Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
Forty-nine seconds left. Gamecocks clinging to a five-point lead over OVC juggernaut Belmont. Malcolm Drumwright, as he has so many times in a Gamecock uniform, rose up and released a huge shot. As has happened so many times in Drumwright’s career, swish. JSU 75, Belmont 67. Bruins cannot recover. Jacksonville State wins.
That shot was Malcolm Drumwright’s last in Pete Mathews Coliseum. The senior, who has been through so much team turmoil and spectacular success in his four-year career in Jacksonville, knew his team needed him to make a play in his last home game, on senior night, with tournament seeding on the line, and he delivered.
“I just try to stay confident. I just shoot the shots I normally shoot.” That’s what Malcolm told me just hours before that shot when I asked him about his mindset in game-ending situations. Drumwright is such a calm, quiet, confident guy in general, it is easy to see why shots like this don’t faze him.
Malcolm Drumwright grew up the youngest of four brothers in Rancho Cucamonga, California, a suburban city some thirty miles from downtown Los Angeles.
In his youth, Malcolm says his basketball career didn’t exactly start off on the right foot.
“I wasn’t that good as a kid I don’t think, but I kept working. If you put in work, good stuff happens.”
Drumwright’s hard work paid off, and, in his last year at Rancho Cucamonga High School, he averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals. However, Drumwright didn’t yet have any scholarship offers to play basketball, and he attended LA College Prep.
That’s when he got a phone call from former Jacksonville State assistant coach Eugene Harris.
“That’s when I first really heard of JSU,” Drumwright said. “I thought I was in Florida at first, I had to look it up.”
Jacksonville State eventually offered Drumwright a scholarship, and he decided to take it.
“It was my only offer, so I’m going to take it. I’ve got to make the most of every opportunity.”
Drumwright arrived on campus for the 2014-15 season ready to reward Jacksonville State for giving him that opportunity.
Drumwright saw his role slowly grow as he proved himself as a freshman. He came on strong as the season rolled along toward conference play, finally earning a starting job for six of the final seven games of the season.
The Gamecocks, however, didn’t enjoy much team success. Jacksonville State finished just 12-19, including a 5-11 mark in the OVC. Malcolm, however, headed into his sophomore season ready to prove himself, and, on an individual level, he did.
Drumwright upped his scoring from six points per game to 14, but the Gamecocks’ record nose-dived even further, plunging to 8-23. Malcolm injured his shoulder against Belmont late in the season and missed the final seven games, all of which Jacksonville State lost.
Malcolm says it was tough playing through those first two seasons with such a poor team performance, but he never thought of leaving.
“It was rough, but we stayed the course, and I knew that anything could happen. I was going to stay regardless.”
Enter Ray Harper.
Jacksonville State let Coach James Green go after 2015-16, and in came the coach that had national championships, albeit on the Division II level, on his resumé. Harper helped instill a winning culture at Jacksonville State, and Malcolm Drumwright spearheaded the revolution for the Gamecocks on the court.
Drumwright’s scoring took a slight dip to 12.5 points per game, but he became a steady, consistnent force for the Gamecocks, leading them in scoring, but also setting the table for his teammates as a point guard, and team leader should.
Under Harper and Drumwright, Jacksonville State led a program turnaround and a regular season finish of 17-14.
Drumwright says that the rough beginning to his career in a JSU uniform made the success of the 2016-17 season even sweeter. “We weren’t so good to begin with, and then we just kept building and kept growing. It felt good. It felt really good.”
The story, if had ended there, would have been nice. A team that had been toiling in the doldrums of mediocrity for years has a good, winning season.
However, as JSU fans well know, Drumwright and the Gamecocks weren’t done yet.
Jacksonville State was picked to finish 12th out of 12 teams at OVC Media Day prior to the 2016-17 season, but, when the Gamecocks rolled into Nashville for the OVC tournament last March, they were on a mission to prove that claim ridiculous. An opening win over Southeast Missouri, a shocking upset over Belmont in the Semis and a takedown of UT Martin in the Finals later, and the Gamecocks stood as OVC Champions. Drumwright was named Tournament MVP, and the University was set to make its first appearance in “The Big Dance” itself, the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks fell to Louisville in their opening game, but they acquitted themselves well.
Drumwright, as calmly and stoically as he always does, put up 12 points and six assists as the Gamecocks’ spectacular season ended.
“It was crazy. I never thought it would happen, but it was fun,” Drumwright said of the tournament run.
I’m sure that statement would describe the feelings of all JSU fans about the 2016-17 basketball season.
Fast forward to the present. Through another steady season as a Senior, Malcolm has lead a more inexperienced, yet deeper squad back to the OVC tournament. It’s been a season of ups and downs in Jacksonville, but Drumwright thinks the Gamecocks are capable of returning to the heights of last season.
“I feel confident. If we play the best we can and as hard as we can, we can beat anybody.”
Meanwhile, Drumwright has etched himself in the record books of Jacksonville State and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Gamecocks to ever take the court in Pete Mathews.
Earlier this season, he broke the 1000 points scored barrier, and he’ll finish first in Gamecock Division I history in games played and started and second in career scoring.
He’ll be remembered as the player that led Jacksonville State to their first NCAA Tournament, and, if Malcolm has anything to say about it in the tournament this weekend, maybe their second.
Pretty good for a kid with only one scholarship offer.