There’s a fresh new buzz around the high school hard court these days.
Kids, who used to come to the gym to get their daily fix of as much free-ball as possible, have a better reason for showing up to a varsity boys’ basketball main event.
They’re coming to see arguably the best player in a generation to come out of the Lower Mainland to hit the district hardwood – Burnaby South Rebels’ point guard Jermaine Haley.
At a recent senior boys’ game at New Westminster’s Pearson Gym, a throng of basketball-toting youngsters lined South’s end of the court to watch Haley’s acrobatic warm-ups.
Older students in the stands leaned over each asking one another what the number was of this teenage superstar.
Haley left no one disappointed, responding with a circus-style one-handed windmill slam dunk that caused the crowd to ooh and aah and the little kids to scream and jump in crazy disbelief, exploding from their rapt anticipation like bursting popcorn kernels – attempting in mock mimicry to emulate their new hero.
They know who Haley is, and although just 17, the lanky Rebel star knows it, too. He’s a showman.
But Haley is much, much more than that.
Haley is a legitimate four-star prospect, who is gaining nation-wide attention from both sides of the border for his silky smooth basketball skills.
TheProvince’s pre-eminent high school sports writer Howard Tsumura captured the multi-talented Haley in a recent blog in perhaps the only way one could – poetry in motion.
“His three-point shot is a form-perfect exercise in round arc and ball spin. His drives to the basket are so confident they resemble a ballerina playing hopscotch on the playground.
“And when you watch him play off his check defensively, and extend his long arms into the passing lanes, you almost get the feeling that he knows where the ball is going to be delivered before the passer does.”
Tariq Sbiet, CEO of North Pole Hoops, a national scouting service for college coaches, was quoted recently that Haley has a chance to be a very special player, and Jack LeGwin, recruiting writer for ZagsBlog, said Haley is perhaps the best player to come out of British Columbia since Steve Nash.
High praise, but others believe so, too.
ESPN Recruiting Nation Basketball described Haley in scouting terms –“Excellent frame with long arms, nice shoulder width - deceptive speed and quickness. In the half-court set, he can dissect the defence with his cross-court passing and penetration.”
Nearly 30 U.S. Division I schools have shown at least medium interest in the 6-7, 185-pound phenom, including Associated Press top 25 teams – No. 3-ranked Gonzaga, No. 6 Louisville, No. 8 Utah, No. 10 Arizona, No. 14 Maryland, No. 15 North Carolina, No. 22 Baylor and a flock of Pac-12 schools, including the University of Washington, whom he backed off a verbal commitment to after earning a 2016 reclassification that would allow him one year of prep school eligibility before committing to a college program.
His Drive Basketball club head coach Pasha Bains said Haley’s over abundance of natural talent and positive demeanor give him a very real possibility of becoming one of the province’s all-time high school greats.
“He sees plays I don’t even see. It’s just amazing,” said Bains, a former Canadian high school player of the year and Sport B.C. high school athlete of the year. “He’s one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen, for sure. But, he’s one of the best passers in B.C. history.”
That’s a lot of hype to live up to, but Haley has learned to deal with it, said Bains, who played two seasons at Clemson University before transferring to Simon Fraser University, where he won Canadian university player of the year in 2004.
So far, Haley is handling the pressure pretty well.
His Burnaby South Rebels are ranked among the top 25 high school programs in Canada and the team itself is currently 16-3 and ranked fifth overall.
His high school coach Mike Bell, who won a B.C. junior title with Haley in 2013, said his court vision sets him apart.
“He just sees the court and understands the game better than any other player I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Bell said.
“Some of it may be God-given, but I work really hard at what I do,” said Haley, who described himself as an even better football player while growing up.
But basketball was always more fun for the laid-back superstar, so he chose roundball over the pigskin much to his pro football-playing father’s chagrin.
“I just didn’t have the same love I have for basketball,” he said.
That love extends to his current high school teammates, who he credits with helping him “be me.”
“When I’m on the court with my teammates, it’s just about getting better,” he said. “We try to put on a show and play the best basketball.”
But taking the spotlight off himself has not been easy.
“He’s been through the wars already. He’s getting harder,” added Bains of Haley’s continued growth playing in the Amateur Athletic Union league with Drive elite teams.
Detractors have perhaps unfairly compared him to 2014 seniors Jadon Cohee from Langley and Mindy Minhas, who led Winston Churchill to the quad A boys’ hoop title last year.
But this year is his alone to prove those insiders otherwise.
“I have to be better. I have to play better team basketball,” Haley added. “In my mind, I’m trying to figure out who’s open, where they’re open?
He’s also cognizant of who he is and what he represents.
“I have to look at the bigger picture,” Haley said of his post-secondary future.
It’s more about what is good for him, will in the end, be good for his family, too.
“I want to represent them in a good way,” Haley said. “I have to be a role model for my little sister like my (older) sister was to me.”
And enjoy this final fling with his close Rebel teammates.
“The season has to end. I hope when it does we come out with a championship,” he said.
When that moment comes, he will also answer the question everyone is keen to know - Where does Jermaine Haley plan to spend the next five years of what few doubt will be a promising university future?
It’s a big burden for a young man, but Haley has learned how to carry it well, said his club coach.
“To be honest, it’s hard to be Jermaine Haley, but it has given him time to blossom more and get through it,” said Bains. “It’s hard to be that guy, and he’s doing a real good job being that guy.”