By Brian Paglia
Coaches from the men's basketball program at the University of South Carolina Upstate were at Morrow High School evaluating a potential recruit, but ended up finding another.
Tony Dukes had the day off from basketball practice at Atlanta Metropolitan College, where he is currently a freshman, and he decided to give his alma mater a visit. There he found Spartans coaches visiting a Mustangs senior, one with a smooth jumpshot, but not quite the player they needed.
The USC Upstate coach attended an Atlanta Metro game to see Tony play. Then he attended another. And another. Soon, Dukes was on an official visit to the Spartanburg, S.C., campus. Soon, his mind was made up.
Dukes signed with USC Upstate this past week. He'll have three years of eligibility and the chance to play Division I basketball that he felt he should've had coming out of Morrow as the Clayton County Player of the Year his senior season.
Dukes liked the situation at USC Upstate so much that he chose not to wait around for other opportunities.
"I like the fact that it wasn't too far away from home," Dukes said, "but it was still giving me a chance to get away.
I like the fact that we get to play a competitive schedule."
Indeed, the Spartans, a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, had the toughest non-conference schedule last season in the league, according to rankings by Ken Pomeroy.
They criss-crossed the country to play Nebraska, Indiana, Miami, UNLV, Arizona State and Wichita State. This season they'll play Michigan, N.C. State, South Carolina and Virginia.
Dukes' year at Atlanta Metro was meant to get him prepared to face Division I competition and he succeeded in that end.
As a freshman, he finished second in Region XVII in scoring with 18.7 points a game, was selected first-team All-Region and was an All-American nominee.
"I went into this thinking that I could do big things," Dukes said, "but it never dawned on me that I could've made this happen in one year."
According to Morrow boys basketball coach Jay Livingston, Dukes was overlooked by colleges his senior season despite averaging more than 20 points a game and displaying a high intellect for the game.
"He was a Division I talent at Morrow," Livingston said.
"When he left and went to Atlanta Metro, they really found a very special kid. But he could've left Morrow and went to Upstate as a freshman, because he had that kind of talent."
Now, Dukes gets a chance to make an immediate impact at USC Upstate next season, and the Spartans could use the help after going 6-23 overall and 6-14 in the Atlantic Sun last season.
"I didn't come all this way just to make it to this level and just flatten out," Dukes said. "I want to keep getting better and better."