COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jory Fleming has been attending South Carolina basketball games for four years, but Saturday will bring a first for the South Carolina senior.
Fleming will stand at center court prior to South Carolina’s game against Mississippi this weekend as an honorary captain being recognized for all his accomplishments, the latest of which is being named a Rhodes Scholar. Fleming, who has autism, was picked from a pool of 882 nominees to spend two years studying at Oxford, an achievement Gamecocks basketball coach Frank Martin could not praise enough Monday.
“Obviously, education is something dear to my heart,” said Martin, a former math teacher. “It’s all about adversity and how you handle things. Jory is as good an example as anyone out there to overcome the challenges in front of you to do special things. … He’s a great representation of what life is really about. And how to not use a sprained ankle or a bad shoulder or a bad night to dwell on the negative, but on the contrary, focus in on all the good and what is there and taking advantage of it to do special things.”
Fleming has done that to the fullest, with the Rhodes Scholarship being just the latest in a long line of academic achievements. He also has been awarded the Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater and Hollings scholarships, before earning the Rhodes honor. The Rhodes Scholarship is awarded to candidates displaying outstanding scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and to the common good, as well as their leadership potential.
When Fleming found out he received the Rhodes Scholarship, he immediately texted his mother.
“I actually texted her the fact that I won after I texted her that the interviews were concluded,” said Fleming, who is double majoring in geography and marine science with a minor in geophysics. “That’s an example of the communication issues I have as a result of autism. Where, of course, my mom would have liked to know the fact that I won first rather than second. I texted my family first thing.”
Fleming joined Martin on Monday for his weekly press conference, as did his service dog, Daisy. Fleming has had Daisy for three years and she came from a local charity, Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS).
“She has been wonderful,” Fleming said. “She’s been a big part of my college experience, enabling me to get out there in the community to do things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
One of those things is South Carolina athletic events. Martin, who quipped it took him 10 years to gain one degree compared to Fleming’s double major in four years, praised Fleming’s support of USC athletics. It was at South Carolina basketball games Martin said he noticed Fleming due to Daisy’s presence.
“He might be our most loyal basketball fan that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Martin said. “He’s been unbelievable in my time here in the way he has supported our program. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t see him out there with us. We had some lean moments when I first got here. He has unbelievable loyalty and commitment to this university.”
Fleming, on the other hand, said that he has noticed a shift in the basketball program. A few years ago, he said, the student body was not very excited about basketball. Now, he comes to games, such as a recent home game against Clemson, and the student section is full.
“I know lots of my friends are excited and I’m excited,” he said. “I think it’s become a really neat part and a bigger of the university.”
On Saturday, he will be a part of the basketball program. Fleming said he doesn’t think he will be nervous standing at half-court, calling it a “neat experience” instead. But as excited as he is, Martin might be more excited yet.
“Every one of us is really excited about how he represented us and having him around,” Martin said. “He’s never actually been in our locker room. This is going to be a first for him. It’s going to be a first for our players. They know who he is. They might know him from campus. But having him in the locker room, all day with the team, it’s going to be a powerful moment for our guys, too.
“It’s easy to worry about negative stuff, and when you see someone like him, it should get you excited about how lucky we really are and aspire to do more rather than complain about whatever little challenges are in front of us that day.”