A Star in the Making: Aaron Nesmith
Phenom Hoop Report has consistently sought to put college coaches in front of college-worthy players and it has led to the emergence of next-level opportunities, both at the collegiate and professional ranks. We have the honor of calling over a half-dozen NBA players “Phenom Alumni” while placing that same label on hundreds of current collegiate athletes. Over the years, there have been thousands of Phenom Alumni who moved beyond the high school level and that number continues to rise daily. The reason this information is relevant to an article on Porter Gauds’ Aaron Nesmith? He’s been overlooked and underrated for long enough; Nesmith has potential beyond the collegiate level and that’ll start to resonate around the country, as he’s finally getting the look he deserves.
First, in order to understand how far he’s come, we have to look back at the journey that brought Nesmith to where he is today. Aaron has always called Charleston, South Carolina home, as he’s spent his childhood with parents, Bernard and Erine, and brother, Eddie. Some of his fondest, earliest memories involve sports; he sheds some light on his youth and sports: “I played all sports growing up, including football, baseball, and soccer. It wasn’t until the fifth grade where I fell in love with the game of basketball. I recall watching my older brother play at this young age and found myself attempting to better understand what was unfolding before me. The competitive aspect is what drove me to take such a liking to the sport, my brother and I used to play one-on-one in the driveway. We kept score sheets and I strived to be better than him.” Lifelong friend and teammate Jake Lanford was the person that introduced Nesmith to AAU basketball at the age of twelve, it only took off from there.
A year later, as Nesmith enters seventh grade, where he decides to quit football and focus solely on basketball, his newfound love. Still playing side by side with Lanford, he began learning how the game worked and had a perfect running mate for the job. It wasn’t until the summer between his eighth and ninth grade seasons where they split up, playing on separate AAU teams for the first and only time. After that, it was clear that their relationship on and off the court allowed for a seamless pairing. Lanford and Nesmith both played varsity ball during their freshman season and Aarons’ list of notable achievements are impressive. A starter in his first two years at Porter Gaud, he’s been the leading scorer (x2), named team MVP (x2), All-State Selection (x2), South Carolina All-Star Participant (x2), Conference POY, Lowcountry POY, and 3A state champion (2015-16). Last season specifically, he posted averages of 18.5 PPG and 6 RPG with 45-40-74 shooting splits (field goal percentage-three-point percentage-free throw percentage), which is phenomenal, let alone for a sophomore campaign. Nesmith also had performances of 16 and 13 points in the state championship and semi-finals, respectively. It’s no wonder that Porter Gaud took home the state championship, not only did they go 25-3, but they ended on a 14-game winning streak and did so with a strong core of players.
Having already touched on the Lanford-Nesmith relationship, it is essential we look at another key cog to their success, Josiah James. We asked Aaron what it was like playing year-round with these two at Porter Gaud and for TMP Elite 17U, he laughs, “It is a lot of fun playing with those guys; Jake is a traditional back-to-basket big man, something you don’t see much in todays’ game, but he does so many things well and it allows my game to open up. I can dump it down to Jake and let him go to work, this allows me to work off-ball and find open seams within the defense; he’s really smart in making decisions and looks to me often. We work very well together; his game doesn’t get enough appreciation, as he does all the little things. As far as Josiah goes, he is really, really good. Josiah can get me the ball in the best of positions and, though I’m looked at as the scorer sometimes, he is able to control the game better than most guards.” These three have established that they are a force to be reckoned with in the present and future—they compliment each other so effectively it’s almost staggering. Very few teams at the high school level can form a collection of talent this strong: a true point guard that never turns the ball over, a prolific two-way force, and an all-around big man.
Furthermore, we spoke about a little about the NBA and what academics mean to Aaron, both were refreshing. Though his favorite player is Dwyane Wade, he models his game after Jimmy Butler: “I definitely relate with his intensity, it’s my favorite part about his game. He’s become really good at pulling-up and he finishes well around the rim or in traffic. Dwyane is still my favorite player though; I like his ability to hit shots with difficulty, something I feel that I’ve integrated within my game. However, I feel there is something I can do that neither of them can: hit the outside shot with consistency.” Nesmith is very modest about his ability on the basketball floor, but it’s what he does in the classroom that makes him equally as impressive. Right now, he’s sporting a 3.7 GPA and takes all advanced classes at Porter Gaud, a school known for its high academics. He prides himself in the classroom and is extremely respectful, well-versed young man.
Now that we have looked at Aaron Nesmith as an individual, we can further explore his basketball game and what that entails. He has taken part in the Phenom National Showcase, South Carolina Top 80, and Summer Havoc all within the last six months. Each of those events proved to be a huge stock-booster for him; he dropped 29 points on Coby White and Greenfield School most recently during National Showcase, averaged 15 PPG during South Carolina Top 80 (also earned defensive MVP honors), and 14.5 PPG at Summer Havoc.
More on his game: Measured at 6’6, with a 6’11” wingspan and 34-inch standing vertical, Nesmith is a complete two-way player that undoubtedly belongs at the high-major level. He’s a sneaky-explosive athlete who plays with a very high motor, great speed, and often throws down dunks with zero hesitation. Offensively, he is among the most talented scorers on the east coast that gets whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. Calling Nesmith a “quality scorer” is like saying Ray Allen could “really shoot the three-ball,” simply unable to fully encompass the whole story. He is a player that can shift gears on a dime, able to play and thrive with any type of pace; his scoring comes regardless of circumstances. So few players possess the arsenal he does, Nesmith can do everything, as he’s able to attack both sides of the floor frequently. All areas are effective for Nesmith; his range is deep and quite strong out to 30 feet. He can pull-up from anywhere, especially elbows-in; has no problem getting a shot off around the basket, with either hand. Once he gets going downhill, very few defenders can even hope to contain him, as he attacks the basket regularly and draws an ample amount of fouls. Nesmith’s jump shot is smooth, and though he integrates a lot of leg movement, his form is quite nice with a high release that he can get off quickly. He plays off-guard but can handle and create with ease, though ball-handling is what he sees as his biggest area to improve; possesses high level intelligence and has shown he’s able to bend defenses at will.
What remains peculiar about Nesmith is that his scoring totals are what jump off the page, but he is an extremely polished defender as well. After earning the Defensive MVP at South Carolina Top 80, he’s consistently shown it is a priority. Nesmith in regards to winning the award: “I was really happy about winning this honor, as most people tend to look at my scoring above all else, but I take real pride on the defensive end and it was great to be recognized.” There are just few scenarios that surprise him; Nesmith is constantly aware of his surroundings while displaying ability as a lockdown perimeter threat. Additionally, the things that are always seemingly overlooked Nesmith does with pride: two-way rebounding, transition defense, hustle, leadership (both vocally and by example) and a never-ending list of intangibles. He’s a gym rat, always working on his game or watching film; his sole goal for the season is bringing home another state championship. When asked about his thoughts on Phenom Hoops and the upcoming season, he had plenty to say: “Phenom definitely boosts my exposure. After every event I attend, there is a flourish of calls that come my way. I really enjoy the platform and amount of coaches that are in attendance. In the state, AC Flora is considered our biggest competition, though we probably won’t get to play them outside of the Chick-Fil-A Classic. I look forward to playing against Gray Collegiate, as Juwan Gary and Jalek Felton are big players in the area, and I feel that I play better on the bigger stage.” Nesmith breathes basketball and considers it the biggest part of his life along with his family. In the little spare time he can find away from school and basketball, he enjoys going finishing with his father.
Porter Gaud head coach and TMP assistant John Pearson discussed Nesmith with us and gave quality insight. When asked about coaching Aaron around the calendar, he provided us with the following: “Aaron is very easy and fun to coach, as he is a sponge that works incredibly hard on and off the floor; he wants to win above all else. He, Jake and Josiah like and root for one another, there are no egos and no jealousy between them. Aaron and Jake have been attending Porter Gaud since first grade, while Josiah joined in seventh, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.” We spoke about the similarities between Nesmith and Porter Gaud alumni (and current Milwaukee Buck) Kris Middleton. Coach Pearson on the two: “They are similar in terms of natural scoring feel and ability. Kris wasn’t nearly the player Aaron was as a freshman or sophomore; his [Kris’] biggest jump took place between his junior and senior season.” The final piece of information we sought out was regarding Nesmith’s personality off the court and away from basketball to which Coach replied: “He is very mild-mannered, humbled, and doesn’t draw attention to himself despite being a popular kid. His personality off the court is completely different from the killer you see on the floor.”
We spoke very briefly with Nesmith about his recruitment process and currently, he holds six division one offers: Charleston Southern, College of Charleston, Wofford, Mercer, Furman and Duquesne. However, many more schools have been in contact and expressed varying levels of interest, including North Florida, Brown, Columbia, Yale, American, Towson, Clemson, South Carolina, Old Dominion, Cal Poly, Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Asheville, and North Carolina A&T. Nesmith is one of the best prospects in South Carolina and has serious potential to play beyond the collegiate level; his recruitment will certainly continue to progress, as he simply cannot fly under the radar anymore.