Jayson Tatum's mouth fell open.
The Chaminade senior basketball star didn't believe who was in front of him and what he held in his hands.
Tatum sat on a dais as four-time NBA all-star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway walked toward him with the Gatorade National Player of the Year trophy cradled in his arms.
The 6-foot-9, Duke-bound standout took the podium in front of friends, family, teammates and assembled media under the guise of a press conference to wrap upChaminade's championship season and discuss his appearance in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game. He was left in the dark until Hardaway stepped forward with hardware in hand.
Tatum, 18, was left speechless.
“It means the world. Just to have this moment with my friends, family, my teammates. They surprised me good,” Tatum said. “I really can't describe it. This is right up there with winning a state championship.”
Tatum averaged an area-high 29.5 points per game and 9 rebounds, three assists, two steals and more than one block per game as he led the Red Devils to the Class 5 state championship. He is the second player from Missouri to win the award since its inception in 1987. The other was Chaminade graduate and current Washington Wizards guard Brad Beal, who won after his senior season in 2011. Tatum attended Beal's assembly. He was a seventh grader at Chaminade's middle school. Tatum aspired to be like Beal but knew the odds were long.
“I remember the day Bradley Beal won his,” Tatum said. “Never in a million years did I think I'd actually win. It's a dream of mine. I'm so glad it came to reality.”
Other notable honorees include Dwight Howard (2004), LeBron James (2002, 2003) and Kobe Bryant (1996). Ben Simmons was the reigning award winner.
It's been a whirlwind few days for Tatum. He spent Sunday through Wednesday in Chicago for the McDonald's All-American Game and its festivities. He scored 18 points to lead the East all-star team in Wednesday night's game. On Tuesday he and two other competitors took part in and won the Legends and Stars Shootout at the historic Chicago Theater.
“It's been busy to say the least. I just had a wonderful time,” Tatum said. “Being able to compete in the McDonald's All-American Game and come back to school and have my friends surprise me with this. I just can't explain it.”
He left Chicago around 5 a.m. Thursday. He said his mother, Brandy Cole, was persistent that he made it back to Chaminade.
“I'm glad I came to school,” Tatum said, drawing a laugh from the assembled crowd.
Having Hardaway present the award was also meaningful. The former Orlando Magic star point guard coached against Tatum's eighth grade AAU team. It was then he noticed the ability that oozed from the youngster.
“I just noticed the talent and thought this kid was going to be special,” Hardaway said. “I just tried to mentor him and give him advice on what to do in certain situations. It's become a deeper relationship.”
Added Tatum, “He's been a great mentor for a long time now. He had a lot to do with much of my success. I'm truly thankful.”
Content from St. Louis Today's David Kvidahl, see the article here.