Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philly-area teen could become latest basketball phenom

There's a reason they're called basketball child prodigies. Every so often, a youngster comes along who can dominate the game before they even reach high school.

Horace Spencer III towers over teammates Michael Cohen (left) and Vince Jackson. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)
Horace Spencer III towers over teammates Michael Cohen (left) and Vince Jackson. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)Read more

There's a reason they're called basketball child prodigies. Every so often, a youngster comes along who can dominate the game before they even reach high school.

Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans did it as a seventh grader at American Christian Academy in Aston. Somerdale native Michael Gilchrist, likely to be an NBA lottery pick some day, did it long before starring at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J.

So did NBA superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Now, there is Horace Spencer III, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound eighth grader at Klinger Middle School in Southampton, Bucks County.

"I think in four years his nickname will be 'LeBron Who?,' " said Rick Barrett, Spencer's coach for the South Jersey Gymrats of the Amateur Athletic Union.

But there is more to Spencer than basketball.

"He is a nice kid, and people are going to cling to him," Barrett said. "That's what it was with LeBron. People clung to him not only because he could play, but everybody liked him."

Like the Miami Heat's James, a two-time NBA MVP, Spencer is amazingly agile and athletic and can do things many grown men can't. And like many young players who find themselves thrust into a spotlight, he prefers the court to the interview room.

"That's my biggest dream," he said of playing in the NBA. "Not just for the money. I just want to play ball."

Awkward moments

As would many 13-year-olds, Spencer sometimes struggles with his height. At an age at which youngsters often try to fit in, Spencer stands out in nearly every crowd. No one at Klinger - not even the tallest teacher - is near his size.

Spencer, who lives in Warminster, has trouble finding shoes that fit his size 17 feet, and when he does they sometimes cost $200. He's way too big for his full-size bed, and his father, Horace Spencer Jr., had to trade in his 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix for a larger 2004 Chevy Suburban so Horace could be comfortable.

"Right now, he's going through the awkward moments of hearing, 'Wow! How tall are you?' and 'Wow! What's your real age?' " said Barrett, who stands 6-10 and knows what Spencer is facing.

"I kind of like the [on-court] attention," Spencer said. "The annoying part is when people ask me the same questions over and over when I answered it already."

It's a mixed blessing, said Spencer's father. "He embraces that fact of being tall," the elder Spencer said. "But at the same time, he regrets it . . . because it brings so much attention to him."

That attention is intense, and, according to Barrett, Spencer is already being recruited by some of the region's top basketball high schools - Roman Catholic, La Salle, Imhotep Charter, Archbishop Wood, Westtown School, and St. Patrick. Klinger is part of the Centennial School District, of which William Tennent is the high school.

The elder Spencer, a lab technician, said that adults often ask for his son's autograph, that recruiting phone calls come at all hours of the night, and that he has been offered jobs in New York and Georgia by AAU teams so Horace could play for them.

"They even told me they would pay for [the family's] move down there for him to play for their team," the elder Spencer said of one team from Georgia.

"It gets tiresome. The worst time is when I am watching him play and I got a guy in my ear the whole time. I don't really get to see him play because I am talking to somebody."

High praise

College coaches at Temple, La Salle and Villanova are aware of Spencer, too, and he was there when Temple beat Toledo at the Liacouras Center on Nov. 14 and when Villanova beat La Salle on Dec. 12 at Tom Gola Arena.

But Spencer said he likes North Carolina. "I saw them play one time, and they were decent," Spencer said.

"Every team in Philly wants this kid," Barrett said. "He's that good."

And it's not just Philly hoopsters saying that.

Spencer is the nation's second-ranked prospect in the Class of 2015, behind 6-7 forward Mickey Mitchell of Texas, according to HYPEBasketball, a scouting and recruiting service for boys in grades 6 through 12.

"In the [long run] for Horace, I think he has the most potential of any player I've seen in the class," said Spencer Pulliam, national youth director for HYPEBasketball. "And I've probably already seen 500 or so kids in the class."

In a recent workout, Spencer dribbled the length of the court, shifted the ball between his legs and finished with a reverse dunk. And he ended the session by repeatedly making foul shots while sitting on the floor.

"He's an athlete right now. But once he figures it all out, there's no telling how good he can be," said Van Johnson, the director of scouting for Baseline Hoops and a member of the McDonald's All-American Game selection committee.

That's high praise, especially since Spencer has been playing organized basketball for only two seasons.

Off the streets

When he was 11, Spencer's father, who is married but not to Spencer's mother, looked for ways to keep his son off the streets. Already 5-9 and with three older sisters all between 5-9 and 6 feet, basketball seemed like a natural.

And it was. Shortly after he started to practice, Spencer could palm a basketball in both hands. When he was 12, he was 6-1 and could dunk.

Suddenly, after just a few games for a local AAU team, Spencer was on the basketball radar. Some coaches say he could be 7 feet tall when he's a senior in high school.

Still, Barrett said, Spencer is more than just a basketball prodigy, more than a boy taller than everyone else.

"He has a great personality," Barrett said. "He's always smiling. He's humble. When people meet him, they realize he's authentic."

See a video of Horace Spencer III in action at www.philly.comEndText