It's probably safe to say that Braxton Beverly
is the most ballyhooed seventh grade basketball player in Kentucky history.
Fans throughout the state have been buzzing ever since the 5-foot, 8½-inch point guard from Perry County Central (Hazard, Ky.)
came off the bench to score 23 points during a 68-58 state-tournament loss to Wayne County (Monticello, Ky.), a crowd of 13,524 witnessed the unexpected feat at famed Rupp Arena.
Though he never started, he had 16 points and six assists to earn MVP honors in the regional championship game. He had 14 points and also was named MVP in the semifinals despite fouling out with three minutes left.
For the year, he averaged 9.4 points, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals. He shot 37 percent from 3-point range and 80.2 percent from the foul line.
Even the experts are hooked on the 14-year-old phenom.
Rick Bolus, who operates High Potential Basketball Recruiting Service in Shepherdsville, Ky., predicts that Beverly "Is going to be a household name before it's all over."
Mike Fields, veteran sports writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, pointed out that O.J. Mayo had 25 points and 10 rebounds in a state tournament game against Louisville Ballard, but he was in eighth grade. Another eighth grader, Richie Farmer, played very sparingly during a brief state tourney appearance.
Fields told MaxPreps that Beverly "is pretty quick and he is very, very basketball savvy. He can create and take it to the rim. Big crowds didn't seem to faze him at all. He is mature beyond his years. There's never been a seventh grader to have an impact like this."
Veteran coach Allan Hatcher knows he has something special and he already is putting together a schedule for next year — which includes a trip to Florida — to showcase his rising star and several other returnees, including 6-6½, 235-pound sophomore Dalton Cornett
"I'm already trying to figure out ways to get him open," Hatcher related, conceding that the youngster will be a marked man next year.
Hatcher still marvels at the aftermath of Beverly's 23-point game, pointing out, "He could not walk around Rupp Arena without kids or adults stopping him for his autograph or just to talk to him."
Even during the game, Hatcher said, "It was just mind boggling to watch the people's faces – adults across from me – react when he would slice through the defense."
Ballhandlers supreme Pete Maravich and Meadowlark Lemon may have to move over some day and make room for Braxton Beverly.
Beverly reinforced the idea when he said, "Probably the best thing is dribbling. I usually like to get in the paint, pull up or dish to one of our big men. My shooting range is a few feet behind the 3-point line."
He concedes he needs to improve his defense.
Beverly calls his uncle, former college player Heston Beverly, "a very big inspiration. He's taught me everything I know."
Heston began working with his nephew when he was in second grade.
"He absorbs everything you tell him," Heston noted. "He loves being in the gym – he's a gym rat. He's a prolific ballhandler and sees the floor really well. When he comes in, the whole complexion of a game changes. He can take over a game.
"We keep him well grounded. His mother and father gave him to me when it comes to basketball. If he gets to be 6-1 or 6-2, he'll have a bright, bright future. If he's only 5-10, he'll still be Division I."
Braxton was introduced to basketball at age 1 and by age 6 was playing on his elementary school team. He normally played up a grade or two. As a sixth grader he exploded for 50 points – including 21 of 22 at the free throw line - in a 24-minute game.
Almost every day he will shoot 100 free throws and between 800 and 1,000 shots. Despite his youth, he doesn't seem to be fazed by game pressure or big crowds.
"I usually just zone them out," he said of the huge state tourney crowds. "I didn't take it as much pressure. It was just like another game, but I knew it wasn't."
People who have watched him call him absolutely fearless.
"I've heard that a lot," he said. "It's how much more aggressive I am than people my age. I hate to lose."
Blending in with much older players has not been much of a problem.
"I actually thought it would be harder for them to accept me, but they encouraged me all the time," Braxton said of his older teammates.
He doesn't just excel in basketball, however. He is the No. 1 cross country runner on his team and carries a perfect 4.0 GPA in the classroom. In case you can't identify him on the court, just look for the kid with his trademark black socks pulled halfway up his legs.
Braxton said he'd like to grow to 6-3 and if he had to pick a college today it probably would be Duke University.
How about his home-state University of Kentucky Wildcats?
"I love to watch UK play," he conceded.
Does he get much grief because of his love for Duke?
"They (rabid UK fans) torture me about it," he sighed.