Gate City is Producing Basketball Talent Like Not Seen Before

For as much attention as high school basketball gets in the Tri-Cities, the prep stars of the area have largely been busts. Could the Blue Devils’ be changing that trend?

Sports Talk Show Host Marky Billson

Scoring milestones have been occurring in local high school basketball with some regularity this season but Gate City’s Zac Ervin’s 2,000 points are worthy of note.

Ervin scored 42 points against Union last night in an 86–71 victory to pass the 2,000 point mark, just as McClung did last season for Gate City.

Ervin has made a commitment to play at Wofford after this season, following in the footsteps of Mac McClung, his teammate from last season who is currently the Georgetown Hoyas’ third-leading scorer.

Two Division I players from a 2A Virginia high school located in a town of fewer than 2,000 people is impressive, but the Blue Devils have always been prolific in putting their stars in to college. Twenty years ago when Virginia Tech played for a national football championship the Hokies’ roster featured three players from Gate City; Jake Houseright, Benny Wolfe, and future NFL lineman Chad Beasley.

Why couldn’t other schools in the area historically produce the same kind of talent with their basketball stars?

The dirty little secret of the 1990s Science Hill basketball teams of head coaches George Pitts and Mike Poe was the failures of their players to produce in college. Their pipeline was to Northern Idaho Junior College, not ETSU.

Sure Damon Johnson and Shane Williams went on to play for some bad teams at Tennessee, but it could be argued their college careers don’t even match what McClung has already done at Georgetown in just a half-season. The Hoyas have already won as many games as Tennessee did during the Science Hill duo’s first season in Knoxville and neither player could match McClung’s scoring average.

Besides, Johnson and Williams both went the JUCO route to play college basketball. McClung didn’t.

Other Science Hill stars had college careers that rivaled Al Bundy’s. Nathaniel Bailey played one year as a sixth man at the University of New Orleans and was never heard from again. Jovann Johnson was perhaps the best player of the era. His Division I college career lasted six games at UMass.

Demetric Stevens was a guard at Science Hill in 1999 that the local media clamored for ETSU to sign to the point of practically suggesting men’s basketball coach Ed DeChellis was an incompetent when Appalachian State’s Buzz Peterson landed him instead.

Only Stevens, who died at 26, never made it to basketball season at Appalachian State. He wound up playing at Lees-McRae after a flirtation with Lee.

Meanwhile, DeChellis resurrected the ETSU program with won four straight regular season Southern Conference championships and made the NCAA Tournament twice in the first four years of the century.

Still, the Bucs’ first conference championship team barely averaged 2,000 fans a game because of the negative publicity gathered in large part by not recruiting a pedestrian player.

Now, if one wishes to play fatalist it they could point to the fact McClung missed his second straight game at Georgetown last night due to a sprained ankle and the Hoyas still beat Butler, so perhaps his future isn’t quite as bright as his slam dunk reels are.

And one never knows how Ervin will pan out in college.

But after scoring 49 points in an 88–73 victory at Science Hill last month it’s hard to fathom Ervin will be a bust like the Hilltoppers’ stars were a generation ago.

In recent years there have been some college basketball stars developed through the local high schools. David Crockett’s Patrick Good is now lighting it up as a starter at ETSU, and Science Hill’s Omar Wattad preceded McClung at Georgetown ten years ago.

But Wattad was only a walk-on with the Hoyas and wound up transferring to Chattanooga where he became a two-year starter and averaged 14 points a game for a regular season conference champion. Granted, he’s the most successful college player to come out of Science Hill in recent times, but he was only a reserve for the Hoyas, not a star.

The point is not to bet against McClung and Ervin enjoying success at quality Division I programs, which hasn’t happened much for players around here.

And also, has the local media, many in the same position they had a generation ago, finally learned their lesson it is not wise to get in bed with and overrate a high school as they did with Science Hill in the 1990s?

Why else would there be so much criticism of ETSU then for not landing Stevens, but so little for not bringing Ervin in to their fold now?