With his future college coach watching from the stands, Pershing High’s Justin Tillman played every bit like a blue-chip recruit in the Doughboys’ season opener.
The 6-7 senior forward-center scored 30 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, and was clearly the top player on the floor despite Pershing’s 82-69 loss against Morgan Park, the defending AAA Illinois state champions.
“He can do that every night,’’ Pershing coach Wydell Henry said of Tillman, the PSL Proud Strong Learner of the Week. “I think he’s the most dominant big man in the state.”
VCU head coach Shaka Smart seconds that emotion. Smart was quick to give a pat on the back after watching Tillman’s season debut, knowing the talented big man will be playing for him next season.
As the top player of the state’s No. 1-ranked team, Tillman is a leading candidate for the state’s Mr. Basketball Award, symbolic of the top graduating senior player. He chose VCU over several other college scholarship offers and plans to major in engineering.
“I liked everything (about VCU),” Tillman said of his visit. “I got a good vibe. I looked at the engineering facility and I liked that. I talked to some of the teachers too. I just felt comfortable.”
Henry endorses Tillman’s decision to play for Smart. “I think it’s a great fit for him because of their up-tempo style of play,” he said. “They press a lot on defense and kind of do what we do.”
Tillman averaged 21.3 points a game and 10 rebounds as a junior when Pershing won the PSL championship and posted a 20-0 regular season record before losing in the state semifinals to eventual champion Romulus.
“I’m looking forward to leading my team to a lot of wins,” said Tillman, asked about his goals for this season. “I want to win another city championship and eventually to get that state championship.”
The Detroit Public School League Proud Strong Learner of the Week award is representative of the league’s top boys and girls athletes. The award is presented by the DPS Office of Athletics and sponsored for the fourth year in a row by Detroit-area McDonald’s owner-operators.