Jamal Tanner, center bottom, is flanked by Jessica Bentley and Lewis Bentley. Back row, from left: Polk County athletic director Brandon Schweitzer, assistant coach Josh Money, head coach Josh McEntire and principal Mary Feagan.

Jamal Tanner knows he’ll face a new level of competition at Catawba Valley Community College.

He’s ready for it.

“That’s what an athlete looks for, someone that pushes them in practices, not just games,” Tanner said. “You want people that push you in practice.”

Tanner will have that opportunity to be pushed after signing a national letter-of-intent Friday to play basketball with the Red Hawks. Tanner signed the letter during a ceremony in the school library.

The signing represented the end of a long decision-making process for Tanner, who talked with recruiters for both football and basketball throughout his senior year. In the end, Tanner opted for the sport he loved the most.

“Basketball is what makes me happy,” Tanner said. “It was a hard choice, but it was the best one.”

The Western Highlands Conference player of the year, Tanner led Western North Carolina in scoring this season, averaging 21.7 points per game. His 542 points set a new school single-season record. His departure will leave a void in the Wolverines’ program.

“You don’t replace a kid like that,” said former Polk County basketball coach Josh McEntire, who coached Tanner during his four seasons as a Wolverine.

“His senior year he leads the mountains in scoring and sets the school record for most points in a season. He finished with 1,500 career points, and if he doesn’t get hurt his sophomore year, he probably sets the school record for points scored in a career.”

Catawba Valley finished 23-9 this season, averaging nearly 82 points a game under head coach Bryan Garmroth. The Red Hawks will have to replace their four top scorers next season.

“The style of play at Catawba Valley is up and down the court,” McEntire said. “(Tanner’s) game will translate well there. He’s an athlete who lives to push the ball up and down the court.

“I think he’ll blossom there as a basketball player. He’s never put all of his time in to just basketball, because he also played football.”

McEntire thinks Tanner will be best suited as a point guard at Catawba Valley, though a “scoring point guard.” Tanner is just happy to have his decision made and his college destination decided.

“It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m ready to get going.”

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