Chris Livingston is Akron's best basketball prospect since LeBron James, but he isn't rushing to a decision on his future | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / July 14.
  • Chris Livingston is Akron’s best basketball prospect since LeBron James, but he isn’t rushing to a decision on his future

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    Chris Livingston knows what they say about him. 

    He’s cocky. Arrogant. Big-headed. 

    Could it be the blank stare that he gives after ferociously posterizing two defenders? Maybe it’s his hard, physical edge that forces opponents to panic anytime he barrels his way towards the rim. Or perhaps it’s the overwhelming confidence and burden that comes with being heralded as Akron’s best basketball prospect since LeBron James

    Still, Livingston knows there’s more than meets the eye. 

    There are the countless hours in the gym, falling in love with the process of refining and polishing his ever changing skill set. There’s the loving family that sticks by his side through thick and thin. 

    And then there’s the constant pursuit of showing the world his full potential. 

    That’s not to say Livingston doesn’t worry. The 17-year-old’s mind sprints like a racehorse, tirelessly consumed with thoughts of the future. 

    What lies ahead for me?

    Will I make it at the next level? 

    How can I put my stamp on the game of basketball?

    Thoughts of the future that only get louder and louder as his future inches closer and closer.

    In order to fully understand the story of Chris Livingston there’s only one place to start: family. 

    Born in Akron, Ohio on October 15, 2003, Livingston’s circle has remained tight, steadily fueled by his supportive band of relatives. 

    “I’m the type of person that’s kept to myself, but me and my family, we’ve always been good,” Livingston said. “They’re always supportive.” 

    There’s his twin brother, Cordell, a high-major recruit of his own accord, that uses his intuition to play off of Chris perfectly anytime the two step on the same court. 

    There’s his grandmother, Pamela, who first introduced the boys to the game of basketball, signing up Chris and Cordell to compete in LeBron’s Tiny Tots Tournament. 

    There’s his grandfather, Joe, who has served as an important paternal figure in Chris and Cordell’s life with their father out of the picture. Joe goes out of his way to train Chris and Cordell, preparing the twins for what’s to come. 

    There’s his mother, Julia, who somehow managed a house filled with Chris, Cordell and their older sister Sydney, instilling values of loyalty, respect and positivity that still stick to this day. 

    Not to mention, Chris and Cordell’s three older half siblings, who provide additional guidance wherever it’s needed. 

    Chris takes great pride in his family, teaching him how to navigate this crazy world, all while bettering him as a student, an athlete and a humble young man. 

    “I’m proud of my family,” Livingston said. “I’m proud of how I’m treated in my circle, them being there for me and being the people that they are.”

    From the second he set foot in Akron’s Ed Davis Community Center at the age of six, Chris’ talent was impossible to hide –  putting up mid-range jumpers on a 10-foot hoop, while all the other children needed the rim lowered. 

    And for as long as he can remember, Chris has been a fierce competitor,  – running track, playing pee-wee football and making the basketball court his feeding ground, all alongside his twin brother. 

    “That’s just how we were raised,” Cordell said. “Sometimes he can’t control it. That’s just who he is.” 

    Even as a child, Chris would fly up and down the court, leaving even his mother to ponder just how far the game of basketball could take him. 

    “Nobody could catch him,” Julia said. “But I wasn’t really thinking about it in those terms, like he could make a career out of it.” 

    It wasn’t until Livingston reached the fourth grade that his basketball dreams began to take shape – once Carlos Carneal entered the picture. 

    Carneal, the head coach of the We All Can Go All Stars AAU Team, was introduced to Livingston through Middle School Hoops and was instantly blown away. 

    “I think this kid could be a top-three, maybe number one kid in the country,” Carneal said. “When I saw Chris, I was like, this kid is going to be special.”

    That was the moment that Livingston shifted his focus from football and track to basketball exclusively. 

    And it paid dividends. 

    As a middle schooler, Livingston was already considered a hoops prodigy, picking up scholarship offers at 14 years old and leaving college coaches buzzing. 

    Then LeBron entered the picture. 

    As Livingston competed in the 16-Under Fab 48 Tournament in Las Vegas in the summer of 2018, Akron’s future and past collided. 

    James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter observed from the ninth row bleachers a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with all the skills to become high school basketball’s next sensation. 

    LeBron has always been an inspiration to Chris. 

    Julia recalls her sons watching More Than a Game, the 2008 documentary on James’ St. Vincent St. Mary’s team “50 million times” growing up. 

    Chris remembers seeing LeBron at events around Akron as a child, but it was in the Desert Oasis gym at a 16-under AAU game that he was finally being recognized by his childhood role model. 

    “He’s got a lot of things to do, but he really showed love and I really appreciated that,” Livingston said. 

    But the relationship didn’t end there. 

    Since that tournament in Las Vegas, LeBron has become a staple in Livingston’s basketball growth, helping train the 17-year-old Akron prodigy and keeping regular contact by phone and text. 

    He’s really opened up doors for me that I didn’t have before,” Livingston said. “I still view him the same as how I did as a kid. I look up to him. He’s a role model. It’s kind of the same for me.”

    Livingston has a sense of self-awareness rarely seen in most high school basketball superstars. He understands that life is filled with obstacles and he’s far from achieving his ultimate goal of succeeding in the NBA.

    “Basketball isn’t a short race,” he said. “It’s a marathon.”

    Livingston began his high school career at Buchtel High School in Akron in 2018 before spending his sophomore year at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. Now back at Buchtel High School amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Livingston has emerged as a steadying hand for the Buchtel basketball program, bouncing from private workouts to team practices, all in hopes of becoming a future pro. 

    “He’s just a workhorse,” Buchtel head boys basketball coach Rayshon Dent said. “He has that type of mentality about him where he just grinds and grinds and grinds and grinds.” 

    Livingston’s propensity to outwork those around him has translated on the court, posting jaw-dropping stat lines and leading Butchel to an 18-5 record on the year. 

    A number of performances stand out during his 2020-21 campaign, most notably, a January 15th win over East Community Learning Center High School. 

    Livingston single-handedly outscored East by ten points, leading Buchtel to a 106-44 victory and posting a statline more accurately resembling a video game than a high school game: 54 points on 22-for-27 shooting, 12 rebounds, eight assists and eight steals. 

    But Livingston’s true defining moment didn’t come until two weeks later. 

    It’s January 31 and Buchtel is set to face two-time state champion Lutheran High School East on the road. 

    Lutheran entered the matchup undefeated at 7-0 led by senior forward Jalin Billingsley, who is heading to Georgetown next season. 

    Despite being nearly a head shorter than Billingsley, Livingston knows what has to be done. 

    “Chris said, ‘Coach, I’m gonna take this kid here’,” Dent recalled. 

    This game was the epitome of Livingston’s ability to completely take over a game, turning Billingsley into a complete non-factor, while finishing with quite the stat line of his own. 

    Livingston’s 30 points, 18 rebounds and six assists turned out to be just the spark Butchel needed, coming away with the 88-82 victory. But it was his energy on the defensive end, including his six blocks, that proved to be the true difference. 

    “He went ahead and just carried the team on his back,” Dent said. “When I saw that, I was like man, this kid has something special going for him.” 

    Livingston’s final averages for the season are jarring: 31.1 points, 15.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 4.7 steals and 4.0 blocks per game, while shooting 71 percent from the field. 

    And now, with his junior year coming to an end, Livingston’s future is drawing closer and closer with each passing day. 

    Due to the pandemic, Livingston, like many other highly-touted recruits, has been unable to visit college campuses amid the NCAA Dead Period. 

    However, with the dead period set to end on June 1, Livingston will have the opportunity to set foot on campus at just a few of the colleges vying for the junior forward. 

    “I’m really looking forward to doing stuff like that as soon as possible,” Livingston said. “I feel like if I were to take visits to these college campuses and meet these coaches in person, I would be deeper in my decision.” 

    But with just over ten scholarship offers on the table, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to why the five-star phenom is being overlooked on the recruiting trail. 

    Yet Livingston has his own take on why some schools have neglected to extend an offer. 

    “I feel as though there are coaches who have backed out because they think I’m going to certain schools or making certain decisions that I haven’t come to make yet,” he said.

    One of the popular predicted destinations for Livingston is the NBA G-League, an increasingly popular option for elite high school recruits. In the 2020 class, high school stars Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix and more chose to spend last season with the G-League Ignite Team, signing $125,000 contracts for a year between high school and the NBA. 

    Five-star forward Michael Foster recently became the first class of 2021 star to elect for this route on April 23. 

    “It’s something I’ve definitely thought about,” Livingston said. “It’s new. It’s different. It’s not really the go-to move to do, but if it fits somebody’s future then I think they should go right ahead for it.” 

    Contrary to outside opinion, Livingston remains 100 percent open with his recruitment. 

    “I’ll consider every option in my recruitment process and as far as the next level goes,” he said. “I haven’t really been rushing anything, but I’m always thinking about my future, always looking ahead and looking forward to what’s to come.” 

    Livingston’s next destination will likely be the final step in his pursuit of an NBA career, with a one-and-done path likely on the horizon. 

    “He’s kind of what an NBA player looks like,” 247Sports National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer said. 

    Livingston will need to further develop his shooting ability, an area of his game that has seen dramatic improvement over the past two years, in order to fully cement his status among the draft’s best. 

    “He’s got stuff you can’t teach. His physical, just raw athletic tools are incredible,” Meyer said. “It’s unparalleled.”

    Livingston’s AAU season is now underway, his last before he embarks on his final season at Akron Buchtel. 

    His recruitment is starting to pick up, with his latest offers coming from blue-bloods like Kansas and North Carolina. 

    He knows how he’s perceived: cocky, arrogant, big-headed. 

    But the people close to him will tell you he’s one of the hardest working young men in high school basketball today. 

    “I want to be remembered for being a good person that really works hard and dedicates himself to something that he loves,” Livingston said. “I want people to remember me in a positive light on and off the court.” 

    Chris Livingston knows what they say about him. 

    And he’s ready to change that.

    Photo: Jeff Lange – Akron Beacon Journal

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