“Radar Contact” – Riverwood’s Karris Bilal
PHOTO COURTESY OF GAME ELITE
By: Keith Agran
SANDY SPRINGS, GA – If you haven’t made it just inside the perimeter to Riverwood International Charter High School or made a plan to see a 6A-Region 7 contest of late, you’re surely missing one of the top 2024 guards in the state and perhaps the Southeast as well in Riverwood sophomore Karris Bilal.
Dropping 30+ in a game, regularly shooting over 50% from the field, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd, these are normal occurrences for the 6-3 star guard, and he’s doing it with the ball in his control most of the game as a necessary facilitator for the Raiders and Coach Buck Jenkins.
And all of this exceptional production is coming off the hands of a player who spends a large portion of the game doing damage from outside 15 feet.
Throw out the advanced metrics with that kind of production from outside the painted area, that’s natural ability, a real understanding of the game, and a work ethic to match. It’s been no secret to onlookers the last year and change that Bilal was something special, and once again as we highlight a young guard with such promise, he too had seen the light bulb go off at a younger age to prepare for these hooping moments:
“Throughout middle school I really loved playing basketball, and then my freshman year of high school, that’s when I really started getting serious, working out every day, getting shots up every day, improving myself. I knew I wanted to play college basketball, and my Dad told me what I had to do to get there. When I won Freshman of the Year (in 6A-Region 7), that’s really when I saw how my work was paying off.”
On having his Dad, Karris, Sr, a former college basketball player, for a father and recognizing the work needed to get there:
“In middle school my Dad let me know (what it takes), he’s a big influence on me, always pushing me a lot to do the things I do, putting in the training, putting me in the right places to be.”
There’s always work to be done though, even with a father who knows the ins and outs or a son with the gifts Bilal possesses.
On what he’s working on to get better in a package that is already highly skilled and often well ahead of many his 2024 peers:
“I’m trying to develop an all-around game. So, in my training I work on my shooting a lot, my off-the-dribble shooting, outside of practice I get shots off with my Dad. One dribble pull-ups, I’ve been working on catch and shooting, I work on stuff I know I’ll take in the game. And also I work on my body, working out in the gym a lot.”
With Covid still a factor in our world, he talked to me about his and his family’s simple solution on how he kept his focus and keep on path back in 2020, even with not playing organized teavle ball back in that summer:
“That summer I decided not to play AAU, me and my brother and my Dad got shots up in our backyard to get ready for my freshman year.”
Bilal lives and grew up in the Riverwood school district in Sandy Springs, so even despite it being an International Charter School with a unique magnet program but yet sporting a solid sports lineup as well, he and his family never had any designs on transferring his talents to a higher profile program in town:
“No, I was always locked in with Riverwood, I have a lot of trust in Coach Buck, I know he knows what he’s doing. We’re also really young right now, I think I could lead this team for the next couple of years and we could be really good. I trust my coach.”
On his goals, academically, while at school with the academic reputation of a Riverwood, particularly if basketball doesn’t become the life he’s pursuing:
“My goals academically are just to keep a high GPA, and stay in the classes I’m in now, I’m taking honors classes, hard classes like that. Keep that GPA high in those classes and always have a backup plan if basketball doesn’t work out.”
He finished up playing his 2021 summer ball with Game Elite, one of the premier AAU clubs in town, and it’s always intriguing to hear from star players about how they adjust to playing with a group of stars and the differences to school ball:
“I feel one difference is at Riverwood I have to carry a heavier load on the team. On Game Elite everybody is talented, I don’t have to carry as much, it’s a summer team so everyone is good. At Riverwood I handle the point a lot more, but at Game Elite, we have a point guard on that team.”
The different load responsibilities summer vs regular season has helped him move closer to that complete game he’s looking for:
“I think playing the summer helped me to play off the ball and learn how to score without having the ball in my hands. Playing with Game Elite helps me with being more conditioned (too), we play really fast, so when I come back to school ball I’m in better condition than everybody because I’ve been running up and down the court in most of my games in the summer.”
The kind of numbers he’s posting, and the obvious skillset to anyone that sits down to a Raiders game, has led to a natural increase in attention from colleges. Bilal’s recruitment is beginning to gain steam, added to his first offer from Vanderbilt back in November is an offer this week from Xavier. Florida St and Georgia Tech are also showing significant interest.
He recently in fact accepted an invite on an unofficial down at Georgia Tech, and I asked him about notable differences in what he saw at the college level to what he sees now:
“One thing I saw that was different was that everybody’s athletic, they dunk the ball a lot, almost every time they get in the paint.” But when asked if he thought had they asked him to grab his sneakers and jump in with them could he compete, without hesitation Bilal answered, “Yes.”
You have to love the confidence of a young player on the rise.
He keeps his non-basketball interests simple, becoming a complete player after all is close to a full-time job:
“I like to play video games with my friends, like to go out with my friends sometimes, hang out with my (14-year old brother) Kaleb.”
Math is his favorite subject, and that kind of didn’t shock me, the way he calculates his way around the floor carving up defenses suggests a mind not of your average player.
Whether using the Pythagorean Theorem or just his explosive first step around the floor, Bilal is sure to gain more fans and is and will be a name to watch around the state of Georgia for the next 2 years.
Keith Agran has lived in Georgia since 2011 and joined OTR as a National Evaluator in 2021. He previously scouted for Prep Hoops dating back to 2019 and has both a championship-coaching background on the HS-level and daily newspaper writing experience, both from New Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BracketSage.