Leave it to the home-town school to be the one that felt like home for Melvin McKie.
McKie, an Aiken Standard Boys' Basketball Player of the Year finalist, signed earlier this month to continue his playing career at USC Aiken, only about 7 miles down the road from the South Aiken High School gym where he was a leader and key contributor to the T-Breds for all four years.
"It feels important to me to represent my city," McKie said. "I feel like I've got my city on my back because of my talent, and I feel really confident in myself in going and I feel like I'm going to change a lot to that program, and enjoy it – I'm in my city, and people will look up to me and know who I am."
Being the local college isn't a guarantee that the local athlete will feel at home there, but that's what USCA head coach Mark Vanderslice and his staff did for McKie, who said they always welcomed him, checked up on him and showed him plenty of love and respect.
McKie was a leader in every way for the South Aiken program, noted head coach Michael Prandy. Prandy, a former USCA assistant under Vince Alexander, called McKie a brick in the foundation at South Aiken; a program-changer.
That much is evident in McKie's three All-Region selections and Team MVP honors, among many others. From playing varsity as a freshman to leading the team to an Upper State championship appearance as a senior, McKie said the time and hard work he put into the program ensures that he'll always be a T-Bred.
McKie is the first T-Bred to appear on a USCA men's basketball roster since Michael Tyler and Mindaugas Jokulis came over together following South Aiken's 1997-98 state championship. McKie didn't study under Jokulis, a math teacher at South Aiken, but he said they've played in a few pickup games before.
Prandy expects McKie's skill set to translate over naturally to USCA. He noted the Pacers' fast-paced transition style, which is something the 5-foot-10, 160-pound McKie and his teammates were forced to do to counter their lack of size.
"I think Melvin fits in that system really well," Prandy said. "He's tenacious defensively. I think as he matures and gets stronger, he'll fit real well into their program."
And then there's the components of his game beyond what fans have seen on Tuesday and Friday nights the past four years. Prandy called McKie a reliable player, one of the program's hardest workers who set a high standard for his teammates.
"I've been around 25 years, and he's in the top five, six, seven of anybody I've ever been around," Prandy said. "He's a great young man."
It was a classic case of better-late-than-never recruiting, as USCA came in right before the buzzer in the recruiting process. But the Pacers offered McKie a roster spot and the opportunity to feel at home in his home town, and it was too good to pass up.
"I know it was a last-minute thing, but I had confidence in myself to go out there and see if I could get a scholarship," he said. "God gave me the opportunity to get one, and that's what I thank God for."