Deciding which college basketball program to sign with wasn’t an easy choice for North Murray High School senior Zach Vess, who didn’t make his final call until this past week.
The decision about how he’ll approach his college career is one he’s already unequivocally made.
Vess, a 6-foot-5-inch post, celebrated signing with Emmanuel College on Monday at North Murray, having given the final edge to the Lions over Shorter University, which like Emmanuel College is undergoing the transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA’s Division II. It was a visit to Emmanuel College — which is located in Franklin Springs, about 30 miles northeast of Athens — and knowing he would fit in well with current players that made the difference for Vess.
Now, after a high school career in which he presented challenges to opposing defenses and offenses, he’s ready to tackle the test provided by the next level.
“I’m not going to back down,” Vess said. “I mean, I’m sure there’s going to be more athletic players, stronger, more versatile guys, but I’m not going to back down. A lot of people don’t have toughness, but I think I possess that trait.”
Vess was a dominant high school player, particularly during the past two seasons as he helped lead North Murray to back-to-back state tournament appearances. He finished his high school days with 1,601 career points and 1,205 career rebounds and was a member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Basketball Team the past three seasons, with this year’s recognition including Player of the Year status.
He was also chosen to play in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Basketball Showcase this spring.
His success presented him with several options for college basketball. Vess also considered Limestone College (Gaffney, S.C.), Lee University (Cleveland, Tenn.), Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, Tenn.), Newberry (S.C.) College, Sewanee (Tenn.), Union University (Jackson, Tenn.) and Young Harris College during the recruiting process. North Murray coach Tim Ellis knew the school that ended up with Vess would be getting a player who offered a strong physical presence that should be even better in the next few years.
“All these (colleges) we would go to, every coach came back with the same impression — he is a lot better in person than he is on video, because video doesn’t show his true athleticism,” Ellis said. “Once you see somebody person-to-person, they realize this kid is a full-grown man and by the time he’s 20 or 21 he’s going to have 25 or 30 more pounds on him and he’s not going to miss a beat of his athleticism, so they were looking at how much of an upside he had.
“He’s 6-5 and has a 6-11 wingspan. They could see that all when he played against their college guys. He’s fearless — that’s the other thing they noticed. He ain’t scared of nothing. He was going against college seniors and holding his own, and that really impressed everybody that he played in front of.”
Even when Vess wasn’t scoring or rebounding, he was causing trouble for the other team just by being on the floor. Teams were forced to “game plan” for Vess’ offensive skills around the basket, Ellis said, whether that meant double-teaming him or changing their defensive approach in some other way. As for Vess’ defensive ability, he took away North Murray’s need to ever worry about double-teaming an opposing player, because Vess could handle whatever assignment he was given.
“He was a force on both ends,” Ellis said.
Emmanuel College coach T.J. Rosene will now be the beneficiary of Vess’ skills, and he is looking forward to putting to use the player’s approach on the court. The Lions went 28-5 overall and 16-2 in Southern States Athletic Conference play this past season, earning a spot in the NAIA national tournament but falling in the opening round.
“The first thing we noticed about Zach is his competitiveness,” Rosene said in an emailed statement. “He competes the entire game and never takes a possession off. He runs the floor well, rebounds on both ends and finishes at a very high rate in the paint. If he continues to work hard, he has a bright future.”
That’s something Vess certainly plans on doing.
“The first year I really want to get some playing time and prove myself,” Vess said. “Sophomore year and junior year, I want to get a lot of playing time.”