Mom knew best.
When he was born, he said his dad wanted to call him Brad:
“He was going to name me a Junior. His name is Brad, so I was going to be Brad. Jr.
“But my mom was like ‘Oh no! No way. We’re not naming him Brad.’ And then it just popped into her head: Skyelar. They were going to call me Skyelar.”
And with that, Skyelar Potter ended up with the perfect name.
He’s a basketball player and he’s best known for the way he can sky. That’s how it was when he was leading Warren Central High School in Bowling Green, Ky. to the Final Four of the all-class state tournament in Kentucky last March and it’s how he’s been now, in the very early stages of his freshman season at Wright State:
•You saw it Wednesday night in the Raiders’ 86-51 exhibition game win over Notre Dame College at the Nutter Center. With 8:31 left in the first half, a 6-foot-8 Notre Dame player was set to corral Bill Wampler’s three-point miss when suddenly the 6-3 Potter soared up behind him, went above the rim for the rebound, came down and then surged straight back up for the easy lay-up over his stunned rival.
•Folks at E.A. Diddle Arena — home of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers — saw it last January when Potter grabbed a rebound midair and slammed home a backwards, over-the-head dunk against Russell County.
“One of my teammates was coming along the baseline for a dunk, but the dude pushed him in mid-air so all he could do was throw it up against the backboard,” Potter said. “I found myself in the air right then, but I was facing away from the basket. I put my hands out, the ball landed in them and all I could do was just dunk it back over my head.”
•Another signature slam came with just over two minutes left in the regional final against rival Bowling Green High School when he faked running down court, then turned back quickly to steal a pass and roar to the other end of the floor for a powerful two-handed dunk.
“I just slammed it as hard as I could,” he said. “The place went wild and you could tell it just drained the other team.”
•And if you peruse the internet, you’ll find several videos posted by KySports TV showing Potter looking more Sky than Brad.
One highlight reel from a game against Glasgow High School is simply entitled “Skyelar Potter Gets 4 Dunks.”
Another clip is billed “Skyelar Potter vs. Kendrick Curry Dunk Contest.”
“He’s crazy, crazy, he jumps crazy high,” Cole Gentry WSU’s point guard said after Wednesday’s game.
Raiders head coach Scott Nagy wasn’t quite so gushing afterward, but had a similar outlook: “He just turned 18. He’s just a puppy, but he’s tremendously athletic.”
Wright State assistant coach Clint Sargent – who, by the way ,was a 1,000 point scorer in high school, is South Dakota State University’s all-time leading three-point shooter and played professionally in Germany – didn’t hold back in his assessment of Potter last month with a Xenia reporter:
“At the guard spot he is probably the best athlete I’ve had the opportunity to either play with or coach.”
‘Release for my energy’
Potter said his ability to jump – and make it one of the primary tools of his budding basketball career – is what helped save him.
“I had ADHD when I was a kid and I did all kinds of crazy, dumb stuff,” he said quietly. “In school I was just really hyper. I couldn’t sit still, couldn’t pay attention, couldn’t really control myself. I might just go run outside or something like that.”
Those are many of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the neurodevelopment problem that afflicts many children.
“They finally gave me ADHD pills, but they just made me zone out,” he said. “I just sat there like a Zombie. My mom didn’t want me to take that anymore and finally around seventh grade I was able to get control of it and stop with the pills.
“The thing that helped most was sports. It gave me a release for my energy. I played football, baseball, basketball.”
Because of his leaping ability, he eventually gravitated to basketball, but in the beginning he said all he could do was jump: “I couldn’t shoot at all. It was all air balls and bricks. I was skinny and wasn’t very strong.
“But then freshman year I had a weightlifting class and I kept lifting every day of high school. I lifted with a bunch of football players, mostly linemen, and they showed me how to do it the right way.”
He said he’s now squatted 350 pounds and benched 210.
“He’s got the body of a fifth-year senior,” Wampler said. “He’s physically strong. He competes with us in the weight room already and he’s just a freshman. He’s not afraid to go against older guys.”
As his body grew in high school, so did his dreams. Like many kids in his state, he fantasized about being a Kentucky Wildcat.
“From the time I was a child, that’s all I thought about, being a Wildcat,” he admitted. “I had all kinds of Kentucky blue – shirts, pajama pants, hoodies, pullovers. But then my senior year reality hit me. I was like ‘Yeah, you’re not one of those elite players getting offer from all the big schools.’”
He was getting several looks though. Western Kentucky and Murray State were interested. He visited Lipscomb and Miami University, but said he found Oxford too remote.
With Wright State he said he found just what he wanted:
“When I came here I liked everything about it — the facilities, the team, the coaches. The coaches say they love us and I felt that when I came here.
“On my way home. I felt so relaxed that I fell asleep as soon as I got in the car. When I woke up, I told my dad: ‘That’s where I’m going. It’s the right place for me.’”
Potter said his high school coach – William Unseld – prepared him for the transition he’d have to make to play college basketball.
“Our practices every day were intense. Our high school floor was a college floor and we ran. I knew it would be tough in college.”
The prep paid off.
“You don’t ever have to worry about him not playing hard.” Gentry said.
That said, there still is plenty of room for growth and maturity.
While Potter led the Raiders in scoring and rebounding in their scrimmage against Ohio University last week and had 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and assist – against no turnovers – in 21 minutes off the bench against Notre Dame, a Division II school from South Euclid, Nagy said he’d like to see him attack the basket more rather than settle for three-point shots
And he wants him to rebound even more.
“He can be our leading offensive rebounder and one of our better defenders,” Wampler said. “He’s starting to understand his role more and just what he can be.”
And that brings us back to that name.
When Potter was just nine — in 2010 — Skylar Diggs, the point guard of the Notre Dame women’s team, already was one of the best-known female players in the game.
In high school, she’d been the Gatorade Player of the Year. She’d soon be Notre Dames’ all-time scorer and a two-time Big East Player of the Year and today, as a member of the Dallas Wings, she’s a four-time WNBA All-Star.
“As a young boy I got made fun of a lot,” he said. “Kids were always saying, ‘Dude, you got a girl’s name.’ They really teased me and for a while I didn’t like my name. But then I started to realize it was pretty unique.
“I started not to pay attention. I wasn’t gonna let them keep putting me down.”
Not when your name is Skyelar
Not when you can truly sky.