By CHIP CIRILLO
Darius Garland had the choice of just about every basketball program in the country and he picked Vanderbilt.
The Brentwood Academy senior, one of the nation’s top point guard prospects, signed with the Commodores in front of a packed gym at BA on Monday.
Getting the five-star prospect is a huge accomplishment for Vanderbilt’s second-year coach Bryce Drew.
“It was the best fit for me,” Garland said. “The pros: staying at home, of course, being around family, just having the ball in my hands. Getting my teammates involved and he’ll let me play my game.”
Garland hopes to get the magic back in Memorial Gym.
“Before I got here, they said Memorial Gym was packed all the time, so we’re trying to get back to that,” Garland said. “That’s the main goal to try to win games and hopefully make it to the (NCAA) tournament next year.”
Garland is hoping top-15 prospects Romeo Langford (New Albany, Ind.) and Simi Shittu (Saxton River, Vt.) will join him on West End.
“Anchor down, let’s get it rolling,” said Garland when asked what he will say to Langford and Shittu the next time he talks to them.
UCLA, Kentucky and Indiana were also in Garland’s final four.
Garland said UCLA was No. 2 on his list. Duke and Kansas were in his top six.
BA’s Cam Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald committed to Vanderbilt in football. Even though Garland is close friends with them, he said it wasn’t a factor because they play a different sport.
Garland’s older brother, Miguel, was an assistant coach at Valparaiso under Drew before he took the Vanderbilt job.
“I went to camp, I think, my third-grade year and I just fell in love with Coach Drew,” Garland said. “I mean, he’s a great guy and he was really cool to me. He worked me into his office and he said I had a bright future.”
Garland said he got calls from Kentucky coach John Calipari and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski nearly every day during the recruiting process.
“It was really crazy,” Garland said. “There are not a lot of 17-, 18-year-olds that get this opportunity, so I’m really blessed. I just had to make the right decision for me and that was to stay home.”
Garland said he never thought he would go to Vanderbilt until Drew got there in 2016.
Garland called the coaches at UCLA, Kentucky and Indiana on Monday to let them know about his decision.
He told Drew on Friday.
“It was like the best moment of his life, I guess,” Garland said.
Garland said Drew and one of his assistants cried when he told them he was Vanderbilt-bound.
“That brought a lot of joy to me and my family,” Garland said.
Garland is ranked as the nation’s No. 3 point guard, according to 247 Sports.
“I’m thrilled for Nashville because this is a future NBA player that Vanderbilt’s going to get and he’s a better kid than he is a player,” BA coach Hubie Smith said. “It’s a great match.”
The two-time Mr. Basketball averaged 23.4 points and 4.5 steals for BA (30-2) last season.
“What makes him special from a basketball standpoint? He has no weaknesses,” Smith said. “Everybody raves about his shooting and ballhandling – I think he’s a better passer than he is a shooter or ballhandler. And they always talk about he’s the best shooting point guard in the country. I think he’s the best passer I’ve seen.”
Garland has gained 14 pounds since his junior year, putting him at 174.
“He was 5-4 when I met him in April of his seventh-grade year and now he’s 6-2,” Smith said. “He was 105 pounds. Now, he’s 174, so his body has changed greatly, but he’s just a joy to coach.”
Former BA coach Robert Butler had an inkling of how good Garland would be some day.
“He goes, I want to introduce you to the kid who will be the best kid to ever play at BA,” Smith said. “And I said Robert, didn’t Brandan Wright play here? He said, yes, but he will be the best kid to ever play at BA. And I love Brandan, but I can’t argue with what Robert said.”
Wright, a Memphis Grizzlies forward, played at North Carolina before moving on to the NBA.
Garland led BA to Division II-AA titles the past three years.
Garland’s father, Winston, was an NBA point guard from 1987-93 and 1994-95 with one year in Italy toward the end.
“I’d like to think some of the passion I have for the game rubbed off on him in some way,” said Winston, who got emotional as his son announced his decision. “It’s been overwhelming. There was a stretch there where, shucks, we were on the road every weekend for a couple of months.”
Garland spent a lot of time competing in the AAU circuit, played USA Basketball and took official visits to UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
“The first day that (coaches) could call, I think it was the 12th of July, they called at 12 a.m. and it was a school night. And I’m like, Are you serious?” Winston said. “Some of that takes place, but for the most part they were super respectful, so it was good all the way around.”