Jermel President didn’t have anyone to guide him as a budding basketball star growing up in downtown Charleston in the early 1990’s.
Back then he learned most of what he knew from life experiences, taking the good with the bad as he navigated through the ranks of the sport. Now after more than 30 years in the game, President hopes to use what he’s learned to provide some guidance to the next generation of local players.
President was hired this week as head basketball coach of Oceanside Collegiate Academy, a new public charter high school opening in Mount Pleasant in August. Oceanside aims to prepare student-athletes for college through a class curriculum balanced with an emphasis on athletics.
“Traditional high schools aren’t always supporting the student-athlete as a whole,” President said. “There’s a lot of talent bottled up in our traditional public high schools that I think we can help. Parents aren’t always fully educated in what to do. That’s how I can help. I’ve been through all of that. I wish there was a situation like (Oceanside) to help me when I was younger.”
President, now 41, starred at point guard for the College of Charleston during the John Kresse glory days of the late 90’s. He’s the only Cougar in school history to play on three NCAA Tournament teams. He helped the Cougars to four regular-season conference titles at a vital time of transition from the Trans American Athletic Conference into the Southern Conference.
“He’s a natural leader,” Kresse said. “Jermel had a feel and knowledge of the game that was second to none in my 23 years of coaching at the College of Charleston. He knows the game, he loves the game and now he wants to teach the game. I think he’ll be an outstanding coach for this new program.”
But the path to College of Charleston wasn’t the easiest for President. Growing up in a house with 10 others, he was often left to figure things out on his own.
President was region player of the year at Burke High School in 1994 but when Clemson and Georgetown came calling, he was faced with a harsh reality. President never took the SAT or ACT and his grades didn’t qualify for Division I basketball. He was forced to attend prep school at Fork Union Military Academy.
“At the time, there wasn’t anyone helping us with what we needed. I didn’t know about things like NCAA Clearing House information,” President said. “I didn’t have anybody telling me how to eat, how to handle my body, how to train. As a coach at Oceanside, it’s my responsibility to do that for the athletes. It fits the mold perfectly with what I’m trying to do.”
President played professionally for five years after college before discovering his true passion of helping others. He established the DAE Foundation with a mission to assist young basketball players through “skills training with an emphasis on moral character, academic progress, and overall physical and mental health.”
“There’s a lot of raw basketball talent in the Charleston area. Now it’s our job to develop that,” President said. “Kids now don’t even understand how to read a pick-and-roll. Our public schools go to the Roundball or other tournaments and don’t place in the top three because they’re missing the small intricacies of the game.”
President developed his gritty, hard-nosed playing style from S.C. high school hall of fame coach Earl Brown at Burke. He sharpened his mind and refined his game under the precision of New York City Basketball Hall of Famer Kresse while at the College of Charleston. Then he further polished his game, learning the nuances of a professional while playing for NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry in the United States Basketball League. He’s spent the past seven years as a consultant for area teams like Porter-Gaud, Fort Dorchester and Burke.
“I expect he’ll instantly gain the respect of his players because of the experiences and the wisdom that he can offer,” Oceanside athletic director Charlie Stubbs said. “His ties to the community were very important and I think he has a strong message that can help our student-athletes. He’s focused on helping young student-athletes become not just better players but better people and that’s what we were looking for.”
President says his foundation and Oceanside’s mission are one and the same and one of the primary reasons for his interest in the school and vice versa.
Winning is important to him. He’s done plenty of that in his career. But making a significant impact in his community while doing so would make winning even that much sweeter.
“I want to be that voice for a kid in our community that I didn’t have 15 or 20 years ago,” President said. “As I got older, I had some great men affect my life and I hope that I can do that to help the next generation succeed.”
College of Charleston coach John Kresse watches as Jermel President heads down the court during practice in 1999. (File/Staff)×