DEKALB, Miss. -- As the small crowd of family and friends gathered in the Kemper County High School gymnasium Friday to see which hat prized recruit Devonta Pollard would put on, one man stood over everybody.
No, it wasn’t Pollard, the man of the hour, who stands at 6-foot-7. It was somebody even taller, somebody who knew a little bit about what the young man was going through and how important the decision was that he was about to make.
Standing in the back of the room, sticking out like a sore thumb, was former Mississippi high school basketball legend and University of Alabama star Derrick McKey.
On a day where Pollard chose to put on a ‘Roll Tide’ hat, signifying he was headed to UA to play basketball, McKey was sporting his favorite Alabama shirt.
“I think it’s great for the university, great for the basketball program, to get a player of his caliber with the reputation of a McDonald’s kid,” McKey said after Pollard’s decision.
The two met when Pollard was a tall, skinny 13-year-old kid. He attended McKey’s annual basketball camp which he held in his hometown of Meridian. Even at a young age, McKey saw the potential that Pollard had to one day become a star.
“He was a tall, slender kid,” McKey said. “I saw the athleticism. I saw him block a few shots, and I thought the kid had some potential. From there, I kept up with him, watched his progress and he got better.”
Fast forward four years. Pollard is now ranked No. 28 nationally in the ESPN 100 for 2012. He was selected as a McDonald’s All-American, and he will now follow in McKey’s footsteps, taking his talents to Tuscaloosa.
McKey may still have a few inches on him, but ask the former NBA player and he’ll tell you that Pollard is a better player than he was at that same age.
“Oh, he’s better. He’s better than I was at this stage, coming out of high school. He has more ability. He can do more things than I could. But I got better," McKey said with a laugh. "I got better. We’ll see what he does.”
In his three years at Alabama, McKey led the Tide to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a trip to the Sweet 16, and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1987. Those are some pretty lofty expectations set for Pollard.
However, if anybody is up for the challenge, it’s Pollard.
“I’m going to try to do everything I can,” he said. “I’m going to do everything they ask me to do. I’m going to do it and try to do it 110 percent to try and help the Alabama basketball team become even more successful.”
The only thing standing in Pollard’s way now is himself.
“The only way that I don’t succeed is if I don’t want to,” he said. “Right now and I hope forever, my mindset is to succeed.”