Sitting at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, not far from where Michael Jordan once shot and one-bullet Barney Fife readied for one, Jack George waited to board a Chicago-bound plane.
Whether he has a starring role himself someday at Elon University -- a half-hour drive from Raleigh-Durham -- isn't important for George. What matters to the 6-foot-10 center is that a Division-I basketball program is giving him a shot.
"For a while, I didn't know if I was even going to play basketball (in college) because I really wanted to go play Division I," said George, who boasts a soft jumper that complements his low-post skills.
A two-year varsity starter for Carmel Catholic, George capped his senior year last winter by averaging team bests of nearly 15 points and 8 rebounds per game in helping the Corsairs capture a school-record 25 wins and Class 3A sectional-final berth for the second year in a row. He averaged 17.5 points in four postseason games. He rarely left the court all season long.
The skinny was that he was too skinny. Thus, when his high school career was over, big colleges weren't lining up to offer him a roster spot on their basketball team. He says he had only one scholarship offer, from a D-II school.
"I kept waiting," George said. "Schools would drop by and see how things were going with me. Then around the middle of April, in one week, I picked up like five Division-II offers and two Division-I offers. And then Elon came in. By that point, I was really tired of sitting around and waiting. I had been to Elon, and I know people at Elon, so I just decided that was a good place for me."
George says he received D-I offers from Western Illinois and New Jersey Institute of Technology. Western Illinois and Elon came to watch the tall kid work out and shoot the basketball.
"Western Illinois offered me to come in and play right away," George said. "But being realistic with myself, I didn't know if I'd really be able to do that. Elon wanted me to come in the first year, acclimate to college, get bigger and stronger, acclimate to the college game, and then sophomore year I'd start playing."
So it was on to Elon, which is located between Greensboro and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle. This upcoming season, Elon begins its inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association, after a long run in the Southern Conference. Under head coach Matt Matheny, the Phoenix went 18-14 last season, hiking their three-year home record to 33-11.
Thursday, George was headed home to Libertyville for two weeks after spending the last two months in North Carolina. At Elon this summer, he took a couple of classes, lifted weights five times a week, familiarized himself with his new surroundings and new teammates, and put a hefty 15 pounds on his 205-pound frame.
His lack of bulk was the main reason he had concerns whether he could handle the demands of D-I college basketball as a freshman.
"When I came to camp at Elon, I realized that I made a really good decision because it's a totally different game than high school," George said. "In high school, you can get away with so many bad habits. It was, honestly, astonishing to me. I didn't know I had so many bad habits.
"My body looks totally different now," he added. "I'm bigger. I'm more cut. It's going to help my game. I've been hoping for the day when I finally could gain some weight, and luckily it's finally happened."
Elon's 2014-15 schedule includes visits to Duke, Northwestern and even Cancun, Mexico. George looks forward to hopefully making those road trips. His journey has just started.
"I'm really excited for what's ahead," he said. "All of my teammates are super cool and good guys, and they're good players. I think we'll have a really good team this year."
Kirby headed to Cardinal Stritch:
Billy Kirby, a varsity regular for Carmel the last three seasons, will play basketball for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. The Wolves won the NAIA Division II national championship in 2013.
"I think Cardinal Stritch is a really good fit for him," Jack George said of his high school teammate and good friend. "He's definitely going to bring some toughness to that team. He and I were in the gym constantly in the spring working on our shot. He can really, really shoot it now."
The 6-1 Kirby averaged 7 points per game last season, while being a dependable defender.
"I think the most important thing is going to be his IQ," George said. "He knows so much about the game. He studies it a lot. He goes on YouTube and watches clips of players and what moves they make, and what reads they're making. I'm just happy for him. I know that's what he's been working on tirelessly for his whole life."
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