February 25, 2011
Make no mistake: Horace Spencer III is a phenom. Just don't hold it against him yet.
After all, it's easy to crown any talented preteen a "phenom." First, a small website calls a sixth, seventh or eighth-grader freakishly talented and predicts he will "blow up." A YouTube clip -- or two or three -- leak out, and other blogs and sites catch on (maybe even a smaller newspaper) echoing those sentiments and adding in phrases like "whispers of greatness" and "huge upside and potential." Finally, word of a preternaturally talented man-child reaches the mainstream media, and outlets rush in to stake their claim on the player's discovery trail. One might even go so far as to use a familiar, uber-famous name in the headline (check out the one above).
Sometimes the "phenoming" process can elevate those who probably don't belong there. Other times it sets off a flurry of attention that never truly subsides, serving as a prologue to a long stay in high-profile sports and, sometimes, the pop culture subconscious (see under LeBron James, Tyreke Evans and John Wall). It seems fair to assume that the hype surrounding Spencer III is likely of the latter variety. As profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey, among others, Spencer is a 6-foot-8 eighth-grader with immense athleticism, wingspan and size 17 shoes that -- brace for it -- offer up whispers of a 7-foot future. And all of that foretells of great things in Spencer's future.
For now, the Klinger (Pa.) Middle School student is focused on being a middle school student and getting along with his teammates, both in scholastic sports and his AAU program, the South Jersey Gymrats.
True to his team's name, the gym is where Klinger is most comfortable, a fact that isn't particularly surprising given his immense size compared to others his age. Yet Spencer also reportedly has the other aspect that made players like James and Evans so magnetic: He's an incredibly likable kid, one who's particularly comfortable sharing the spotlight that increasingly finds him on and off the court.
"I kind of like the [on-court] attention," Spencer told the Inquirer. "The annoying part is when people ask me the same questions over and over when I answered it already."
His AAU coach intimated that he's happiest being just part of the team.
"He has a great personality," Gymrats coach Rick Barrett told the Inquirer. "He's always smiling. He's humble. When people meet him, they realize he's authentic.
"He is a nice kid, and people are going to cling to him. That's what it was with LeBron. People clung to him not only because he could play, but everybody liked him."
He's authentic and possesses nearly unchecked talent. Spencer's eighth-grade season was just his second in scholastic basketball. The 13-year-old has played the game for fewer than three years, and is already being bombarded with recruiting phone calls throughout the night and AAU programs offering his father a choice of high-paying jobs to get him to move and play for their program.
While the preteen identifies himself as a dispassionate North Carolina fan -- "I saw them play one time, and they were decent," Spencer told the Inquirer -- there's little question that practically every college program in the country will be chasing the teenager as soon as they legally can, whether he ends up at St. Patrick (N.J.) High, Imhotep (Pa.) Charter, Roman Catholic (Pa.) High, another school which has made a pitch to land him, or just his local public school, William Tennent (Pa.) High.
With Spencer's talent and size, the school probably won't matter much. All that matters is that he keeps improving, growing, and the hype machine continues to chronicle his rise. If the early statements from his current coach and other youth basketball talent evaluators are any indication, that won't ever be a problem.
"He's an athlete right now. But once he figures it all out, there's no telling how good he can be," said Van Johnson, the director of scouting for Baseline Hoops and a member of the McDonald's All-American Game selection committee.
"I think in four years his nickname will be 'LeBron Who?'" said Rick Barrett, Spencer's coach for the South Jersey Gymrats of the Amateur Athletic Union.
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