Zelton Bernard, 17, is heading about 340 miles west for his next step in education, having accepted a scholarship offer to play basketball for Wallace State Community College, in north-central Alabama.
He and dozens of his boosters celebrated the occasion Saturday morning in Riverview Park Activities Center, holding a signing to confirm the North Augusta native's commitment.
The power forward, listed at 6-foot-8 and 192 pounds, is taking an unusual route to collegiate athletics, as he did not attend high school after wrapping up eighth grade at Paul Knox Middle School. After a variety of missteps, he wound up spending his ninth- and 10th-grade years in an alternative school.
His next move was to an eight-week alternative program to earn his GED and to a six-week program to become certified as a welder, according to Chon Mathews, coach of the Upward Stars Riverfront basketball team, which has had Bernard as a member for the past three seasons.
"Having never played a high school game and only travel basketball games of importance, Zelton has since been committed and dedicated to doing what need to be done on and off the court to obtain a full athletic scholarship," Mathews wrote.
Bernard, whose mom is Mencee Bernard, said he plans to study medical assistance. He recalled attending a basketball camp in Atlanta and being spotted by recruiter Scott Golden, which led to his contact with the Wallace State staff.
Wallace State's teams, known as the Lions, play throughout Alabama and also reach into Georgia and Tennessee. The campus is in Hanceville, in Cullman County, north of Birmingham.
Wallace State's coach, John Meeks, addressed Bernard's accomplishment, writing, "His fortitude to arrive at this level is remarkable. Zelton is somewhat of an unknown to most people but will make himself known as an immediate impact player for us next season with his length, athleticism and ability to play multiple positions."
Upward Sports dates back to 1995 and is billed as the world's largest Christian youth sports provider. A division known as Upward Stars was established in 2012, with the goal of providing "opportunities for young athletes to further develop their athletic skills and participate in a higher level of competition," according to the Upward website.
It adds, "Upward Stars programs are for young athletes ages 8-18 that have the drive and intensity to perform at a high level of competition," with programs led by certified leaders in more than 40 cities around the country.
Upward Stars Riverfront games, Bernard said, can be as far afield as Atlanta and Charlotte.