Life has a unique way of presenting opportunity. Though cliché, the concept of “everything happens for a reason” is extremely applicable to high school basketball and all the factors associated with it. Recruiting has become such a nightmare for the vast majority of kids. While this is largely due to the aftermath from covid, there are still so many prospects who lack an understanding of what it takes to become a high-level college player at any level. The number of individuals (whether parents, coaches, or players) who still maintain a “D1 or bust” mentality is pretty disheartening. Fortunately, this area is surrounded by a slew of noteworthy Division II and Division III programs who have been amazing at combating the uninformed. Of these programs, arguably no one has done a better, more consistent job of recruiting their area and securing talented players than Coach Palombo at Guilford College.

It’s no secret that he’s among the top coaches in Division III basketball, but a lot of his success begins with who he pursues. In taking a quick glance at their roster, we notice several familiar faces from our events or the general North Carolina high school scene. Guys like Caleb Farrish, James Daly, Dawson Edwards, Enzo Geremski, and Magnus Swinger have each carved out their own respective role for this squad. However, it’s safe to say that the duo of Tyler Dearman and Julius Burch will ultimately take this group as far as they can go.

For those who might not remember, Burch and Dearman were previously teammates at Southern Guilford under Coach Evan Fancourt. They also played together with NC Top Flight during the travel ball season, yet remained largely under the radar for most of their respective high school careers. Though undersized, Burch regularly stood out through his nonstop motor, incredible toughness, and versatility as a defender and rebounder. He quickly proved to be physically overwhelming for the vast majority of opponents at the high school level. After committing to the Quakers over several other choices, Burch put in the work while patiently waiting for his time to emerge. Following a solid freshman campaign and shortened sophomore year, he became a key piece for Coach Palombo. Burch also ranks first in rebounding, third in FG%, 12th in steals, and 25th in PPG across the ODAC. Here’s a glimpse of Burch’s sheer consistency over the last three seasons:

Photo Courtesy of Guilford College Athletics

2021-22 (JR): 9.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG with 53% FG and 69% FT

2022-23 (SR): 7.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 0.9 SPG with 47% FG and 58% FT

2023-24 (Year Five): 10.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG with 56% FG and 68% FT

Meanwhile, Dearman had an older brother who turned heads with the Storm, but Tyler didn’t receive the appropriate level of attention for his production. Coaches didn’t like his shooting mechanics and questioned how his effortless scoring prowess would translate to the next level. Alright, whatever. It didn’t seem to matter that Dearman was a double-digit varsity scorer for three straight seasons or that Southern Guilford consistently outperformed expectations year after year. He received offers from Guilford College and William Peace.

Photo Courtesy of Guilford College Athletics

Fast-forward five years, and choosing to further his career as a Quaker has paid massive dividends for all parties involved. Over basically three and a half seasons, Dearman has steadily increased his production while also earning two All-ODAC selections (second team in 2021-22, first team in 2022-23). Let’s take a quick glance at his production over that span:

2019-20 (FR): 10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG with 40/35/63 shooting splits

2020-21 (SO): Only three games due to covid

2021-22 (JR): 13.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, and 2.2 SPG with 45/39/75 shooting splits

2022-23 (SR): 16.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 1.8 SPG with 40/37/76 shooting splits

2023-24 (Year Five): 20.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.2 SPG with 43/37/81 shooting splits

Now, Guilford College is 15-2 and it’s clear that Dearman should warrant attention as the ODAC’s Player of the Year. He’s currently second in scoring while being arguably the most efficient player in the league.. Paired with his lofty scoring numbers, Dearman ranks second in steals, third in 3PA, eighth in 3P%, 12th in FT%, and 23rd in FG%. After shooting above 36.7% from beyond the arc for his college career, it seems like all the concerns were unfounded. Instead of being weird and finding minor, insignificant quirks within a player’s identity, more coaches should be like Palombo and prioritize winning, hard-working prospects to recruit. There is a reason he just surpassed the school’s most decorated coach, Jack Jensen, in all-time wins. Furthermore, it’s been a real treat to watch the unique, homegrown Burch-Dearman partnership blossom over the last decade.