The Crestwood High School gymnasium, long known as The Castle, was abuzz on Monday afternoon because Ja Morant was in the house.
A building he had filled with noise many times over while becoming the leading scorer in Crestwood boys basketball …
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A building he had filled with noise many times over while becoming the leading scorer in Crestwood boys basketball history, there was a wave of excitement because he returned as a conquering hero and a soon-to-be multi-millionaire.
Morant, the 6-foot-3-inch point guard who perhaps was the most well-known player in college basketball not named Zion Williamson after his consensus All-American sophomore season at Murray State, was honored by both the city and county of Sumter with Ja Morant Day.
Morant, who declared for the National Basketball Association draft last week and is expected to be a lottery pick, enjoyed the celebration but was humbled by it as well.
"I just want to thank everyone who came out here today to support me," Morant said. "I want to thank you for coming out. I really appreciate it."
The Castle was around two-thirds full, and there were people of all ages there to participate. Small children, older men and women, many, many millennials, middle-aged people were there to catch a glimpse of the young man that many NBA experts see as being a can't-miss prospect.
As the ceremony was about to begin, the Crestwood cheerleaders stood at one of the doors at the back of the gym from where Morant would make his entrance. When the music began to play, most of the fans on that side of the gymnasium stood with their arms extended, smartphone and cameras in hand to record it for posterity.
Dr. Shirley Gamble, the principal of Crestwood, was the first to speak during the ceremony.
"I feel like I'm a proud grandmother," Gamble said.
The man who coached Morant during his high school career, former Knights head coach Dwayne Edwards, had nothing but praise for the way his former player has handled his sudden success.
"This is a special day, a special celebration for Ja Morant," said Edwards, who was an assistant coach with the 1992-93 Hillcrest 4A state championship team on which Morant's father, Ronnie "T" Morant, played. "I'm just so proud of him for the positive presentation, for how he has represented us at Murray State."
Edwards also pointed out how Ja Morant has let it be known from where he comes.
"We know he's from Crestwood, he's from Dalzell, the county of Sumter, the state of South Carolina," Edwards said.
Morant was honored by Team Sumter, which represents The City of Sumter, Sumter City Council, Sumter County Government and Sumter County Council.
Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen presented a key to the City of Sumter, which drew thunderous applause from the crowd.
"Since Dalzell doesn't have a mayor, I feel like I can do this," McElveen said.
McElveen also pointed out that Morant is an example of what hard work can do.
"You're just a true example to young people and what you can do if you just work hard and do the right things and just keep plugging along," McElveen said. "No matter what, you've believed in yourself."
Several members of Sumter County Council were in attendance. Chairman James T. McCain Jr. spoke on behalf of the council, reading the entire proclamation in which it stated that Morant would become one of the greatest players of all time.
Ja's uncle, Phil, himself a former star athlete at Hillcrest like his brother, believes great things await his nephew as well.
"He is about to take this area (Sumter County) to a level where it has never been before," Phil Morant said. "And we couldn't have picked a better ambassador for this area.
Morant averaged a double-double of 24.5 points and 10.0 assists in leading the Racers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament this year after averaging 12.4 points as a freshman.
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