Dakota Holtzclaw was riding in the backseat on his way to a basketball game only those soon to play in it knew about.
Holtzclaw’s orthodontist, Mark Causey, a former walk-on men’s basketball player at Duke University, was driving. He had the in on these types of pick-up games. They’re invite-only. Skills required. That usually means a mix of former European league players, former college guys hanging on and current college guys staying sharp.
Causey and Holtzclaw picked up Fred Gibson, a former wide receiver at the University of Georgia, who immediately noticed Holtzclaw, a rising junior few have ever heard of.
"So you play ball?" Gibson said.
"Yes sir," Holtzclaw said.
"You getting recruited by anybody?" Gibson said.
"Georgia’s been looking at me." Holtzclaw said.
"You know Coach Hayes?" Gibson said.
"No sir." Holtzclaw said.
Gibson took out his phone, dialed up Georgia men’s basketball assistant coach Jonas Hayes and put him on speaker.
"Hey coach, do you know Dakota—" Gibson started to ask, but Hayes cut him off.
"Holtzclaw!" Hayes said finishing Gibson’s sentence. "We’re going to be on him like white on rice."
Indeed, Holtzclaw could soon demand attention from college coaches unlike few – perhaps any – boys basketball player in Forsyth County has ever experienced. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound combo guard already has significant interest from over 10 schools. He’s taken unofficial visits to Georgia and South Alabama. He’s rated as the No. 14 prospect in Georgia in the Class of 2015 by 247Sports.com.
But elsewhere in the basketball universe, Holtzclaw is unknown. He has no recruiting profile on Rivals or ESPN. His name barely raises an eyebrow for the casual basketball fan in the metro area.
"He’s truly under the radar," said Robert Alfonso Jr., associate editor of Hoopseen.com. "Nobody knows who he is."
So here’s an introduction: Holtzclaw is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard; an admirer of John Wall and Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant, but mostly Rose; a gym rat who grew up without much disposable income, so he played basketball all the time ("All day, every day," he said.); a National Honor Society student; a hopeful ACC player one day (That’s where the best basketball is."); a strong believer ("God first in every situation."); a product of Dawson Parks and Recreation who moved to Forsyth with his mom before the fifth grade to live with his grandparents.
That’s when Horizon boys basketball coach Curtis Eggleston met Holtzclaw.
"I don’t want to say he was obese, but he was big," Eggleston said. "Could always shoot. Could always fill it up from range.
"He would talk to me about his goals for basketball. You hear that from a lot of kids."
But Holtzclaw put in the work. He made JV that fifth grade season. Over the next two years, Holtzclaw started to do more than just watch basketball; he started to study it.
He spent countless hours watching NBA highlights on YouTube. After practice, he’d go home to the hoop outside and try to imitate the pros, sometimes as late as 9 p.m.
Going into eighth grade, Eggleston and others noticed a difference. Holtzclaw made the varsity team and filled the role of sixth man.
He started working one on one with Eggleston, going to his best friend’s gym for hour-and-a-half workouts and playing at open gyms around the county.
AAU stints with Georgia Stars and the 3T All-Stars grabbed the attention of college coaches. Other high schools started tempting him with overtures to get more exposure, play better competition, be a part of something big.
But for perhaps the biggest talent ever to come through Forsyth, that’s not his style.
"A lot of Bible stories I like take place in small places," Holtzclaw said. "That’s where the big miracles happen. You develop character through that type of situation. I just love it here, because it’s a family."