Regardless of all the euphoric fans and trickling sounds of Blake Arena, Keyonte George’s voice penetrated through the noise clearly with each command he shouted from the bench.
Midway through the fourth quarter of IMG Academy’s (FL) game against Montverde Academy (FL) at the 2022 Hoophall Classic, George was taken out due to a small injury to his thigh. Instead of checking out mentally, he continued to holler out words of encouragement while receiving a massage from the athletic trainer.
After entering back in a minute later, the senior standout and Lewisville, Texas product drained a contested midrange jumper to put his team up by two possessions – and took a charge on the defensive end the ensuing play. His grit and determination was fully demonstrated Monday evening.
“All it is is a want-to. I was guarding Dariq (Whitehead), who is a top-five player in the class, so I decided to take it personal,” George said.
“We had to dig in and get stops, so I was moving my feet and not getting in foul trouble. I was showing people that doubt my ability on the defensive end that I can guard. I take pride on that end more than the offensive end.”
George, the third overall ranked player in the 2022 ESPN-100 rankings, is headed to Baylor to play for coach Scott Drew and the reigning national champion Bears in his home state of Texas.
“Just figuring out all the factors, you know, going over all the pros and cons with my family,” he said about the recruiting process. “Baylor was the best fit. They have a great culture there, and they just care for you each and every day on and off the court.”
Noticing how Drew handled his plethora of backcourt ballers – Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague – last year, accompanying the fact that he will be close to home, Baylor was a no-brainer for George.
“Seeing all the guards they produced last year, coach (Drew) really let them play their game and play through mistakes,” George said. “I’m close to home too, so my family can all come watch me play. All those factors coming in, it was a situation I really wanted to be a part of.”
Even with all of the success George established for himself at Lewisville High School, he made the crucial choice to leave his hometown and transfer to IMG for his senior year. Although it was unfortunate leaving family behind, he knew it was the correct move to set him up for future reward.
“It was definitely difficult for me,” George said. “But just coming to IMG, I’m preparing myself to play with better players that are on my level instead of being the guy that takes every shot.
“It’s really preparing me for the next level and the bigger things in life like living on my own. I knew IMG would prepare me for life more than just basketball.”
As expected when IMG matches up with Montverde, there were a substantial amount of highlight plays. Whether it was poster dunks, tough dribble combinations or difficult shot making, the stars were shining at Hoophall. But as almost every player and fan reacted to these jaw-dropping plays, George composedly ordered his team to get back on defense for the next possession – having seemingly no reaction to any of them.
“I just want to stay locked in, especially late in the game,” he said. “They could’ve come back and hit a big shot, so I wanted my teammates to get back. It was a great play by (IMG’s) Eric Dailey finishing that dunk, but we needed to get another stop.
“I see those different dunks everyday at practice, so I know what he’s capable of. So it’s just telling him to get back and get a stop and he can get another highlight dunk.”
George’s talent isn’t just known nationally, it’s known worldwide. Representing Team USA in the U18 3×3 2021 FIBA World Cup last summer, George put on a clinic. He led Team USA to a first place finish, earning them a gold medal while taking home tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
“It meant a lot to wear ‘USA’ across my chest, you know, many people in this world don’t get to do that – represent their country,” he said. “I wear it with pride, and I know that I’m playing for something bigger than myself when I put on that jersey.
“To get MVP of that tournament just shows the hard work that I put in leading up to there, and the trust that they had in me to go get the big buckets.”
During Monday’s game, he received a pass on the wing and smacked the ball together so loud it could be felt in the audience’s chest, squared up to the basket and went to work. That one subtle act symbolizes everything Drew is going to get out of George – a kid that plays with fire and tenacity, a chip on his shoulder at all times, someone who’s willing to put his body on the line when a game is hanging in the balance. He just so happens to be one of the highest skilled two-way players in the entire 2022 class.
Photo by Joe Arruda/The Student