"He's a 50-year-old midget."
That's what Columbia (Ga.) High basketball coach Phil McCrary says about his most important player, point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen. Don't get McCrary wrong, he loves the 5-foot-8 mighty mite, who quarterbacks the team's offense on the court. He just has one of the country's most quotable nicknames as a measure of his gratitude, as the coach explained to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"It's a compliment, not at all meant in a derogatory way. It's just that most kids his age make simple and minor mistakes on the floor. It's rare for Tahj because he's more mature than most of the point guards he plays against.
"How many 15-year-olds do you know that are constantly looking up at the clock, knowing the situation they are in? How many always know where to go with the basketball? Know when to shoot? When to slow it down? And when to take over a game?
"All that stuff, Tahj has already learned. That's why I call him a ‘50-year-old midget' because his knowledge is way beyond his age."
Luckily for McCrary, Shamsid-Deen is just as mature off the court, insisting that he understands McCrary's comment is as sincere a compliment as the guard can get.
"It makes me smile and laugh," Shamsid-Deen told the Journal-Constitution. "I know exactly what he means. Coach means I'm wise beyond my years with how I see the game. I guess I'm smarter than I'm supposed to be at my age."
The point guard is only a sophomore, but he's already getting plenty of attention from some of the nation's top programs, including UConn, Florida and Memphis. Perhaps fittingly, Shamsid-Deen is a star in the classroom as well, pulling down a GPA near 4.0 and earning an NCAA-qualifying SAT score when he was in just the seventh grade.
Needless to say, there's no question that Shamsid-Deen will be eligible to play in college, though his coach clearly hopes he can find some loophole to keep him from ever leaving.
"It would be like trying to fly an airplane without the pilot," McCrary told the Journal-Constitution. "That's how important Tahj is to our team."