Every now and then you see a kid on the basketball court who turns your head. Sure, he's tall, but there's always something else, something smooth, something calm, something special.
Wednesday afternoon at West Ashley High School that kid was Milton Jennings, a 6-9 junior forward from Summerville's Pinewood Prep. A full head taller than any of his teammates or opponents, he's the kind of kid that stirs conversation during a holiday tournament like the Roundball Classic.
For you old- timers, Jennings is that rare combination of size and grace that reminds you of Alex English, South Carolina's great scoring forward from the 1970s who later starred for the Denver Nuggets.
A product of North Charleston, Jennings is one of those success stories because he is using basketball rather than basketball using him.
"He's just a fantastic kid, one of the most disciplined kids I've ever been around," his coach, Pat Eidson, said before his Panthers won their opener, 57-47, against a scrappy Academic Magnet team. "He knows what he wants in life and he knows how to attain it.
"He has taken advantage of opportunities given to him. He works hard in the classroom and on the basketball court. There are so many kids out there who have no idea how to take advantage of an opportunity like this. I'm actually astounded by his maturity. I have so much respect for Milton to have the wherewithal to do what he has done."
What the mild-mannered Milton has done to date is survive a problem-filled childhood that saw him move from place to place, school to school.
Up in the stands, Linda Hadden of Cottageville watched her grandson play as she expressed great appreciation for where he is today.
"He started playing at the church, and a gentleman saw him and said he was pretty green, but he could do something with him," his grandmother said. "I'm glad they took him, because if he had stayed where he was, there's no telling where he would have ended up."
Milton was an awkward, gawky kid growing up in his rough North Charleston neighborhood. Even at 6-3 in the fifth grade, he said he was pushed around and bullied by other kids.
Then three things happened that changed his life.
One, he had a growth spurt.
Two, a coach saw his potential.
Three, he went to live with grandma.
That landed him at Pinewood Prep, a private school in Summerville, where he has been recruited by college coaches since the eighth grade.
"They took a kid off the street, and I want to thank everybody who had something to do with it," his proud grandmother said.
But there's more to Milton Jennings than height and weight. When you talk to him you quickly realize he is mature beyond his years. Way beyond his years.
Did I mention he is only a junior?
Already he has hindsight and insight and all those things that kids usually don't acquire until much later in life.
"I see a lot of kids today who are being ruled by their culture," said Jennings, who scored 14 points with 15 rebounds in Wednesday's game. "I was lucky to be able to get to Pinewood Prep, a good academic school, where I'm making As and Bs, so I'm doing pretty good.
"I grew up going to public school where I got picked on despite being tall. That's the fire that keeps me going. I don't want to go back to that. I got in some trouble as a kid because, well, kids are stupid."
The guy who discovered Milton Jennings is Rufus McDonald, an AAU coach, who got him involved in basketball and changed his direction.
"He showed me how to play," Jennings said. "He showed me my first drop step. I practiced and practiced and practiced until I could do it."
All that practice paid off as Jennings now has as many as 30 colleges stuffing his mailbox with recruiting letters.
There are, of course, thousands of kids like Jennings out there today who just can't see beyond the street where they live.
Jennings knows that and says the difference is being able to recognize an opportunity when it comes along and take advantage of it.
"You've got to push through your circumstances," he said. "You can't mess up and do stupid things. If they're not coachable, you don't want them. You've got to be coachable to make it."
Because of his body and his mind, his personal list includes schools like USC, Clemson, North Carolina, Georgetown and UCLA. Pretty good list.
Everybody who sees Milton Jennings run the court soon realizes there is more to this kid than basketball. Much more.
"A lot of kids just don't have a lot of direction in their lives," coach Eidson said. "For him to grasp this opportunity and listen to the people who were trying to direct him in the right direction, it's really been a remarkable story."
Reach Ken Burger at email@example.com or (843) 937-5598.