Blue Devils boys basketball has enjoyed an impressive run over the past five seasons, during which three exceptional players have come through the ranks.
How good has the run been? Historic — on a national scale.
Mac McClung, Zac Ervin and Bradley Dean each reached the 2,000-point mark for their careers, putting Gate City on the national map. Gate City is the first public high school in the United States to have three 2,000-point scorers all in succession.
According to the NFHS 2017-18 national participation survey, 18,510 high schools have a registered boys basketball team with more than 500,000 players. The odds of one team producing three separate 2,000-point scorers in three consecutive years is about 1 in 6.34 trillion.
The odds of winning the Powerball (1 in 292 million) are more than 21,000 times greater. The odds of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime are 1 in 9 million — or more than 704,000 times greater.
“Prior to these three guys, we’ve had like 15 or 20 guys score 1,000 points. Mac, Zac and Brad have taken it to a whole different level,” Gate City head coach Scott Vermillion said. “In 1993, Gate City had never won a region game. Since then, we’ve won the league 24 times and 10 region titles and been to the state tournament 17 times. For the people before them that came to put in the work, it’s awesome to see these guys take it another step.”
Currently a standout guard at Georgetown, McClung became Virginia’s all-time leading scorer while starring in the Blue Devils’ 80-65 2018 state championship game victory against Robert E. Lee-Staunton. He finished with 2,801 career points to surpass Floyd County’s Caleb Tanner, who totaled 2,770.
McClung also became the first VHSL player to score more than 1,000 points in a single season, besting former NBA All-Star Allen Iverson’s record of 948 when he played for Bethel. McClung reached the 2,000 plateau on Dec. 30, 2017, in the Arby’s Classic sixth-place game against Lakota East (Ohio).
Ervin, now playing at Elon, surpassed the 2,000-point milestone for the Blue Devils on Jan. 2, 2019, against Union, joining McClung in an exclusive club of scorers in the commonwealth’s history. When Ervin scored on a running layup in the lane while being triple-teamed, Gate City became just the seventh school in Virginia to have multiple 2,000-point scorers from the same school — and the first to do it in successive years. He ended his career at Gate City with 2,351 points and is ninth all-time on the VHSL scoring list.
“Yeah, 2,000 is a big accomplishment and (Brad) absolutely deserves it,” Ervin said. “Having three in a row do it is unheard of, and I think it speaks to the amount of work that we’ve put in individually and, more importantly, the amount of work everyone involved with the program at Gate City has invested in over the years.
“This is a special program to be a part of, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this year’s team and Brad.”
The other Virginia schools to have multiple 2,000-point scorers were Altavista, R.E. Lee-Staunton, Brunswick, Petersburg, Coeburn, Nansemond River and Radford. Five of those schools are still active.
When Dean, a senior guard, surpassed 2,000 points against Abingdon, the Blue Devils became one of a select 23 other high schools nationally to have at least three players reach the coveted milestone.
“Congrats to my brother Bradley Dean on 2,000. It goes to show how great this program is and how great he is,” McClung said. “I always loved Bradley’s competitive fire and knew he would accomplish great things.”
Gate City is the first Virginia public high school to ever boast three 2,000-point scorers.
“This means a lot that God has put me in a position to come behind two of the greatest players to ever walk through these halls,” Dean said. “Coach Vermillion has built a great program and has put us in a position to want to work hard and achieve things that are greater than this program.”
Gate City is just the second public high school in the United States to eventually have three 2,000-point scorers on one team for at least one season; McClung, Ervin and Dean were together for the 2017-18 season. The Blue Devils won the VHSL Class 2 title with a 28-2 record.
The last time this rare feat happened was 50 years ago, when Henrietta Midway (Texas) pulled it off.
BY THE NUMBERS
The data compiled for this story over the course of a calendar year comes from all 50 state high school scoring lists from various sources.
There are 150 other high schools across the country with multiple 2,000-point scorers. The state with the most schools to have at least two is Minnesota, with 19. Next on the list is Illinois with 16. Pennsylvania is third with 15. The state with the most schools with at least three was again Minnesota with five.
Twenty-two of the current 24 schools are still open today. The two that closed were Buffalo Traditional in New York in 2005 and Boynton in Oklahoma in 2010.
There are 30 combinations of two brothers scoring 2,000 points at the same high school and one trio of brothers from Minnesota to accomplish the feat. There are three father-and-son combinations to score 2,000 points at the same school.
DEVILS IN ELITE COMPANY
Gate City has put its name alongside schools large and small, and some of them represent high school basketball royalty.
Henrietta Midway (Texas) Falcons: The 1969-70 squad featured Jim Byrd and Jamie Cowley, both seniors, while E.C. Crump was a freshman. The Falcons made it to the UIL Class B state title game that season but fell to Chester 75-53.
The Falcons do have one UIL Class B state title from 1959, but they’ve only made it to the UIL finals once since then in 1980-81. Today, the small independent K-12 school houses just 104 students and is part of Class 1A for Texas public schools.
Abraham Lincoln (New York) Railsplitters: The famous Brooklyn high school is full of New York City basketball history and headlined by two former NBA star players: Stephon Marbury and Lance Stephenson.
The Railsplitters have five PSAL state titles with two in Class A and three in Class AA.
Stephenson held the New York state scoring record for a number of years before Glen Falls’ Joe Girard III broke it in 2018. Sebastian Telfair is the third 2,000-point scorer for the Railsplitters.
The current enrollment at Abraham Lincoln is more than 2,000 students.
Camden (New Jersey) Panthers: With six 2,000-point scorers, the Panthers have one of the richest traditions of high school basketball in the nation.
Highlighted by the father and son duo of Milt and Dajuan Wagner, Camden has won 10 state titles including one “Tournament of Champions” title in 2000.
The 1986 team, led by Milt Wagner, was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. The younger Wagner is famous for being one of the most talented basketball players to ever come out of the Northeast, once scoring 100 points in a 2001 contest.
He was drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002 out of Memphis, but retired from the NBA because of declining health.
Camden’s current enrollment is just shy of 700 students.
Boynton (Oklahoma) Cardinals: The small town of just 391 people in Muskogee County was known for being a basketball powerhouse in the Sooner State before consolidating to make the Boynton-Moton School in 2010.
Prior to 2000, the Cardinals made the state tournament 20 out of 28 seasons, including a run of 13-for-14. For 15 consecutive seasons, the Cardinals won at least the opening round game of the state tournament.
Prior to closing, Boynton won six Class B state titles and was runner-up six times.
The school also boasts the only father-and-two-sons combo to score more than 2,000 points with Jerry Belton Sr. along with sons Jerry Jr. and Jermaine.
Lawrenceville (Illinois) Indians: A small school (348 students) with a lot of history and located 232 miles south of Chicago, the Indians were a dominant force in the mid-1970s and early ’80s among the small schools in Illinois.
The Indians won four state titles in an 11-year span, taking home championships in 1972, 1974, 1982 and 1983.
The school has five 2,000-point scorers — highlighted by 1983 Illinois “Mr. Basketball” Marty Simmons, who went on to play for Bob Knight at Indiana.
Lawrenceville had an unprecedented 68-game winning streak in the 1982 and 1983 seasons and was led by former Hoosier assistant coach Ron Felling in winning each of the team’s four state titles.
Maranatha Christian Academy (Minnesota) Mustangs: The only trio of brothers to score over 2,000 points each were Jeremiah, David and Stephen Hanson.
The Hanson family has 10 children with two girls and eight boys. All eight boys played basketball and there was at least one Hanson brother on the team for 16 consecutive seasons. Jeremiah — the youngest of the bunch — led the team to three straight Class 1A state tournament berths.
OTHER MARKS FOR THE DEVILS
Gate City since the start of the 2014-15 season (as of Feb. 19, 2020) has a 137-30 record — including an active 79-game winning streak over league opponents. The last loss was a 66-64 decision against Lebanon on Jan. 24, 2015. Lebanon has since moved to the Southwest District.
That was also the last home loss for the Blue Devils, who won 60 consecutive games at home before losing 70-66 to Science Hill on Dec. 20, 2019. Gate City is 73-2 at home since McClung’s freshman season.
The team has accumulated 11,916 points over the same span, with McClung, Ervin and Dean accounting for 7,178 of those points. That is 60.24% of the team’s total points scored over a six-season span by three players.
The team has averaged 71.35 points over the past 167 games and outscored its opponents by an average of almost 13 points per game.
“This gives us something to hang our hats on or talk about at Hardee’s or The Campus restaurant,” Vermillion said. “This is still one of the hometown teams. There are a lot of consolidated schools and it’s hard to get that there. We’re about the right size and all three of our county schools have a lot of pride. Our kids love our team and our community, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”