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Denmark-Olar High School hosted a signing ceremony on Monday for the glue that held the Vikings boys basketball team together the past few seasons.

Ozante Fields signed with South Carolina State University to join Head Coach Murray Garvin’s Bulldogs men’s basketball program this coming season. Fields, one of the most dominant forwards in the high school ranks this past season, was a First Team selection on The Times and Democrat All-Area Team in 2016.

Fields (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) recalls growing more than three inches taller between his sophomore and junior years in high school. He then focused his efforts more on basketball and less on football, in order to have this opportunity.

The determination and work put in by Fields paid off well for the honors student who was recently inducted into the National Beta Club. He helped lead the Vikings to a 22-5 record this past season, including a Region 5-A championship and a Class A lower state playoff run.

Fields will be joining a Bulldogs program that is coming off a 19-15 campaign, during which SCSU played in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game and played a first-round game in the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

“The way their (SCSU’s) season went, it just made me want to be a part of it all and help bring home that MEAC Championship,” Fields said. “I’m ready to play; I’m ready to get on the court.

“My support system from nearby is going to be huge, with all my family and local fans on my side, wanting me to do my best.”

Denmark-Olar head boys basketball coach Yusef English recalls the maturation process Fields went through in recent years, growing both as a student-athlete and as a person.

“Ozante went from not being able to chew gum and walk at the same time to being a walking double-double every night we had a game,” Denmark-Olar head boys basketball coach Yusef English said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that what he has done here at Denmark-Olar will translate well to the court at South Carolina State beginning next season.

“When I got here, he was a big-time football kid. But, he told me ‘coach, I want to play basketball; I love it, but I’m not really good. I told him if he stuck with it, listened and learned, he had the tools and would get every opportunity he had coming to him. His discipline and his faith in God have gotten him here today.”

Fields averaged 20.7 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks per game as a senior for the Vikings, as he was named the South Carolina Class A Player of the Year and was selected to play in the North/South All-Star Game.

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“I was able to watch South Carolina State play this past season and, even in a loss, I liked the way they played and composed themselves,” Fields said. “They gave up a lot of second-chance points last year, so I feel that when I get there I’ll be able to limit those a lot.

“Football was always where my heart was at, but I excelled on the basketball court, so I stuck with basketball. I hope I represent Denmark-Olar High well, and set the bar high for younger talent to come in the future.”

Coach English believes Fields is a great example for younger student-athletes to witness.

“Since I’ve been coaching here, this is the second (NCAA) Division I signee we’ve had,” Coach English said. “It’s a huge deal because Ozante is the epitome of what happens when you work hard, are the first in the gym, first out, and do what you’re supposed to do in the classroom.

“You have options and it’s a decision to be made for your future.”

Basketball scholarship offers were made to Fields from in-state programs Francis Marion University and Southern Wesleyan University. But, heading into the April collegiate signing period, Fields had his decision narrowed down between SCSU and Ohio State University, a program which wanted him to attend prep school for a year or two and work on being a wing forward. SCSU won out, based on earlier playing opportunities and offering the civil engineering degree program Fields is interested in pursuing.

“It’s going to be good that he’s going somewhere close to the community,” said English, who recently accepted the offer to take the position of head boys basketball coach at Hartsville High School for the 2016-17 school year. “All of his family and Vikings fans will have the opportunity to go see him at the next level.

“As soon as our team realized we had to go through him for our offense to work, he became the glue that kept everything together. He passes well out of the double team and, on the boards, he is a monster.”

Fields is part of a five-member class that Coach Garvin signed during the April signing period, including guard James “J.J.” Richardson (Darlington High/Denmark Tech) and forwards Ian Kinard (Clinton, S.C./Gray Collegiate Academy), Earnest “L.B.” Jones (Alexandria, Va./Mount Vernon High) and David Bottenberg (Rockville Centre, N.Y./Millbrook School).

“We are always excited about adding local flavor to our family,” Garvin said, after the paperwork for Fields arrived on the South Carolina State campus. “Ozante had a spectacular senior season. He will give us much-needed size on the interior and he possesses a much-needed attribute of rebounding the basketball and finishing around the rim.”

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