. Vincent King is the executive director of First Tee – Akron, a program that uses golf to encourages urban youth to make healthy and productive life choices. He previously worked for First Tee in Akron before being named executive director of First Tee – Charlotte in 2005.
Vincent King was working in Akron “when LeBron was doing his thing in high school. No question it was easy to get caught up, to get excited about what was going on. But I can assure you at that time I was in no way thinking my son would ever go to Saint V, and VJ was never thinking he’d go there and be the Next LeBron.”
Vincent King said he knew St. V-M coach Dru Joyce through his work in raising funds for the First Tee program in Akron and admired Joyce, “but never as anything more than a regular, humble guy. I just liked Dru. We talked about basketball but never once about VJ playing for him one day.
“I’m sure some folks will come up with their own understanding of how we’re going to get to St. V. Just know that I studied lots of schools and lots of programs very intently, and VJ and I agree that Saint V is the best place we think he can reach his full potential. This was no backroom deal. I recruited Saint V; they did not recruit VJ.”
Vincent King was clear. His son understands the history of who and what have come before him on the basketball floor at St. V-M, but the last thing VJ King is doing is announcing that he’s taking his talents to Akron.
“My son is a humble, focused kid,” Vincent King said. “He’s a good student. He’s a kid. He’s a big brother, he’s a good friend, a good teammate. He loves basketball and works at it, just like his sister (Jalen) loves volleyball. They’re both independent and want to be their own people.”
A few things about VJ King…
*He’s 6’5, just a hair short of 6’6. He played on the high-school junior-varsity team as a sixth-grader and split his time as a seventh-grader between JV and varsity, averaging 7 points per game on the varsity. He’s tall and gifted, sure, but his dad says he’s not going to make LeBron-type highlights at the rim, at least not anytime soon.
“He’s not the most gifted kid physically,” his father said. “He doesn’t run real fast or jump real high. Honestly he’s not the strongest or quickest kid at this point, either. But he knows how to play basketball, he loves to play basketball and when I watch him play I see a guy who gets key rebounds, scores, takes charges and always makes good passes.
“He learned to play below the rim early out of necessity. He’s a really smart kid, he works hard and he understands his weaknesses. I’m not going to tell you what those weaknesses are but I can assure you that VJ knows them and works on them.”
*Those “rankings,” should you choose to scour them, have VJ King as one of the top 20 players in his class nationally. Some have him in the top five.
*He doesn’t have a favorite college or even a list of programs he’d like to play for. People have asked – and they keep asking.
“We don’t get engaged in outcomes,” Vincent King said. “We’re excited about the process. That doesn’t mean a recruiting process. He’s growing up, and he’s growing up as a basketball player. He busts his butt. Spending the time I’ve spent around golf has taught me a few things, and one of those is that if you practice you’ll be good. If you don’t, you probably won’t be good. He’s good at basketball because he works at it.
“He’s basically a kid playing varsity basketball, and he’s had to adjust his game. He’s had to learn how to maximize his touches and his talents. His future hasn’t been written yet.
“He’s too young to talk about college basketball or think about college basketball. I know VJ wants to be great, but does that mean great in high school? Great in college? Great in the NBA someday? I don’t know. I don’t ask him. My job is just to be here for him.”
Vincent King grew up in Beachwood, in Cleveland’s suburbs. He played basketball collegiately at Div. II Indiana University in Pennsylvania, then had a long pro career playing overseas.
“I was born and raised here in Northeast Ohio; I love this place,” he said. “Mentally, it’s like I never left. Charlotte has been good to our family but there’s no place like home, and Ohio is home.”
Vincent King said he’s been staying at his brother’s apartment near Cleveland since taking his new job in Akron. His wife, daughter and VJ will come north when this school year ends and the family is looking for a house in the Copley School District. If all goes according to plan, Jalen King, who’s 13, will attend Copley.
If all goes according to basketball plan, VJ King will continue to grow — as a person, as a player and maybe even grow a few more inches — and Vincent King will keep fielding calls from talent scouts, from college coaches, from curious Internet writers.
“There’s part of it that you can’t run from, you have to accept it,” King said. “As he gets older, it’s more about accepting it. I don’t want him to have undue pressure. I don’t want him to worry about where he’s ranked, and I don’t think he does. He actually laughed one time after I talked to a guy about what his national ranking might be.
“He basically told me, Dad, if I can be the No. 1 player in the country when I’m a senior, that would be really cool. And if that doesn’t happen, I’ll still love basketball. What he’s ranked is of no consequence to me and he could care even less.”
Last April, the website middleschoolelite.com didn’t rank a single Ohioan in its list of top 25 class of 2016 basketball prospects. We don’t have to go full-time to Urban Meyer’s sport of choice yet, though, because VJ King is coming.
And it appears he has a good head on his ever-growing shoulders.