REGION — After five years of playing youth basketball, Johnny McWilliams said he knew that the class of 2016 had a chance to be a special group of players.
“I grew up playing with guys like TJ (Leaf) and Justin (Moore) and all of the guys, and I knew that all of them were good enough to go D1,” said McWilliams, now a senior at San Marcos High School. “I’m not surprised by anyone here.”
“Here” is the San Diego Hall of Champions, where the annual Signing Day Ceremony was held on Nov. 11. It’s a moment that student athletes in San Diego like McWilliams dream about since they were old enough to have dreams of playing sports in college, the moment when they can sign their national letters of intent to play their sports at the collegiate level in front of family, friends and peers.
McWilliams a decorated shooting guard who signed with Fresno State University, was joined by six fellow basketball players who signed their letters of intent to NCAA Division 1 universities, the largest basketball contingent at signing day in recent San Diego history.
He is one of two of the group from North County: Aziz Seck, who attends Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, is the other. He signed his letter of intent with Northern Arizona University. The other signees were:
• Justin Davis of Morse High School, who signed with Cal State Bakersfield
• Tim Harrison of Francis Parker High School, who signed with Rice University
• Eric Monroe of St. Augustine High School, who will attend Yale University
• Justin Moore of Mission Bay High School, who signed with Tulane University
• Thomas Rutherford of Grossmont High School, who signed with the University of California at Irvine
An eighth player, Foothills Christian senior TJ Leaf, who is widely considered to be the best of the entire lot, will announce his college choice Oct. 12 on national television. Leaf will choose between the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Oregon and San Diego State University.
McWilliams chose Fresno State over several universities, including the University of Nevada at Reno, Colorado State University and Montana University. He said the ultimate deciding factor was a visit to the university in October.
“I got to know the coaches and staff, and they really embraced me,” McWilliams said. “I felt loyalty to them since they were my first legitimate offer as a sophomore, and they truly do believe in me as a player.”
According to a number of experts, the 6-foot-5 McWilliams — whose father was a star tight end at the University of Southern California and played for the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League — is one of the top shooting guards in the state.
With the exception of Seck, who is a native of Senegal who arrived in Carlsbad two years ago, the seven signees had been competing against and with one another since they were in elementary school.
Seck, an athletic 6-foot-7 forward, said the community at Army Navy embraced him, however, like he was a native son.
“Ever since I’ve been here, the coaches and administrators and my teammates have made me feel at home,” Seck said. “The coaches have put in a lot of hard work with me, and I felt the way I could pay them back was to play as hard as I could.”
Seck said he was also sold on his college choice after an official visit.
“I really liked the staff and the community, I got to go to a football game, which was a lot of fun,” he said. “The coaching staff was very friendly, and they talked about not only being a team, but being part of a family, and I wanted to be a part of that family.”