The Grind, Presented by Bank of Clarendon: Big man, center court: Ragin Prep’s Myers thrives on the pitch with budding Rams
Friday, February 14, 2022 is a date that Omari Myers will not soon forget.
He and his teammates were celebrating their first-ever homecoming as a newly formed basketball team at Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy. The day started at the North Hope Center, where the whole school gathered for a pep rally before heading to the gymnasium on Haynesworth Street.
Loyal Rams fans filled the stands as the program played its first-ever home game, a game that was played before it even had an actual home gym on campus.
“It was just a great day,” said Ragin Prep athletic director and head basketball coach Anthony Jackson. “Just to see so much support, not knowing what the outcome would be that night, just to see our school supporting us in athletics.”
The first ones continued to accumulate. When the final buzzer sounded, the Rams earned their first win in program history. Omari finished with 10 points in the 61-40 win over Winnsboro’s First Baptist Church.
“It was a reward. We worked so hard from start to finish, and we never stopped,” Omari said. “We were scared at first, but we knew we had to win. We just had to have fun and we won.”
The victory was the first major stepping stone for a fledgling program trying to make its mark. Right in the center of it all was Omari, their massive 6’5″ forward who found room to grow alongside the basketball schedule.
“It was more like a timeline,” Jackson said. “The homecoming was at the end of the season, so you were lucky to see them grow from the start to the end of the season and become a team.
BRING BASKETBALL TO RAGIN
Omari came to Ragin Prep in eighth grade in 2020.
The school was only six years old when Omari first set foot on their Market Street campus. Ragin hasn’t even done any athletics on the field yet.
Shortly after Omari signed up, Ragin Prep hired Jackson as their first athletic director. His work was monumental for a growing school: finding a way to get athletics off the ground.
At the start of the 2021-22 school year, Jackson hosted a basketball interest meeting. Omari hadn’t played hoop since his days at Parks and Rec when he was 10, but wanted to step out for the team.
It turns out that Omari was actually one of the more experienced players on the roster.
Most of the Rams had never played organized basketball before. Omari was one of three players with experience, so he was thrown into a leadership role as a rookie.
“I kind of threw it into the fire putting it through college last year just to let them see what it’s going to be like,” Omari said. “He had to get used to me being tough on him, but I wanted to make him understand that everything comes with expectations. I wanted him to be able to meet those expectations.”
Omari dove headfirst into training, ready to do whatever was asked of him.
When did it come to the season opener? It was a little different.
“He was like a deer in the headlights,” Jackson said.
Omari was upset. Being a freshman against upperclassmen was a lot to take.
“My heart was beating so fast,” Omari said. “It was very nerve-wracking, but we decided to fight and it became fun.”
As the season continued, Omari and his Rams teammates began to feel more comfortable. They played a total of 14 games in that first season, going 2-12. Omari said he wasn’t worried about wins; just being on the pitch was a victory.
He and the Rams had to walk before they could run.
“I went from not laying up to handling the ball all the way up the pitch,” Omari said of his development in that first season.
The offense also started to cross Omari. Having a 6’5″ player on the block was a boon for a program trying to find its feet. Once Omari started settling in, the pieces fell into place.
“We were like, ‘Omari, we want you to have the same confidence you have in practice, take what you practice and put it into the game,'” Jackson said. “As we started playing more and he started getting more reps, at the end of the season (the game plan was) give the ball to Omari. Feed the big man.”
In addition to this development, history was being made. Omari knew that every step taken was also a milestone for the program.
“Every time we had a game, learning new things, we thought, ‘We’re making history,'” Omari said. “I watch it every day. The first points, the first victory, all that.
LEARNING FROM THE FIRST YEAR
This first year of basketball Ragin Prep sparked a new passion in Omari.
As the season began to wind down, the Rams big man began looking for opportunities to play AAU ball, saying, “Ragin Prep basketball made me want to show my talent somewhere else.”
Eventually, Omari found two places to show off this talent. One was with Jackson’s AAU program. The second was with Gamechangers Athletics at Columbia.
Omari spent the spring semester dividing his time between the basketball court and the classroom.
“He juggled college basketball in late January, AAU basketball with two teams, practicing and doing his homework, maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or better,” Jackson said. “He can be a perfect example that you can work towards your goals while still getting your grades.”
The big man is still young, but he sets the bar high.
Omari wants to continue his college basketball career. He ultimately wants to follow in the footsteps of former Crestwood star Ja Morant, the NBA’s most improved reigning player, and make it to the league. He begins to plant the seeds, but knows he still needs a lot of water.
“I’ve put in a lot (of work), but I’m going to have to put in a lot more to get where I want to be,” Omari said. “(Seeing Morant thrive in the NBA) helps me aim for greatness more and more. It keeps me working and motivates me.”
Omari learned some important lessons from his first season at Ragin Prep. The Rams have played against talent this winter, including Clarendon Hall. Omari saw his clash with Kylic Horton, who now plays wide receiver in South Carolina, as a way to improve his game. He also went out of his way to talk to other players in the area, like Zakee Rendell of Scott’s Branch, to find a way to hone his skills.
“He was hard to guard. He was very cunning, but I handled it,” Omari said of the Horton game. “He just told me to work, and I learned from my mistakes.”
With the first year at Ragin Prep in the books, Omari is looking forward to their second season. The Rams had a good offseason for the first time, although they are still waiting for a home field to be built.
“We know what to expect next year, and we know how to handle it now,” Omari said. “We have worked, we are improving for next season.”
Expectations for Omari and the Rams will continue to grow as they become established. Jackson will put more on the shoulders of his 6’5″ big man. Ragin Prep’s leading scorer a year ago, Quincy Davis, moved to Columbia in the offseason. That leaves a leadership void that Jackson s waiting for Omari to fill.
“He’s the center of attention,” Jackson said. “He’s the toughest guy, the first guy they see when we walk into the building. I want him to know we’ve got his back and want to put him there.”