E.A. Sports Today

Youth movement

Calhoun County basketball in good hands moving forward as bright young stars light up the night

Michael McGraw (5) may be only an eighth-grader, but he’s the ‘glue guy’ who holds Faith Christian together. On the cover, McGraw and teammate Malcolm Carlisle (10) are among several young stars who have been glowing hot in Calhoun County this season. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

 

“I’ve never seen this many kids this young making that big an impact in the last 20 years I’ve been around it.”

– White Plains coach Chris Randall

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Since the start of this year’s high school basketball season fans across Calhoun County – and maybe even beyond – have marveled at the way Faith Christian’s Malcolm Carlisle has filled up the box score with points.

It was been impressive that the Lions’ freshman has filled with the basket with 20 or more points most every night; he went for 41 last Friday at Donoho. What shouldn’t be lost in all that, however, is the play of another, even younger, guard who makes it all possible.

Michael McGraw is the player the Lions seek to keep it all together. He’ll break out a big scoring game on occasions and usually he and Carlisle are the team’s two top scorers, but a lot of what he does doesn’t show up on the scoreboard and is something the Lions couldn’t have success without.

And, amazingly, he’s just an eighth-grader, a fact that sometimes his coach even has a hard time wrapping his head around.

“He plays a lot older than that, that’s the thing,” first-year Faith coach Justin Kisor said. “There are times you can tell he’s an eighth-grader, but a lot of time he plays better than he is. Malcolm’s big, but we go as (McGraw) goes. He’s the leader, the glue guy.

“Everybody always asks me how old they are and when I tell them they’re like, ‘Wow,’ and they’re only going to get better. That’s the scary part for everybody else and the good part for us.”

McGraw, an aggressive 5-10 guard, isn’t just an eighth-grader getting thrown onto the big stage. He got his first taste on the varsity last year with a much older and experienced lineup around him and held his own. He made his first start early in the season against Sylacauga, an eventual Class 5A Final Four team, and scored 15 points and has never left the lineup.

“I saw poise and confidence in Mike that you don’t see in most juniors and seniors,” said White Plains assistant coach Brad Yarbrough, the Lions’ varsity coach last year. “I knew he was special before that, but that showed everyone he was ready. I could talk strategy and situations with him and he understood and could talk back with me. What he doesn’t know he is always eager to learn.”

Things were a little bit easier then, with veterans like Jordan Griswould and Jack Sills beside him. He knew it would be different this year and worked all summer to prepare for it.

The son of a coach, he elevated his game with a couple AAU teams and ultimately landed in one rating services top 150 future prospects – at No. 148 – impressing the panelists as “one of the most physically imposing” guards they evaluated.

“We had Jordan and Jack last year, they were really the leaders on the team,” McGraw said. “I had to step into their role and do what they had to do and be more of a leader this year. I knew I was about to carry a big load on the team so I had to get way better than I was last year. I got my whole game better, all around. I feel like I’m doing the same things as I did last year, I’m just doing them more efficiently and more often.”

McGraw and Carlisle are two of several players ninth grade and younger who will be among the young stars to watch at the Calhoun County Tournament that starts Saturday. Don’t be surprised if most, if not all, wind up on the all-tournament team.

No disrespect to the older set, these young guns are so pervasive and impactful you could almost pick an All-County Team among them and not be leery of the product on the floor. It perhaps has never been deeper.

In addition to the Faith duo there’s Alexandria’s 6-7 freshman post Landan Williams, Oxford’s 6-3 freshman combo guard Roc Taylor and Piedmont guards Ryley Kirk (a freshman) and Alex Odam (a seventh-grader).

“I’ve never seen this many kids this young making that big an impact in the last 20 years I’ve been around it,” White Plains coach Chris Randall said.

“I’d take that team,” Kisor said.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise younger players are making an impact – just look around the game as a whole. Freshmen are playing on the college level, and then quickly bolting for the NBA. Rookies are making a splash in the pros.

The first player to make an impact at such an early age that came to mind for many of the county coaches was Tanrrance Landrum of Weaver. More recently, you saw the impact Sacred Heart’s D.J. Heath, Kevion Nolan and current senior Diante Wood made as freshmen. And then there was Oxford post Zondrick Garrett, last year’s County Tournament MVP who left over the summer for a private school near Atlanta.

“You’re playing right away if your ability’s there,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “You don’t have to play junior high basketball and then graduate to JV basketball and when you’re a junior you can play varsity. If you’re good now you’re going to play on the varsity level and you’re going to have a chance to shine with your team and help your team be successful.”

Keep an eye on them. They’re growing up before your eyes and they’ll be gone before you know it.

CALHOUN COUNTY BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Saturday’s Games
(At Oxford Sports Arena)
Boys Bracket
No. 13 Pleasant Valley vs. No. 12 Faith Christian, 10:30 a.m.
No. 14 JCA vs. No. 11 Donoho, 1:30 p.m.
No. 10 Ohatchee vs. No. 15 Wellborn, 4:30 p.m.
No. 8 White Plains vs. No. 9 Weaver, 7:30 p.m.
Girls Bracket
No. 13 Ohatchee vs. No. 12 Saks, 9 a.m.
No. 14 JCA vs. No. 11 Donoho, noon
No. 10 Sacred Heart vs. No. 15 Faith Christian, 3 p.m.
No. 8 Weaver vs. No. 9 White Plains, 6 p.m.

 

Sharp-shooting freshman Ryley Kirk (13) has been one of Piedmont’s leading scorers all season. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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