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P.J. Dozier: Emerging from the shadows

A local sixth-grader is already making a huge splash on the national hoops scene

March 22, 2009

By AKILAH IMANI NELSON - ainelson(at)thestate.com  (Original Article)


Columbia, SC - The video is fuzzy and dim, but in Perry Dozier Sr.’s mind, the images are clear and bright.

In home-video footage, 5-year-old Perry Dozier Jr. dribbles through a crowd of 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds toward the basket as his parents, Perry Sr. and Theresa, cheer him on from behind the camera.

The basketball is twice the size of his head but putty in his small hands. PJ, as his parents call him, displays a mean crossover dribble and a spot-on jump shot. He handles the ball deftly.

 

At 12, Perry Dozier Jr. is the No. 1 sixth grader in the nation. This week, he was featured in the New York Times. With the help of his former USC basketball players, father Perry and uncle Terry Dozier, he P.J. hopes to be one of the nation's best when his class of 2015 heads to the NCAA.
- Tim Dominick/tdominick(at)thestate.com

 

Perry ‘PJ’ Dozier Jr.

The nation’s best sixth-grade basketball player and top prospect in the recruiting class of 2015, according to one recruiting site

Age: 12

Parents: Theresa and Perry Dozier Sr.

School: E.L. Wright Middle

AAU travel team: Columbia Slammers

Position: Point guard

Height: 5 feet 6

National ranking: No. 1 sixth-grade basketball player in the United States, by Hoop Scoop, an online recruiting site

Accomplishments: With the Slammers, won the 2009 14U S.C. state championship. At NBA All-Star weekend, earned the MVP award in the Junior NBA national team exhibition game with 13 points, six blocks, five assists and seven rebounds.
 

“When he had the basketball in his hands, really, even at 2 years old, I could see that this was a game he was going to love, that he had a natural talent for,” Perry said. “When you see that your child has a gift and a desire to do something with it, you don’t necessarily push them, but you want to make ways for them to do that.”

Fast-forward seven years.

PJ is 12 now, and the images are not in only his father’s mind — the 5-foot-6 point guard is receiving national media attention.

In February, he played in the NBA Junior National game, spending All-Star Weekend in Phoenix at the hips of basketball greats.

Earlier this month, PJ was featured in an article in The New York Times after he was ranked the nation’s best sixth-grade player, tops in the class of 2015, by Hoop Scoop.

Fast-forward another seven years, and Hoop Scoop editor Craig Francis says it might be PJ we’re watching create magical moments during the NCAA tournament.

Francis is one of the few, if not the only, basketball authorities to rank sixth-graders. He was impressed with PJ’s performance at two summer camps in 2008.

“When he turns it up, he’s just flat out better than everybody,” he said. “It may sound crazy, but a lot of times you can tell who’s going to make it.”

PJ daydreams about his potential playing career as he watches the madness of March. “I knew I wanted to play that sport from the get-go, so it’s fun to think that that could be my future,” he said.

But both Francis and the Doziers recognize early success is no guarantee of future greatness.

“If I do the best that I can do and I don’t make it, I’ll still be satisfied,” said PJ, who hopes to earn a law degree in case basketball does not pan out.

Said Francis: “He’s got what it takes to become a great player. A lot of things could happen between now and then, but he’s got a good support system, and that’s half the battle.”

‘YOU CAN’T JUST LET GOD’S GIFT SIT THERE’

Perry Dozier and his twin brother, Terry, played for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 1980s. Terry went on to play with the former Charlotte Hornets in 1989-90. The brothers have been setting up PJ for success from the time they recognized his talent.


“My dad’s advice and my uncle’s, I trust that,” PJ said. “They have already been where I’m trying to get to and maybe farther.”

By the time PJ was 5, Perry and Terry were working with him on the fundamentals.

Perry always signs up PJ to play on teams with bigger, older boys to make him stronger and faster. For the past year, PJ has practiced with the Spring Valley boys varsity team, which Perry coaches, along with PJ’s AAU team, the Columbia Slammers.

Terry handles PJ’s training, which consists of sit-ups, push-ups, toe raises and a lot of running.

PJ takes his training seriously.

“I see my basketball talent as a gift from God, and you can’t just let God’s gift sit there,” he said.

As much as Perry and Theresa want to help their son maximize his talent, they want to safeguard his childhood from the pressures that accompany stardom.

Theresa is not worried about how her son will handle the attention, which only will increase if he continues to progress.

“He’s very mature for his age, so he has handled it very well,” she said.

Margaret Shackelford can attest to that.

PJ’s honors pre-algebra teacher knew he was a strong math student, but she had no clue he was a top athlete until an administrator at E.L. Wright Middle School e-mailed her a link to the Times article.

“At this age, they all want to be the most important person, for some reason. And here, Perry has got all this talent, but he does not play up on it at all,” Shackelford said.

Helping keep PJ grounded is that he does not have a monopoly on basketball talent in the Dozier household.

Older sisters Amelia and Asia recently won the Class 4A girls basketball championship with Spring Valley. Saturday, Amelia played in the S.C.-N.C. All-Star game. In 2007, Asia, then in seventh grade, earned MVP honors in the Junior NBA/WNBA National game during All-Star Weekend.

Theresa does her part to keep her basketball prodigies level-headed.

“I give him the praise because I want him to feel good about his accomplishments, but I try to balance it,” she said. “When he knows I’m proud of him and I’ve told him he did a great job, then it’s back to, ‘Where’s your homework,’ and ‘Did you clean your room?’ “

FOR A 12-YEAR-OLD, POSSIBILITIES ARE ...

Beginning this fall, PJ will be off limits to college recruiters until the summer before his senior year of high school.

In that time, dozens of analysts, coaches and fans likely will track PJ’s career. With his athleticism and basketball IQ, if he reaches his doctor’s height projection of 6-8, PJ could develop into one of the most prized college recruits in the country.

And then, maybe ....

Fast-forward another seven years.

PJ is 26, running the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is among the NBA’s best point guards and draws comparisons to Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

That kind of greatness is not promised.

But for a 12-year-old basketball prodigy, the possibilities are endless.

Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.


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