T.J. Handley expected his family to attend his letter-of-intent signing with Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday. But he was taken by surprise when many of his future Golden Lions teammates popped up.
“I guess they’re ready for me to go on and come in,” Handley said.
Handley, who spent the past two seasons at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, held his signing ceremony in the same Watson Chapel High School gymnasium where he became a standout on Matt Busch’s first team there in 2011-12.
“I only got to coach T.J. one year, but it was a blessing his senior year,” Busch said. “He was kind of a fixture in our starting lineup, led us in scoring quite a few times and kept us in a lot of games we wouldn’t have been in if it weren’t for him.”
The gathering was a symbol of his return to Pine Bluff, where he hopes to lift the Lions to championship status as he did the Greyhounds this season. “It’s time to win the SWAC,” Handley often shouted after he signed his letter.
“I wanted to come back to my high school,” Handley said. “I always wanted to play for UAPB. It feels like a dream come true, now. I guess the hard work is paying off.”
Mid-South coach Chris Parker first announced Handley’s commitment to UAPB last week when he landed Watson Chapel senior Tevin Brown to his program, his third signee from the Wildcats in three years.
The 6-foot-6 Handley, who followed his high school teammate Rodney Ollison to West Memphis, helped Mid-South win its first Region 2 championship in NJCAA Division II and finish with its first winning record (14-12) in the program’s four-year history. Handley, by his own estimation, averaged 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists this past season and earned All-State and All-Region honors.
“We thought he’d be a good catch for us,” UAPB coach George Ivory said. “We’re looking for a lot of great things out of T.J.”
Handley is one of two signees with UAPB so far during this signing period. The other is Eastern Oklahoma State College forward Chauncy Parker, who prepped at West Memphis.
“He’s someone who runs the floor well,” Ivory said of the 6-8 Parker. “He’s the type of kid we’re looking for inside. We needed a shot-blocker.”
Ivory is hoping for three more signees as early as next week.
The Lions also will have for 2014-15 former Pine Bluff High star JoVaughn Love, who transferred last summer from Seminole (Okla.) State College but sat out the season because of injury.
Handley is expected to add more depth to a Lions backcourt led by senior-to-be Tevin Hammond and sophomore-to-be Ghiavonni Robinson. He could also spend some minutes as a swingman, giving the Lions more offense in the frontcourt should Davon Haynes not return for next season. Haynes and classmate Chandler Savage are seeking a fifth season of eligibility.
“We’re recruiting as if (Haynes) is not coming back,” Ivory said.
Busch also said Friday that Watson Chapel senior Ben Marcus will walk on at Arkansas-Little Rock. Marcus averaged 15 points per game for the Wildcats this season.
Mid-South on Thursday signed Monticello’s DeShawn McGowan, a former Watson Chapel student who helped the Billies to back-to-back 8-4A Conference championships and this year’s 4A state semifinals.