NC State Asst. Coach Mark Phelps found his way over the Appalachians in pursuit of some shooting help. With the departure of Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller at season's end, the Pack needs a shooting guard. Coach Phelps found their guy in Flatt, a three point marksman. The Strutting Wolf recently talked with Hardin Head Coach Anthony Gilchrist and Assistant Coach Greg Wolfe about the shooting phenom that has all the recruiters a buzz.
We talked with both coaches about Justin, the player and the person. As I was quick to find out, the talk of his basketball ability (which is abundant) quickly turns into a discussion about the special person that carries that talent.
I asked Coach Wolfe (who is also his uncle), about his player/nephew. "Justin is a great kid. He's unselfish and is very loyal to his team and teammates. We have two seniors who do not play very much, and last night when the game was in hand, Justin loved sitting on the sidelines watching his fellow seniors getting some playing time."
In that most recent game against Jackson North Side, Justin scored 31 points while snatching a career best 22 rebounds. The 81-54 victory gave Hardin sole possession of first place in their conference. But, probably the biggest stat of the game will never be registered in the box score. That is Justin's effort to work as a team member. "He leads his team with constant praise and encouragement." said Coach Wolfe, "He works hard to include his team members, whether he is on the bench yelling encouragement or on the floor passing the ball. There is so much more to Justin then just a three point shooter."
Justin is also an active Christian in his church. Wolfe talked about this side of Justin. "This Sunday, we have a special youth emphasis night. Justin is scheduled to give his testimonial to the church."
I asked Coach Wolfe if the recruiting had changed Justin's values as often the process can. " Even with all of the success and publicity, Justin has remained very humble. As an example, when coaches would come in to see him, No matter if they were a national power house or an NAIA team 40 miles down the road, Justin always expressed his sincere appreciation for their interest in him." Coach Wolfe attributes this personality trait to long hours in working to get better. "I think that his humility is a result of the fact that he has worked so hard to be successful. That hard work has made his dream become reality."
Coach Sendek has to be pleased with the citizenship that Justin exhibits in his athletic and personal life, but great people do not necessarily make great basketball players. So we asked Coach Gilchrist, who has coached basketball for twenty years in Tennessee, how Justin Flatt compares to all the other players he has seen. "Justin is the best pure shooter I have ever coached. His stroke and form are perfect."
Hardin has a particular shooting drill that consists of a set of 100 three pointers. "Justin will hit on a consistent basis 85 out of 100 shots." Justin is averaging over 30 points per game. He has shot for over 40 points on several occasions this year which included a 45 point performance in front of NC State Coach Larry Harris. He had a season high against Middleton where he lit it up for 52 points. He is accomplishing these numbers in the toughest division in Tennessee, class 3A.
I asked Coach Gilchrist about the work reputation of Flatt that Wolfe had spoken of so freely. "He is a true Gym rat. He not only works on his game hours each day, he often will take the time to work with younger players to help them improve. He worked with an eleven year old for 3 hours one day this week. That's pretty typical and he will be in the gym when he gets to Raleigh as well."
Although Flatt has been working for years on his game, his national reputation had been lacking until last summer. In an AAU tournament in Clemson, South Carolina, Flatt found himself matched up with scoring machine Rashad Anderson (#33 6-5 SG * Conn. Commit) in a pivotal game. Justin exploded for 39 points while he held Anderson to just 9. Shortly thereafter, Bob Gibbons ranked Justin #90 in his post summer rankings. "Being ranked by Gibbons really helped as far as national exposure" Gilchrist said, "we started hearing from most of the majors after Justin's AAU summer circuit was complete."
Coach Gilchrist said Justin's early leader was Clemson, : "I think he would of signed with Clemson in the Fall, but when Dwon Clifton was cleared to play after developing heart trouble, he began to look around again."
Shortly after Justin's courtship by Clemson was over, Coach Gilchrist sent NC State a tape of Flatt, "When we first talked to Coach Phelps, I told them that Justin was 25% better now then what was on the tape." That tape and comments by coach got the interest up from NC State. Coach Phelps began his quest over the mountains to get NC State's next pure shooter.
Soon after, Coach Phelps began calling Justin and the two got real close, real quick. Wolfe explained, "There was something about the way Coach Phelps approached Justin. Justin immediately took to Mark. After one of the first phone calls, Justin called and told me that there was something different about Coach Phelps. Since then, the two of them have developed an incredible relationship."
Coach Phelps initial in-person evaluation of Justin's game came at a time when Flatt had a case of Bronchitis. Coach Gilchrist explains, "Justin had a temperature of 103. We considered calling Coach and asking him not to come because we were unsure if he would play. Justin insisted on taking the court. He scored 42 points. The next day, the bronchitis turned to pneumonia."
Coach Sendek flew to Tennessee in late December and told Coach Gilchrist that NC State was going to offer Justin. "We were completely blown away by the NC State coaching staff from the very beginning. They are all top notch people. They stood out among all the rest."
Coach Wolfe explains Justin's decision in this way. "They flew him to NC State and he had a great time. He felt like the change from Hardin County to Raleigh would not be a major transition. Justin told me that he could not see how any place could be any better than NC State and Raleigh."
Coach Gilchrist who has sat in many basketball venues, said they attended the NC State - Duke game. "The atmosphere is unlike any we had been in. The excitement level at NC State and the ACC is second to none."
After checking in on Justin Flatt, the player and the person, I am convinced that the atmosphere in the ESA is about to be elevated to a new level. Perhaps, with the help of Justin, NC State will soon be second to none in the ACC.