But Handley point guard Trae Dunson will be playing for something else along with his own notoriety. He’ll be playing to put a school more known for its gridiron greats than hardwood heroes on the state’s hoops map. He’ll also represent the legacy of his cousin, the late Ladarious Phillips, a Handley alumnus and former Auburn football player who was shot and killed last month.
Dunson will represent this portion of the state in the North-South basketball game which pits the state’s top 24 seniors-to-be against one another at Alabama State University’s Acadome tonight at 8 p.m.
“I do enjoy it,” he said of representing his school and family. “His (Phillips’) death motivated me. I really feel like he was going to go to the league. I just want to pick up where he left off. I just want to do it for him.”
Dunson led Handley, averaging 15 points per game to go along with three rebounds and three assists, as the Tigers went 23-5 this past season. They fell to eventual state champion Greensboro in the Class 3A Central Regional tournament by five points.
Despite the Tigers’ success in basketball, reaching the state playoffs five of the past six seasons, most of Dunson’s new teammates, many of whom hail from more urban areas, hadn’t heard of Roanoke let alone Handley High School.
“A few of them knew we won the state championship in football,” Dunson said. “But a lot of them didn’t even know that.”
Dunson said he knew more players on the South squad than he did on the north, having played AAU ball against LaFayette’s RaQuazious Boyd and Dadeville’s Terry Toller.
He let his game do the talking and familiarize his teammates with his hometown and his game in the practices leading up to tonight’s showdown.
“It’s going pretty good,” he said of the North squad’s chemistry.
“I thought because it’s an all-star game everyone would be worried about getting theirs but we’re coming together and playing as a team. I think we’ll beat the South.”
One thing Dunson wasn’t concerned about was whether or not he could hold his own on the same floor against players from larger schools.
His fearless attitude came as no surprise to Handley basketball coach Cliff Drummond.
“He’s very confident,” Drummond said of Dunson.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a kid with that kind of confidence. He thinks every shot he shoots is supposed to go in and every game he plays in he’s supposed to win.”
Dunson won’t play football this season instead devoting all of his attention to the game he loves most.
He doesn’t suspect he’ll start tonight but added he should get enough time to make an impression.
“I want coaches to say, ‘He’s a good player. He’s coachable and we should’ve started him.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.