Last year at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., Ari Stewart was a bench player for one of the top high school programs in the Southeast as a sophomore. This year will be a little different for the 6-foot-7 small forward.
Stewart has made a major transition from a reserve with a world of potential to a nationally recruited top 25 prospect in the class of 2009. What a difference a year really made for Stewart.
"This past year, I sat the bench a lot. That made me really humble. It made me work harder," Stewart said. "I knew I was a good ball player but I knew I had to improve on in order to play and prove to my coach that I could play. That's where I realized that I have to work at it. Sitting on the bench wasn't a fun experience."
The days of sitting on the bench are long gone. In fact, he'll team up with nationally-ranked player Dequan Jones and Richard Howell, making one of the top 1-2-3 punches in the Southeast, or even nationally.
Stewart said he started his summer ascension at the Reebok Headliner camp in June and then followed up his strong showing at the regional event with a breakout performance at the Nike Hoop Jamboree.
"I kind of hit me in St. Louis at the Nike Hoop Jamboree when we were scrimmaging before we really got started. I was really dominating. It hit me there because there were a lot of really good players there. That's when it clicked," Stewart said. "That gave me the most confidence and got me going and told me that I can do whatever I want to do if I put my mind to it. From there, I feel like I dominated."
Rbk U was his next stop, where Stewart made the all-star team. Stewart said, on the eve of returning back to his Peach State home from Los Angeles, the ride has been wild but worth it.
"It's been great. I had a chance to show my true talent against the best players in the country," Stewart said.
And now he's receiving offers from some of the best programs in the country. He said he has scholarships from Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, LSU, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Xavier.
The offers aren't the only thing rolling his way. Interest from Arizona, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgetown, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Oregon is on his mind as well.
With all of the schools coming at him, Stewart said he's been impressed by a couple of programs. North Carolina, Florida, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Michigan State, Georgetown, Kentucky and Oregon have all struck a chord with him.
"It was overwhelming and it kind of surprised me when I heard from North Carolina because they have always been my dream school. I looked (the letter) and I thought to myself, 'I've been playing this good?' It was just shocking," he said.
Unlike a lot of his classmates, Stewart said he isn't thinking about the next step in his recruitment. In fact, when asked if he had any visit plans for the fall, he said, "No, not at all.
"I'm going to wait. It's better to wait and see who all comes to me. I'm going to take as much time as I need. I don't want to commit earlier than everybody. I want to really take my time. I really don't really know what I'm looking for yet."
Lucky enough for Stewart, everything (playing time, offers and interest) seems to be finding him these days instead.