National recruiting writers from Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247Sports surrounded Paul Laurence Dunbar junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth before he could even make it off the basketball court after Saturday’s game.
Hollingsworth — a relative unknown on the national scene before Saturday’s appearance at the Marshall County Hoop Fest — had just gone for 33 points in Dunbar’s decisive, 76-62 victory over defending Alabama 3A state champs Madison Academy.
A few minutes after the game, Hollingsworth said that Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Northern Kentucky have been the main schools recruiting him.
He was asked how many scholarship offers he had accumulated up to that point.
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“Zero,” he said.
Later in the day, EKU became the first program to extend a scholarship offer. It certainly won’t be the last.
Hollingsworth has been a standout player for the Bulldogs since his freshman season. He started every game as a freshman, averaging about 14 points per game. Last season as a sophomore, he averaged 20.0 points per game.
The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 29.3 points and 7.3 rebounds through the first three games of this season.
“I’ve been trying to tell people for two years: He’s real, I’m telling ya,” said Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk. “He might be the best player in the state. He’s special. He’s got a great temperament. He never gets upset. He can score inside and out. He handles it, likes to guard. He’s tough. As tough as they are.”
Hollingsworth said he concentrated on improving his ball handling over the summer, putting in long hours in the gym in anticipation of a junior campaign that includes realistic expectations of a state title run.
Improvements in a guard’s ball handling often breed improved confidence, and that’s been the case with Hollingsworth, who attacked the basket continually against the defending state champs from Alabama.
“I was really impressed with his ability to score,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He has a knack for scoring. ... He has long arms. He was pretty quick. He scored in a variety of ways. He knocked down jump shots, he hit mid-range pullups, floaters, got to the rim.
“You can tell he’s a competitor, too.”
Hollingsworth acknowledged that he’s been a University of Kentucky fan his whole life and said his “dream offer” would be one from the Wildcats. “I have to play harder. Work harder,” he said.
Only a select few players in each recruiting class earn that UK offer, so the achievement will be a tough task for the local standout. Even if he never reaches that dream, the work ethic he’s shown so far will ensure that he’ll be playing Division I basketball somewhere two years from now.
“His confidence level is going up,” Chalk said. “That’s the big thing. He’s had the ability. Right now, he knows that he’s that good. And I’m not saying that to be conceited. It’s just that when you know you’re good enough, then you start playing up to the level you can play.
“That’s what’s happening now.”