Hendricks, Howard poised to be third and fourth NBA draftees from dominant U-School team

Yoni Afework remembers the practice sequence like it was yesterday.

Then an assistant basketball coach at University School in Davie, Afework watched one of the team’s star players, Scottie Barnes, go up against a tall, lanky freshman named Taylor Hendricks in practice every day.

At one practice late in the season, Barnes — then 6-8 and 215 pounds — went up for a dunk. Hendricks, who was 6-7 but just 180 pounds, got in his way, but Barnes slammed it over him. Undeterred, Hendricks got the ball back and challenged Barnes at the opposite rim, dunking on the five-star prospect.

Not to be outdone, Barnes got the ball back and slammed past the freshman challenger a second time.

“All I remember is Scottie coming back and booming on Taylor again, and the whole gym starts going crazy,” Afework said. “But Taylor, he challenged him both times and got dunked on both times. And Scottie’s yelling, screaming, talking (trash). But then I just remember I was talking to Taylor after that. I was like, ‘Bro, you are fearless, man. This kid’s one of the best players in the country, but you come and bring it every single day. You don’t care if you get dunked on.’

“I was like, ‘Bro, this kid is going to be special.’”

Afework was right. Hendricks left U-School after his sophomore year, transferring to nearby Calvary Christian. He signed with UCF, and after one season, he is poised to be a lottery pick in this week’s NBA draft.

But he is not alone. Barnes is already an NBA star, having won the 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year award. Another freshman on the 2018-19 squad, Jett Howard — the son of former NBA star Juwan Howard — is poised to be a first-round pick this week, too. That team’s star senior, Vernon Carey Jr., was a five-star prospect and Duke standout before playing parts of three seasons in the NBA.

After this week, the Sharks will have spawned the careers of four NBA players — not to mention that of first-round NFL draft pick Zay Flowers, who also was a standout on that basketball team. It could be the greatest collection of high school basketball talent that Broward County has ever seen, with four potential NBA players from that 2018-19 team.

“We were a fun team”

Jim Carr was handed the keys to a Ferrari.

Carr, who had previously coached college basketball at Rhode Island, was an assistant coach at U-School during the 2017-18 season. That year, the Sharks went 35-2. They lost one regular season game to Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, a basketball powerhouse that has produced the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Jerry Stackhouse. U-School won the prestigious City of Palms Classic and rolled to a state championship. Their second loss was in the GEICO Nationals title game against Orlando-area powerhouse Montverde Academy.

Coach Adrian Sosa resigned after the season ended, and Carr took the reigns.

Carey and Barnes led the 2017-18 team. Carey was the South Florida Sun Sentinel Broward County small schools player of the year after averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks as a junior. Carr said he was “as dominant a scorer” as there was in the nation that year. Barnes was no slouch, making the All-County first team after averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists as a sophomore.

“I didn’t want them to be just good high school players,” Carr said. “I knew I was blessed with guys that could do this for a very long time.”

Although U-School saw two talented seniors depart after that 2017-18 season, there was still a solid supporting cast around Barnes and Carey. The Sharks had Flowers, who would go on to star on the football field, and Roger McFarlane, who plays for Southeastern Louisiana now.

As incoming freshmen, Hendricks and Howard were not expected to play large roles. Hendricks was even slated to start his high school career with the junior varsity team, Carr said.

“That seems to be a good theme in Taylor’s life,” Carr said. “He always outworks his expectations.”

Although Hendricks and Howard were role players on the team, there were glimmers of the type of players they would become.

“Jett had stardust on him,” Carr said. “He was a kid with the pedigree of being (Juwan Howard’s son), and he was always an elite scorer in every age bracket he was in. His offensive skills were always advanced for his age. And he had a confidence about him. Like he definitely had a swagger.”

Howard’s brother, Jace, also played for the Sharks, and their father would often come to U-School practices. Then an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, the former Michigan star and long-time NBA player would lend advice when asked.

“He was just a great influence and role model for our guys to see every day, not just his accomplishments but how hard he worked and how humble he was with everything, too,” Carr said. “Never big-timed anybody. It didn’t matter if you were the manager or a JV player. If they came over and said hello, he would spend time and talk to them.”

Like Howard, Hendricks quickly impressed his coaches.

“My wife jokes about it because I came home and said, ‘This kid is going to be a pro,'” Carr said. “I’m not saying this boastfully. He just has an incredible capacity to get better and better every day. He’s an elite worker. He’s such a focused worker. I really believed in him as hard as I believed in any of those other guys.”

The pair of freshmen impressed as role players. Howard finished the season with seven points and two assists per game. Hendricks averaged 4.9 points and 3.4 rebounds.

“Playing with those guys all year, Vernon and Scottie, was almost like passing the torch a little bit for the next generation,” said Afework, who now is a video coordinator for the NBA G-League’s South Bay Lakers. “And they lived well above and beyond what anyone imagined.”

The team’s two stars, Barnes and Carey, led the team to a 27-5 record and a second straight state championship, though they could not win a national title at GEICO Nationals. Carey was the Sun Sentinel player of the year for the second season in a row, and Barnes was a first-team All-County pick again.

“We were a fun team,” Carr said. “We played everywhere. We traveled to Oregon. We traveled to New York. We traveled all over. We did an ESPN home game. Vernon committed on SportsCenter. All the accomplishments Scottie’s had since he left there — the rookie of the year and all that stuff. The fun thing for me is just watching these guys grow and just have the careers and being able to look back and knowing I shared a little bit of that journey with them. I was able to be on the path with them.”

From U-School to the NBA

Hendricks and Howard returned to the Sharks for the 2019-20 season, but Barnes did not. The five-star prospect finished his high school career at Montverde Academy, the school that had beaten the Sharks at GEICO Nationals two years in a row.

Carr was also gone. Despite winning a state championship in his first season as head coach, the school fired him after the season.

Without Barnes and Carey to lead the way, the two fledgling stars came into their own. Howard was second on the team with 15.6 points per game, while Hendricks was third with 14.2 points per game. Hendricks also led the team with 8.6 rebounds per game.

U-School went 19-7 but lost to eventual state champion Stranahan in the playoffs. It would be the last game Hendricks or Howard played for the Sharks. Howard transferred to IMG Academy, while Hendricks stayed local and went to Calvary Christian. He won back-to-back state titles with the Eagles.

The two stars went down different paths following their departure from University School. Howard went from IMG Academy to Michigan to play under his father, who was named the Wolverines’ head coach in 2019. Hendricks and his twin brother, Tyler, stayed in Florida, signing with UCF.

“From the start, me and my brother always wanted to play college basketball together,” Hendricks said when he committed. “That was probably the most important thing.”

Both players had strong seasons in their sole year of college. Howard averaged 14.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and two assists for the Wolverines.

“The game just comes super natural to Jett, more so than I’ve seen for a lot of players,” Afework said. “Scoring the basketball just comes easy. That, I think, is what makes him valuable and intriguing. … His size, his length — 6-7 dudes don’t move like that.”

But Hendricks, who does not have the NBA pedigree and did not choose a team with the basketball history of Michigan, surprised people with his dominance in Orlando. Hendricks averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks for the Knights, putting himself on scouts’ radars.

“His offensive abilities now are just coming out of the woodwork,” Afework said. “He already had the motor, he could run up and down, he played hard.”

Several mock drafts peg Hendricks as a likely lottery pick, while Howard is also expected to be a first-round pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Less than five years after the pair of freshmen walked onto the court and established themselves with a powerhouse high school team, the two can join Barnes as NBA stars.

“Outside of the days you really remember in your life — the day you got married or the day my son and daughter were born — draft night is just a really cool experience to go through,” Carr said. “I can’t wait for the end of this month when these guys get drafted, too. It’s really a day you see all the dreams come true.”