Dig Baton Rouge

Capital Gains

By Ryne Berthelot

A quick Google search of Country Day star Romin Williams won’t return much.

A few photos of a serious-faced teenager and a profile on the recruiting website Hudl are the only traces the 5-foot-9 adolescent floor general has left on the Internet, along with a few videos on Youtube. But this past weekend, Williams made a name for himself.

He and 298 others with stories similar to his took to the courts in the Team Sportsplex on Perkins Road for the second annual Combine in the Capital. A two-day event this year, the Combine brought 299 of the most impressive high school basketball players between the grades of 8-12 in the state for an all-out test of their physical and athletic prowess.

For Combine Director Bryan Denison, it’s all about getting the names of these players on the desks of college coaches and scouts.

“The premise behind it was the fact that Louisiana didn’t have anything like this. There are kids here from cities in Louisiana that are barely on the map. Cities like Homer, Johnson’s Bayou, Anacoco, little-bitty places like that across the state,” Denison said. “And these kids are talented. They have the ability to play college basketball. The same can be said for kids here in Baton Rouge. There’s a lot of kids in our state that we feel have an opportunity to play basketball at the college level, whether it’s JUCO, NAIA, Division II, or Division I.”

Denison, assisted by a team of 29 high school coaches from across the state, took measurements of athletes invited to participate before splitting them into teams for a round-robin tournament. For Williams and his crew, it was nothing out of the ordinary. And Williams doesn’t keep just anybody as company; two of his closest friends are Landry-Walker standout Lamont Berzat and recent LSU commit Cedric Russell, both of whom were enrolled in the Combine.

“Playing against these guys is great,” Berzat said. “They make me better every time. I’ve been playing against Cedric Russell, who just committed to LSU, which is great for him. They make me better.”

Williams had nothing but praise for his rivals.

“Lamont and I are arguably the best two point guards in that state, so every time we face each other, we compete,” Williams said, cracking a smile. “I’m not giving him anything, he’s not giving me anything. It’s a war. Off the court, we laugh, we talk, we text, we hangout. So we’re enemies on the court, but friends off the court.”

Williams, who won’t graduate until 2017, has already warranted a scholarship offer from Loyola University in New Orleans. Berzat, who possesses a style of play similar to his friend’s, has garnered attention from Arizona, Vanderbilt, Oral Roberts, Loyola, and West Virginia, but hasn’t counted out a career in college football just yet. However, if Arizona were to offer the sophomore a scholarship today, he’d have a hard time refusing.

As for Russell, who committed to LSU a week ago, he has a bit more of a celebrity status than his friends/rivals.

“It’s surreal. When I was in junior high, I used to look up to our high school team back home,” the 6-foot-2 combo guard from Alexandria said. “They made it look hard, but to me it was easy.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came in the form of 8th-10th grade dunk contest champion Dexter Dennis, who wasn’t the most circulated name coming into the Combine. But after the contest ended, it was obvious that the small forward from Southern Lab had left his mark on not just the coaches, but the reporters, his peers and the spectators as well.

“Maybe 10 of us in the gym knew who he was before the dunk contest,” Denison said. “But once it got out on Twitter, I wouldn’t be surprised if every coach in the state knows who Dexter Dennis is now.”

For Russell, Williams, Berzat, and Dennis, it looks like the second annual Combine in the Capital served its purpose.

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