Riding with Recruits: JC Tharrington
Charlotte Christian point guard J.C. Tharrington is the grandson of a former NBA player and his mother played college basketball for Kay Yow at N.C. State.
He’s signed with Appalachian State and is one of the region’s top players.
Before Charlotte Christian upset Long Island (NY) Lutheran to win the Hoodie’s Classic Saturday, Tharrington joined the Observer’s Langston Wertz Jr. for a #RidingWithRecruits video. He talked about why he’s got a chip on his shoulder, how losing a friend affected him this summer and about his picks for the top players in Mecklenburg County, and how he wants to change the culture as soon as he gets on campus in Boone.
▪ Below is a story on Tharrington that ran in November (updated, where appropriate).
Granddad played in NBA, mom in ACC. This guard’s shooting touch among county’s greats
Basketball runs in J.C. Tharrington’s family.
His mother, Nicole, played college basketball at N.C. State from 1987-91 for legendary coach Kay Yow. His grandfather, George Lehmann, was once recruited by North Carolina and Wake Forest, and eventually played for seven NBA and ABA teams over a seven-year career.
“I definitely felt a little pressure to play basketball growing up,” said Tharrington, an 18-year-old senior point guard at Charlotte Christian. “I was really into soccer, playing on a travel team. But I remember in sixth grade, I came to my mom and said (basketball) is what I want to do.”
Playing the same position as his mother, Tharrington has broken Stephen Curry’s career record for made 3-point shots at Charlotte Christian. Tharrington, who had 184 career 3s, also owns the school’s career assists record (687), its single-season assist record (213) and has 1,237 career points.
Tharrington, who is 6-foot-1, could pass Willis Hall and Anthony Gill (1,535 points each) as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“J.C. is a super competitor,” Charlotte Christian coach Shonn Brown said. “And he plays with a chip on his shoulder, too. He doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test (athletically) in some people’s minds, but he doesn’t let that be a deterrent. He’s fueled by that. He’s committed to the DI (college) level and I think he’ll have an impact there.”
Going to college with best friend
Tharrington has signed to Appalachian State, where he will play with his best friend - Carmel Christian senior Donovan Gregory.
The two have been close since seventh grade. In October, they flew to New York together to attend a concert by the rapper Drake.
They couldn’t be more different on the court. Gregory is 6-foot-4 and has a vertical jump of 40 inches. Google his name and you’ll see high-flying dunks and blocks from a player who plays more like he’s 6-7. Meanwhile, Tharrington is an exceptional ball handler, which allows him to ecape defensive pressure.
He’s also a skillful passer, often setting up teammates for easy shots. Tharrington has become adept at getting off his jump shot faster than most defenders can get to him in time. Because teams must close out on him so hard, Tharrington has learned to get into the lane and score with floaters and scoop shots, much like Curry when he was at Charlotte Christian.
As for college, Tharrington and Gregory said they look forward to reuniting as teammates at App State.
“Our last time playing with each other,” Tharrington said, “was ninth grade in AAU. We split up then and we were kind of upset about it, but we can’t wait to get to college. We’re just two hard-working guys who play hard and make it exciting. Up at App, we’ll get up and down and I’ll shoot and Donovan will be flying around. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Before he gets to college, however, Tharrington wants to help deliver a state championship at Charlotte Christian. The Knights have three state titles, the most recent in 2001.
This season, Charlotte Christian returns four senior starters from a 2018 state quarterfinalist and have added Arden Christ School transfer Peter Lash.
“We are very capable,” Brown said, “provided we stay healthy. If we can defend and rebound the ball, there should not be a night when we’re not in the ballgame. And J.C. is a big part of that. He can really control a game.”
J.C. Tharrington can also really shoot. He’s made 47 percent of his 3-point attempts in his high school career.
It shouldn’t be too surprising. Shooting runs in his family.
Like father, like daughter
At N.C. State, Nicole Lehmann’s teammates included Wolfpack great Rhonda Mapp and Andrea Stinson, and they made three straight NCAA Sweet 16 appearances while she was there. Lehmann, who now goes by Tharrington, her married name, still ranks in the top 10 all-time in single season and career 3-pointers made at N.C. State, as well as in career 3-point field goal percentage.
“When I was little,” she said, “my dad was retiring from playing professional basketball, but was touring for Pro-Keds and Pony (shoe brands) doing lectures at camps across the country. When he was home, he worked out at St. Peter’s Church in New Jersey. I had two older brothers that always went to the gym with him.”
Nicole was a fourth-grade cheerleader and played softball. Sitting at the dinner table every night and hearing the stories from the lectures and the gym sessions, she wanted to try basketball, too.
“One day,” she said, “my dad found me upstairs in my room crying. I told him I wanted to go the gym, too. He said, ‘I leave every day at 4:30 and if you want to go, you’ve got to be in the backseat.’”
Years before, George Lehmann moved to North Carolina from New Jersey and led the nation in scoring in the early 1960s at Campbell, then a prep school.
Lehmann, now 76, eventually chose Wake Forest over North Carolina. He couldn’t play at Wake Forest his first year, when freshmen were not allowed to play varsity.
The following summer, Lehmann - who he came from a poor family - was paid $100 for playing in a summer league and lost his college eligibility. He began playing pro ball in a minor league. Eventually, he played professionally from 1967-74, including with the Hawks of the NBA, and later with the Carolina Cougars of the ABA.
At every stop, his shooting ability stood out.
For his career, Lehmann averaged 12 points and 4.9 assists. He is third all-time in ABA 3-point field goal percentage, and in the 1970-71 season with Carolina, Lehmann became the first pro to make more than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in a season.
Nicole taught her son to shoot, just like her father had taught her.
Today, J.C. Tharrington has an effortless shooting stroke, with perfect form and rotation.
“Like me,” Nicole Tharrington said, “he’s not overly athletic. He’s not going to jump out of the gym or wow you when you look at him, but I knew with his skill and IQ of the game, that he could play (Division I) if he kept growing in the game.”
Has teammates’ respect
Brown, the Charlotte Christian coach, marvels at Tharrington’s growth over his time at the school.
“He’s really taken his faith more seriously and allowed himself to take advantage of what Charlotte Christian offers on a whole scale to all our students,” Brown said. “We have chapels, a team chaplain that comes in. On the court, he has the respect of teammates. I mean, who JC is, is who JC is. As a coach, I really appreciate that about him.”
Tharrington has added muscle, thanks to the weight room and working on his game with trainer Randall Clark of Outwork Everyone Basketball, who has trained Curry and former NBA players Anthony Morrow and Antawn Jamison. Tharrington is quicker with his moves and gone from being a stand-still shooter to being as lethal when he’s shooting on the move.
And when he comes home each day, Tharrington said there’s more advice waiting on him.
“Man,” he said, “it helps me a lot. (My mom) will tell me little things about the game and where I can get my shots. You know that she and my grandfather care about you and won’t tell you wrong. Granddad has more of an aggressive mindset and he’s a fiery type guy. He will let me know when I’ll messing up, but he will also tell me how fix it.”
Nicole Tharrington has been a practicing corporate attorney for more than 20 years. She received her law degree from Campbell, where her father once played. She said basketball taught her so much and played a big role in her success.
She believes basketball is great for her son, but she thinks it’ll mean so much more to him later.
“As a parent,” she said, “you know all the time and effort he’s put into the game, and I want him to play because I know all the life lessons the game will teach him, especially in college. I’m a success in my life and career because of college basketball. I know the experiences will be more important in his life than actually winning the games.”
She pauses. Then laughs.
“But I want him to win the games, too.”