One of the original members of East Marion’s Soar Squad will be taking his talents to Louisiana next season as Caleb Rawls recently signed with McNeese State.
The Columbian-Progress Offensive Player of the Year also held offers from Southern Miss, Louisiana-Lafayette, Mount St. Mary’s, Mississippi Valley State and Bryant, along with several junior colleges, but he liked being able to stay somewhat close to home in Lake Charles and the opportunity to get early playing time.
“I had a couple more options, but with Covid and everything, seniors were getting extra years. For instance I could have went to Ole Miss, but my first year I would’ve been redshirted. I just want to go somewhere and play,” he said. “(McNeese) is a D-1, and I feel like I can bring a lot to the program.”
Rawls said it means a lot to him that he’s getting the opportunity to play Division I basketball and that he thanks God he was able to use his ability to reach the next level.
“I’m just excited to take my talent somewhere else and show people that in Columbia, we have talent down here,” he said. “First and foremost, I want to thank God because this wouldn’t be possible without Him. Then my family — it didn’t matter to them what school I went to because they were going to support me regardless — but they made the process a lot easier, especially my dad. He recorded every game and was getting (the film) out to coaches.
“I thank coach (Calvin) Brown for putting me on the team and opening a lot of doors for me. My teammates, too.”
The original plan was for Rawls to sign with the Cowboys on National Signing Day back in April, but the plans got put on hold when their head coach, Heath Schroyer, stepped down to focus solely on his other role as the university’s athletic director. When assistant coach John Aiken was promoted to head coach, Rawls said he basically had to go through the recruiting process all over again as he considered his options.
After spending his entire high school career as a combo forward and East Marion’s de facto big man, Rawls will be making the transition to the wing in college.
“Down here if you see a tall kid, instantly you’re just a center. There I will be playing shooting guard,” he said.
Rawls said he is excited to try something new and explore different options within his game rather than being a one-dimensional big man. While nothing is guaranteed, Rawls said he believes he will make a big impact as a freshman. For him, it will start in the weight room as he wants to add to his 200-pound frame.
The 6-foot-7 star said he just has to keep working hard to make the position switch successful and specified lateral quickness defensively and decision-making offensively as the two primary areas he needs to improve. Playing more on the wing, he said he will need to make quicker decisions as a ball handler.
As devastating as teammate Vashon Sims’ back injury was prior to their junior seasons, Sims having to miss that season may have been the key to unlocking Rawls’ immense potential. With the Eagles lacking both a true secondary scorer and a primary ball handler, Rawls was forced to develop his shot-creating skills on the ball.
When he played alongside Sims, Jones College big man John Rawls and Final Four MVP Flenard McLin on the state championship team in 2018-2019, he was more of a glue guy who used his extreme length and leaping ability to crash the offensive glass. While he did make the occasional jump shot and flashed straight-line driving ability, he was oftentimes the third or fourth option offensively for the Eagles. Then in an instant, with John Rawls and McLin graduating and Sims’ injury, East Marion became the Caleb Rawls show during the 2019-2020 season.
His game continued to grow with each passing game as he developed more post moves, nuanced drives, cross-overs and even a step-back jumper that became a real weapon for him over time. He experienced a nearly five-point jump in his scoring average from his sophomore to junior year while increasing his rebounding from 7.2 per game to 12.0 and his blocks from 1.2 to 2.7, without having any drop-off in his efficiency as he still shot 52% from the field.
He took an even bigger leap as a senior despite Sims returning from injury. He put up 21.8 points per game while shooting 55% from the field and 42% from behind the arc, hauled in 12.8 rebounds and blocked 2.8 shots, leading the Eagles to a 14-3 record and to the third round of the Class 2A playoffs. He truly became a dominant one-on-one scorer both inside and outside and could beat defenders off the dribble, off the catch shooting and in the post. If you didn’t get to see him play this season, he resembled a high school version of Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.
“Growing up, I was always down low. To get better in general was kind of tough because I was never used to anything like that,” Rawls explained. “It’s something I’ve grown into.”
It’s fitting that he looked like a high school version of Durant as the slim reaper is one of the two players Rawls models his game after. The other, Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum, is probably a more apt comparison for Rawls’ college prospects.
“(Tatum) is tall and can handle the ball. He and Durant are kind of the same. He can handle the ball, he can shoot; he can basically do anything. I like that,” Rawls said.
Rawls finished with a career record of 71-31 — though 19 of those losses came when Sims was out during the 2019-2020 season — three district championships, two Mississippi Coliseum appearances and the school’s first-ever state championship in basketball. He is the son of Carzell and Shakita Rawls.