The fan club for Courtney Fortson, the Patterson School's jet-quick point guard, is growing.
Earlier this month at the HoopHall tournament in Springfield, Mass., the 5-foot-10 guard signed several autographs after Patterson (Lenoir, N.C.) beat The Winchendon (Mass.) School 68-67 in one of the tournament's feature events. The number of fans seeking Fortson's signature may grow longer as the season progresses and Patterson (22-0) continues its quest for an undefeated season. After starting the season unranked, the Arkansas-bound Fortson has vaulted to No. 7 in the SI/TAKKLE.com player rankings.
"I really don't think anyone in the country can stay with me," Fortson said at the Skills Challenge event at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. "I've seen a lot of guys play, but I think that I'm the best guard in the country."
"It's nice to see him get a little recognition, because I've been saying that he is the most underrated player in the country," Patterson coach Chris Chaney said. "Well, maybe not anymore."
The first thing one notices about Fortson, aside from his impressive flowing dreadlocks, is that he is a true point guard capable of dominating a game without scoring. Although somewhat erratic with his jumper, Fortson has the strength and athleticism to finish around the basket, and the vision to get good shots for his teammates.
"My game has always been about getting into the lane and finding the open guy," Fortson said. "It's hard to guard me."
"He just finds a way to beat you," said Clark Francis, an editor at HoopScoop magazine. "He's an athletic, hard-nosed competitor. The team that he is on usually wins, and that's because of his toughness."
Fortson's road to the Patterson School is similar to that of many top high school prospects. Struggling academically after leading Jefferson Davis High in Montgomery, Ala., to consecutive appearance in the state final, Fortson came to Patterson to improve his grades and also to get a taste of what the college experience would be like. But being away from home was an adjustment.
"I just needed to get my head right and really concentrate on my grades," Fortson said. "You've always got to have a strong mind when you're away from home and just let nothing get to you. This was the right place for me."
Fortson established a good relationship with Arkansas coach John Pelphrey while the first-year head coach was at South Alabama, and almost as soon as Pelphrey arrived in Fayetteville he started trying to convince Fortson to join him.
"I think I have a good opportunity to come in and play right away and they have great loyal fans," Fortson said. "I've always wanted to play in front of a lot of people like that."
"I truly believe that he's going to be one of the players that brings Arkansas back to being the program that it was" Chaney said. "His best ball is ahead of him."
Joining Fortson as new additions to the SI/TAKKLE.com player rankings this week are athletic twin forwards Marcus and Markief Morris of Apex Academy in Pennsauken, N.J., and point guard John Wall of Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C. The Morris twins, originally from Philadelphia, famously committed to Memphis in November 2006 only to withdraw their pledge the following July, before recommitting again after Memphis coach John Calipari flew to Philadelphia to reaffirm the Tigers interest in the twins. But the twins decommitted for a second time last September and signed with Kansas.