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Jim Hart arrived at the Green Tech High School gym amid a packed crowd. The Albany City Rocks founder had arrived with a few friends and promised them that they would be in for a treat — specifically, J.J. Starling, a sophomore from Baldwinsville’s Baker High School.
Roughly 40 seconds into the game, Baker drew up an inbounds play for a 3-pointer. Starling, positioned on the right side of the free-throw line, curled left around the perimeter before catching a pass in the corner and draining the shot.
After forcing a turnover, Starling returned to the same spot, and this time patiently waited for a pin-down screen before sprinting to the top of the perimeter and firing his second 3-pointer with no hesitation.
“He just rose up over the kid and splashed,” Hart said. “I was like, ‘Wow. That was an NBA-level shot.’”
Starling finished with 37 points, including 10 3-pointers in Baldwinsville’s 86-72 win. And after averaging 29 points that season, Starling transferred to La Lumiere in La Porte, Indiana, to round out his high school career. In his senior year, Starling averaged almost 18 points a game and shot nearly 50% from the field. Now, the Baldwinsville native is ESPN’s No. 17 ranked player in the 2022 graduating class, committed to play at Notre Dame — a school he chose over Syracuse, Duke and others — next season.
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La Lumiere head coach Patrick Holmes morphed Starling into one of the best combo guards in the country by pitting him against some of the nation’s top talent, Hart said.
“He wanted to learn how to play with other great players, and that’s the opportunity he had,” said ESPN broadcaster Ted Emrich. “A high-level player goes to a school like La Lumiere late in their high school career because they use it as an on-ramp to college.”
Starling improved throughout his time at La Lumiere and upped his stock by jumping from a four- to five-star recruit during his senior season. He dominated in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference, which features some of the best high school teams in the country. Emrich said Starling’s impressive final season proved he’s one of the best scorers and overall playmakers in high school basketball.
“Everyone sees the highlights and stuff, but no one sees what he does behind closed doors,” said City Rocks teammate Julian Brown. “When he transferred to La Lumiere, he was already a good player. He just needed that extra exposure.”
As a senior, Starling got frustrated every time he lost at a drill in practice, Emrich said. Starling’s competitive side fueled him throughout his early high school years in Baldwinsville and his travel basketball play with Hart’s City Rocks team. Having played within the program since eighth grade, Starling has played countless summer tournaments, frequently recording high-scoring totals while leading the team to wins.
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Now, nearing the end of his high school career, Starling was able to earn one of just 24 spots in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game. The closest equivalent to an all-star game in amateur basketball, Hart said to be a “burger boy” is the ultimate accolade for any high school basketball player.
“It’s something special. It’s a fun time where you can finally take that last lap with the 24 best in the country,” Hart said.
Starling was named to the East squad, becoming the first central New York representative in the McDonald’s Game since Syracuse native, and former SU center, DaJuan Coleman in 2012. Last Tuesday, the East beat the West 105-81 in Chicago. Due to an ankle sprain earlier in the month, Starling was sidelined from the action and watched as fellow East representative Dariq Whitehead of Montverde Academy took home MVP honors.
There’s more to come for Starling, who has 10 more days to heal up before he heads back to Chicago to compete in the annual Jordan Brand Classic in what will be his second All-American game in less than a month.
“He delivered again and again and again all year long,” Emrich said. “He’s no stranger to the spotlight, and he thrives in it after watching him for the last two years. He absolutely deserves this.”
After the Jordan Brand Classic, and after he officially finishes high school, the five-star will head to Notre Dame, where he’ll be the highest-ranked recruit in program history, per 247Sports. Starling’s trajectory has changed while moving from Baldwinsville to La Lumiere and to the McDonald’s game, and it has a chance to be altered even further once he begins play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and possibly the NBA.
“It’s going to be fun to see his college career as it develops,” Emrich said.
The post Baldwinsville native J.J. Starling’s ascent as highly touted high school prospect appeared first on The Daily Orange.