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Darryl Hicks: Mature beyond his years

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By Todd Martin

Just looking at Darryl Hicks, he appears to be just like any other player on the Shelby County High School basketball team.

You see loads of potential in his long, 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame that appears to have room to grow.

What you don't see is that Hicks has to ride the bus to practice everyday, and he doesn't clown around with his teammates in the hall between classes.

That’s because he is 14 years old and an eighth grader at West Middle School.

But he also is the first player off the bench for the Rockets.

And you quickly recognize why, because Hicks looks like he's supposed to be on the floor with players three and four years his senior.

Hicks said he has missed playing with his middle school friends and former teammates, but he said he didn't want to pass up the chance to see how he stacked up against high school players.

"The game is a lot faster, and the players are a lot stronger, but it's been fun playing with them," he said.

SCHS Coach Mike Clark said he could see that Hicks was ready to make the jump, even if it was a year early.

"When we decided to bring Darryl up to play on the varsity team this year, there were two factors we had to look at: his physical maturity and his mental maturity," Clark said.

"Physically, players have to be able to handle the increased competition, and mentally, they have to be able to adjust to the grind of longer games and practices and a longer season.

"Not only has Darryl handled the physical part, but I have not noticed one area that he's slipped mentally, either. He's very basketball savvy for an eighth grader."

Clark noted that Hicks is one of the better rebounding guards on the team. He's also averaging 8.2 points per game, so he's obviously made himself part of the offense.

"It's been a good fit," Hicks said. "I was a little surprised that Coach Clark wanted me to come up and play, but I'm having fun."

  Focus

Going from the top scorer and leader to a role player off the bench would seem to be the toughest transition for Hicks, but both Hicks and Clark said it hasn't been that hard.

"It really hasn't been that different," Hicks said. "I just try to get everybody involved in the game, and try not to mess up a whole lot. But I'm going to every now and then."

Clark said Hicks' willingness to work hard is what's made the difference.

"Darryl does the dirty work," Clark said. "He rebounds, plays defense, he's unselfish, and he rarely takes a poor shot.

“He's really helping our team and he hasn't had any trouble adjusting so far. With the way he's improved already, I think by the end of the year he's going to be our best on-ball defender."

  Comparisons

Fans love to compare players, and when you're talking about an eighth grader playing major varsity minutes in this state, one player instantly comes to mind: O.J. Mayo.

Mayo played for Rose Hill Academy as a seventh grader and led the Royals to the Sweet 16 as an eighth grader. After one season at Southern Cal, he’s now a starter for Memphis.

But just because both Mayo and Hicks played varsity in the eighth grade doesn’t mean you can compare them, Clark said.

"You hate to make a statement like that," he said. "I don't like to compare players because it's not fair to the player. It's hard to say this early in his career how he's going to turn out, but we think he's going to be special."

If you don't want to travel to the mountains for a comparison, there's another one right here in the county, A.J. Slaughter.

Slaughter was a freshman before he suited up for the varsity squad, but his impact was immediate.

"That might be a more fun comparison because they're both from Shelby County, but it's still not fair to either player," Clark said. "A.J. left a mark on this program, and what we want from Darryl is for him to be his own player.

“We want him to mature at his own rate and play his own game, not someone else's."

And with four more years of varsity basketball to play, one thing is for sure:  Hicks will leave a mark. Yet the goals he sets for himself are very simple.

"I just want to get better and try to make it to college," he said.