Friday, February 12, 2016

Fordham The Logical Destination For Vastly Improved Ohams

Since undergoing a massive growth spurt and shooting up to 6-foot-8, Chuba Ohams grew in playmaking ability and overall skill-set. After exploring the prep route for a year, Ohams committed to Fordham University this week.

Ohams' trust level with coaching staff and the opportunity to shine in his hometown were considerable factors in his decision.

The added level of confidence and competitive juices helped the New York native earn interest from Providence, Rutgers, DePaul, UMass, Boston College, Rhode Island, South Carolina and a variety of other potential suitors.

According to Nathan Blue, who has helped mold a considerable chunk of talent throughout New York City over the years (see Harkless, Mo for more information), Ohams' consistency and ever-evolving 3-point game rendered him a unique threat.

"Throughout the entire Hoop Group Elite Sessions (Ohams) showed me and everyone else that it was all coming together mentally," said Blue.

"Chuba was playing more aggressive and he was just as hungry every day for two weeks. His growth is tremendous on and off the court and he will be playing in the NBA for a long time if he holds to form."

Ohams On Picking Fordham

It is close to home and my relationship with the coaching staff led to my decision.

On Fordham's System Fitting His Style Of Play 

I fit perfectly in the style of play at Fordham. They're going to use me in many ways. They're going to lean on me for much of the offense. 

They just want me to come in and play my game.

 That means shoot threes, attack the basket with my athleticism and make plays.

On His Improvement

My game has overall grown tremendously. 

The added growth spurt has given me the confidence to just go out and play. Since I was a point guard before, it's much easier now to see over the defense and make plays at 6-8.

 I'm very athletic and I've become more consistent of a shooter. With my skills and confidence, I'm going to thrive on the collegiate level.

On His Relationship With Tony Chiles

I've known Tony Chiles since he was at St. John's. His presence was a huge effect on my decision.

 I trust him and the coaching staff tremendously. He always reiterated how it can be my school and that this is my home. 

He also feels that coming to Fordham, he will help me reach the next level and with the addition of me, we will have a chance of getting over the top.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Israel Native Aspires To Reach The 'Rom' Of His Abilities

Rom Ben-Avi trekked from Israel to Delray Beach, Fla. in effort to seize opportunities which were virtually non-existent in his homeland.
A gritty and defensive-minded guard for Maccabi Hod Hasharon, Ben-Avi was just starting to scratch the surface of his ability. A late bloomer with a natural lust for the game, he didn't want the rock to stop bouncing just yet. Driven by an unrelenting desire to pursue the game at the highest level possible, Ben-Avi landed at Elev8 Prep.

The quick-hit progress, Ben-Avi's transformation from callow and rough-around-the-edges to sturdy and reliable has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 campaign.

Here's a kid who came in as a blank canvas, still learning the intricacies of the game, who has turned himself into a ball player. Ben-Avi's metamorphosis occurred because he took advantage of the resources surrounding him.

To associate the word gym rat with Ben-Avi would be a severe understatement. Since he arrived at the doorstep in September rather unproven and totally raw, Ben-Avi has employed a maniacal workload moving up the roster in games and producing in all categories of the stat sheet.

The transformation has occurred with Ben-Avi's development of a dependable 3-point game, a newfound knack for slashing and finishing amid contact, and the confidence to make tough passes and crash the boards over bigger, stronger trees in the post.

His confidence, according to his coaches, continues to hike up a few pegs.

"He'll do an individual workout with Ganon (Baker), he'll do a team practice, he'll play a game, and then he'll still try to get in the gym later that night," said Shane Maynard, Ben-Avi's coach at Elev8 Prep.
"I swear, he's broken into the gym at Village Academy about 15 times. He's got an engine that never stops. He's a complete and total gym rat."

Acclimatizing to a new culture, making new friends, speaking an entirely different language, and also adapting to a vastly different style of play hasn't deterred Ben-Avi.

What could be a daunting transition for most hasn't affected the 6-foot-2 off guard.

"It was a little bit hard at first to be away from family and friends, but it doesn't affect me because this is for my future," Ben Avi said. "I like the game here. It is different than European game. I like the fast game, the athletic game."

Learning about the game caused Ben-Avi to do his due diligence. After hearing about the monstrous scoring exploits of Michael Jordan and his legacy, researched the American game and walked away more and more intrigued.

He'd like to culminate his stay at Elev8 with a Division-I scholarship. At the same time, he'd like to increase his ball handling to the point where can operate a souped-up offense as a point guard. With the amount of progress he's shown a short period of time, it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect this change to unfold.

"I've just developed more with confidence and having the confidence to make the play," Ben Avi explained. "Working with Ganon, it's helped me understand the mental component and realize just how important the mental aspects are in basketball. Hard work is not only on the court, it's also in the head as well."

His athleticism and body has changed in his brief period at Elev8 as well.

"Since Rom's been here, he's increased his vertical over two and half inches," said Tony Falce, a local Miami area master trainer.
Falce works diligently with Chris "Birdman" Anderson and Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat, so earning plaudits from him certainly doesn't hurt.

"He's lost body fat, and lost body weight. Since then he's worked on his body and developed a great core, agility, and balance, which has led up to where he is today," Falce explained. One of the main important things is having a trust level and those guys (Mohamed Abuarisha and Rom), they came in and they gained my trust level just with their work ethic."
"A lot of basketball players, in the real world, when they see performance they don't look at it and evaluate it to the level of extreme as Mo and Rom. These guys came in willing to learn, understanding what they are trying to do, what we're trying to achieve as our goal. Having Rom certainly helps (the Isreal-bred) Mohamed's production. They are two hard-working, blue collar kids that do everything to the max. They take no shortcuts.

Coming in on off days, burying the coaches with questions, and ramping up with the unrequired work is indicative of just how badly Ben Avi wants basketball in his future.

"I have a lot of respect for Mo and Rom," said Ganon Baker, Elev8's president and an NBA skill development coach who has worked with the likes of Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Amar'e Stoudemire.

"To be so far from home in a different country and different culture and adjust the way they have, it is truly commendable. Both players have grown as young men being here. They're both excellent workers both on the floor, in the gym, and in the classroom. I'm very proud of both."

Ben Avi said his ultimate goal would be to get a crack at the NBA and to represent Israel with their national team.

"The opportunity I have with Elev8, training with the best and playing a tremendous amount of games at state and national level is why I came to the U.S.," Ben Avi said. "Now I'm here, now I have my chance. I am going to make the most of it."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

'Mo Opportunity In South Florida For Israel-bred Sharpshooter

Growing up in Israel, Mohamed Abuarisha was enamored with the rapid rise of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball program. 

The more the basketball seed began to grow in Israel, the more and more intrigued Abuarisha became.

 Still, it wasn't enough.

Exasperated by a lack of opportunity given to players of his skill-set, he hungered for more hoops where soccer was the favored pastime.

 It wasn't until the young man started watching the NBA, however, that his love for playing the game (and playing the game at the highest possible level of competition) blossomed.

 For Abuarisha, the true draws of the NBA  was the unrivaled competition, the souped-up tempo, and the above-the-rim game.

The fact that this was the world's elite stage, the fact that the NBA featured a veritable "who's who" of the world's elite had potent resonance with Abuarisha.

As he perused highlight reels and dissected NBA film religiously, he took critical notes that helped shape him as a player. 

 Abuarisha realized that the biggest athletes on the floor were moving just as fast as the guards. 

 He understood that you simply cannot simulate the athleticism of the NBA's top-shelf players anywhere else on the planet.

  Abuarisha witnessed the deadeye, quick-strike shooting of Steph Curry, wowed by a blink-quick 0.2 second shot release.

 He took note of the consistent presence of the pick-and-roll, mastered by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

 "I thought to myself, 'one day I should aspire to get to this level," Abuarisha said. "That would be my dream. To play in the NBA."

 As he continued to discover the niceties of the NBA game, Abuarisha grew in height. He grew in talent.

 He grew in IQ and in his own shot range, taking a few steps back beyond the three-point line. 

Before he knew it, Abuarisha had emerged into a rare matchup problem which few defenders in his age group could counter.

 He grew in character, in the classroom, and in the leadership category. 

 It has all led to Abuarisha's arrival at Elev8 Prep in Delray Beach, Fla. 

At Elev8, Abuarisha's squad places emphasis on being interchangeable and adapting to multiple positions on the floor. 

Employing multi-layered readiness, being capable of guarding different positions is a critical ingredient of the system.

 Now at 6-foot-7, the class of 2016 guard is buoyed by deft 3-point shooting. 

 While plenty capable of extending his shot well beyond the arc, it's Abuarisha's shooting percentage and ability to seize open space and knock down shots that's rendered him a Division-I recruit.

 "What stands out about Mohammed is his skill-set," said teammate Levi Cook, a 6-foot-10, 284-pound gargantuan Center who is also a high-major recruit.

 "He hits open shots, he's very athletic for a two-guard and he's only getting better. His height and length really separate him as a player, because he can shoot it from deep and spread out the floor and take bigger defenders away from the basket. That's all really important at the next level."

 And where will that next level be?

 Texas Tech and Hofstra have both been front runners in the recruitment of Abuarisha, who Miami area strength and conditioning guru Tony Falce describes as "one of the hardest working and coachable kids I've had in quite some time."

 Falce works diligently with Chris "Birdman" Andersen and high-rising Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat, so earning plaudits from the master trainer certainly doesn't hurt.

 Richmond and Utah State have also heaped an offer on Abuarisha.

 Georgia Tech and most recently Texas Christian have expressed interest. 

Abuarisha's stock exploded following a notable performance in the NBA Top 100 camp, a high-caliber event which attracts coaches from all across the world.

 Abuarisha came to America with his sights set on a scholarship. Now, as the focal point of Elev8's offense under Shane Maynard, he appears to be inching closer to his dream.

 "I have a lot of respect for Mo and Rom," said Ganon Baker, Elev8's president and NBA skill development coach.

 "To be so far from home in a different country and different culture and adjust the way they have, it is truly commendable. Both players have grown as young men being here. They're both excellent workers both on the floor, in the gym, and in the classroom. I'm very proud of both."

 Abuarisha's basketball IQ and natural feel for the game has grown since being at Elev8. 

 Taking advantage of opportunities he never could have even depicted Israel has certainly accelerated his production. 

In his homeland, there are no school teams. The game is only played at the club level. 

 Now with Elev8, he plays a national schedule and embraces new challenges as a multi-layered guard with a newfound knack for creating.

 "He sees the play before it unfolds," said Shane Maynard, Abuarisha's coach at Elev8.

 "The main thing for his improvement is just getting stronger, packing some muscle on. Getting used to the speed of the game. Footwork, as well. Putting the ball on the floor, embracing contact and trying to get to the free throw line more by attacking the rim."

 Should he master those concepts, he'll be ready made for the Division-I level.

 "One of the best things about Mo is he's able to really contribute all across the boards," said Cook.

 "He's athletic as a two guard, he can feed the post and make a dish that you really don't see many off guards make. He's got a toolbox that includes a little bit of everything."

 Included in this arsenal is Abuarisha's deceptive, high-rising athleticism.

 "He's got 'sneaky bounce,'" Maynard said.

 "He doesn't look like he can jump but he's so long and athletic, to the point where he'll get his elbow above the rim to flush it with one hand or two hands. He definitely can get up there."

 Fitting, as it was a flair for the American game that had special appeal to the Israeli native from the very beginning.

 "Just the speed, the fact that there is a lot of transition play, the athleticism of the game, the dunking and the physicality, all of this I really liked," Abuarisha explained.

 Like has translated to love rather rapidly, since his arrival in sun-soaked Delray Beach.

 "He just works so damn hard," said Cook. "You would think he's a 13th man trying with all his might to make a 12-man roster. There are no limitations with him. He is full throttle in everything he does."

 Added Falce,  "Having Rom (Ben Avi) here certainly helps his production. They are two hard-working, blue collar kids that do everything to the max. They take no shortcuts."

 Falce said a kid like Abuarisha has a high ceiling because of his lust for the unrequired work, because of a focus that doesn't seem to falter.

 "One of the main important things is having a trust level and those guys (Mohamed and Rom), they came in and they gained my trust level just with their work ethic," explained Falce.

 "A lot of basketball players, in the real world, when they see performance they don't look at it and evaluate it to the level of extreme as Mo and Rom. These guys came in willing to learn, understanding what they are trying to do, what we're trying to achieve as our goal."

Thom Leaves Lasting Legacy En Route To Hall Of Fame

When Bill Thom arrived at Croton-Harmon 30 years ago, the boys basketball program was in a downtrodden, dungeon-dwelling state.

The interest was lacking. You could hear chirping crickets and pins drop during home games.

They struggled mightily just to stay above sea level.

In fact, prior to Thom's arrival, the team hadn't even registered a .500 season since 1957.

 Nearly 400 wins and 13 league titles later, Thom has altered the ailing culture at his alma mater for good.

The seasoned coach, who will be inducted into the New York State Hall Of Fame next month, will coach his final regular season game against Hen Hud tonight.

Thom invested a great deal of his livelihood into Croton-Harmon, where he coached baseball for 20 years along with football and even Cross-Country at one point.

And with Thom retiring from his teaching position this spring, this is it.

"It's been said before by all the great coaches that a true coach is a teacher," said Brendan Coxen, who played under Thom and graduated from Croton-Harmon in 1998.

"We would do classroom sessions before other schools would be doing classroom sessions and video sessions. This was back in '98. We'd have special meetings. All of that engaged every type of learner out there, every type of athlete who played for (Thom). It gave us the ability to really understand basketball differently and in other ways besides just having practice and running through drills."

Thom made Section 1 basketball a lifestyle. His cold New York winters were spent in the cozy confines of a gym, as he was constantly coaching or scouting or keeping tabs on the area's talent crop.

Thom's style redefined Croton. He presses from inbounds to inbounds if he has to. He assesses the personnel and adapts to the the thoroughly scouted opponent, rendering his coaching style ever-evolving.

During his summers in Empire State Games and the BCANY Hoops festival, Thom installed high-powered pressure all across the court. His teams were predicated on defensive toughness.

He utilized a furious-paced offensive attack with emphasis on kicking in the extra pass.

Bigs who walked into Croton-Harmon lackadaisical and lazy were suddenly workmanlike.

Guys who could shoot the lights out but had a tendency to coast on defense were suddenly jolted into focus, accountable on both ends of the floor.

Under Thom, the program took athletes and morphed them into well-rounded ball players.

As best evidenced by his teams in the aforementioned BCANY tournament, the finer point of Thom's trade is eliminating star power and enabling everyone to buy in.  

"One of the most memorable aspects of this whole experience is just the relationships you form with other coaches," said Thom.

"A guy like Henry Sassone, who came in at the same time as I did, there are great memories going against him. We've had some chess matches over the years. Glenn Jensen from Pleasantville, there's a guy who can coach his tail off. Gary Craft from Valhalla. Otto and Steve Turk. They were just good coaches, one after another. As a young guy, I was trying to just be a sponge and pick everybody's brain."

From an X's and O's perspective and the small-school talent at his disposal, Thom got the most out of his players.

"His greatest accomplishment is not all the wins or the league titles or the trips to the County Center," said Greg Muller, whose team earned a berth in the 2000 Section I/Class C title, falling to man-child Kyl Jones and Pleasantville.

"It's the fact that he truly created a program at a small school in a small town. Everyone that has played for him holds a very strong sense of pride that they got a chance to put on that jersey. That's because of him. As his career winds down and he's inducted into the state Hall of Fame, the thing that he should be most proud of is he truly created a basketball family in a small town. It's not easy to do anywhere. To do it in Croton, that's certainly impressive."

Thom's involvement with Section 1 and willingness to go above and beyond your typical small school experience helped build up the program.

"He made us feel like playing for Croton is the best place to play, the best place you would ever want to play," Coxen said.

 "I think the way that he does that is he does a lot of extra special things. He'll get big games at a University on a college floor. We'll take a travel upstate to play a bigger school. He'll get us revved up to knock off a larger school. You'll do some aerobics classes at 6 a.m. You wonder why you are there at 6 a.m., but you know what? No one else is up at 6 a.m. so we worked a little bit harder than everybody else here.

 It was kind of that mentality that he set up for us. A lot of people took that with them when they left the program."

Thom rattled off Elton Brand and Butch Graves as two of the most prized and dominant players he has seen during his time in Section 1.

When asked about the wildest game he's ever seen, Thom referenced Beacon's 2003 County Center playoff upset over Peekskill.

That game saw Josh Fullerton drill a 15-foot buzzer beater to bury the Rodney Headley-led Devils.

Peekskill prepared for the final play as if high-scoring guard Roberto Maclin would have a set play for him to score. Most people in the gym figured Maclin would take that final shot.

Fullerton ended up being the unlikely savior in a pulsating game.

The moment Thom said will stay with him for a while occurred last March, when Clarkstown South guard Conor McGuinness hit a buzzer-beater to deliver a 61-59 victory over Arlington in the AA semifinals at the County Center.

It triggered chills in Thom, because McGuinness' father (local Rockland County boys/girls basketball pioneer Joe McGuinness) had been battling cancer.

"Seeing Conor hit that shot, it was just storybook," Thom said.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Newly Minted All American Azubuike Nearing Tough Decision

The high lob floated up roughly four feet from the rim--a risky pass, to say the least--but everyone in the gym at Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) knew where the ball would end up.

In one monstrous moment, 6-foot-11 Udoka Azubuike plucked the ball with both hands and crushed home an emphatic two-handed dunk.

He needed that.

The entire team needed that.

After a rough 53-35 loss to Pennsylvania power Westtown, it was back to the grind for Steve McLaughlin's 13-5 squad.

Prior to Azubuike's decision between North Carolina, Florida State, and Kansas, McLaughlin wants nothing more than the newly-minted All American to establish his presence and bully foes in the paint.

"Coming back and having those big wins in Kentucky and then coming back and losing a couple games, it was a wake up call for us," McLaughlin said.

"Guys started thinking it was easy. With big 'Dok, he's improved dramatically. His footwork has improved so much it's not even funny. When he first got here, he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. He was always athletic and able to dunk it but he couldn't really do anything else. Now he's the guy you throw the ball to and he'll go get a bucket."

The 270-pound gargantuan, Jacksonville's first All-American since Duke's high-rising Grayson Allen, has developed a pack of post moves to balance his putbacks and trademark two-handed jams.

 There's a jump hook. There's an up-and-under move. There's a face-up game that McLaughlin describes as growing.

"When he gets to the next level he's going to show his whole package. We'll sit in the gym for an hour and work on every important move possible. He can do it all. He's a hell of a talent."

And where will this next level be for Azubuike?

"It's still down to those same three and right now the school that's moving the most aggressively, just to be honest it's North Carolina," said McLaughlin.

"Just right now. Lately, North Carolina has been the one that's been trying to see him the most and the one that's been in touch with him the most. But it's still that three-way battle."

Azubuike said he'd likely have the decision made soon.

"Coach (Roy) Williams, he emphasizes trust," Azubuike said.

 "He pretty much is recruiting me the most seriously. Just like the rest. I'm nearing the process of making my decision. That's why it's a little difficult right now. Kansas, they have a good big man tradition. With Florida State, they're trying to get a big man who can really score in the paint."

Azubuike knows the more he scores in the post and the more aggressive he is to get to the bucket, the better Potter's House's chances are.

 It's why he's been in the gym for an extra 45 minutes each day, working to rectify recent free throw woes. McLaughlin and others have made sure Azubuike doesn't leave practice without knocking down a string of free throws.

"I've been devoting a lot of time on (free throws)," Azubuike said.

"Each time I get into the gym, the first thing I do is go to the free throw line. I'm just trying to get my free throws better, get my form better."

Azubuike didn't take basketball seriously until he was 14, leaving the soccer cleats for the Shaq-sized sneakers and entertaining one of Florida's most daunting prep schedules.

He came in with natural ability and strength that was pretty much unrivaled for his age group. In fact, he was 6-foot-10 as a freshman. With people constantly in his ear, urging him to play basketball, Azubuike said he simply did not have much of a choice. 

Now he's got a bit of a tougher choice cooking on his front burner.

"It's going to come down to trust--I've got to coaches and all of that. It's got to come down to style pretty much family tradition and trust."

Developing more of a nose for the rim and demanding the ball more, McLaughlin feels his prized recruit's stock is just beginning to gain value. His scoring is still getting better and still growing, as McLaughlin stated. A lot of it as it the urging of the coaching staff.

"The coaches tell me all the time, every game (to be aggressive)," Azubuike said.

"Coach (McLaughlin) emphasizes it with the team a lot, just pounding the ball into the post. He says that when I'm in the paint I could get a quick bucket and a foul. He tells me to just get into the paint and dominate. Because that's the thing I do best."

Friday, January 22, 2016

ACD Survives In Mid-Season Thriller

An opponent looked into Koch Bar's eyes but wouldn't receive a smile or a nod in return.

Bar, a 6-foot-9 Bradley-bound center at Arlington Country Day, was all business.

Personable and outgoing off the court, Bar wasn't here to make friends.

Beyond his ACD teammates, nobody on the court had his attention.

Not against West Oaks.

 Not in a heated and heavily anticipated mid-season matchup, with bragging rights and pride at stake.

Playing against his former team, the same vaunted West Oaks program with which he won Sunshine Independent Athletic Association Championships, Bar wanted simply to win and win without distraction.

"It's tough to see your old teammates and play against them," explained Bar, who had several key baskets and provided rim protection down the stretch in ACD's wild 72-70 victory over West Oaks on Jan. 21.

"In the end of the day, it's a basketball game. We're competing all the way. I like the challenge. It's kind of personal, it's kind of just basketball and all of us wanting to win."

Nobody wanted to win more than cousins and formidable foes Luguentz Dort (ACD) and Richardson Maitre (West Oaks).

Both Canadian guards went at each other in an old fashioned battle, constantly one-upping each other while playing within the confines of the system.

Both players displayed a knack for scoring at all three levels, churning out big plays during a game in which every possession was amplified.

The plot changed when Dort, a well-built 6-foot-3 sophomore and high-major prospect, landed hard on a drive during the third quarter.

Dort, who sustained a shoulder injury, was on the floor for 10 minutes before leaving the game on a stretcher.

Of all the concerned faces, it was Maitre who looked the most worried about his cousin and now cross-state rival.

"Lu is one of our main players offensively, so it was tough for us to lose him in the game obviously," Bar said.

"Coach (Shaun Wiseman) just told us to play your game and play for him. Just play to win for him and we did that."

Maitre, who has blossomed into a high-major caliber recruit since de-committing from Cleveland State, finished with 20 points.

ACD seized a 45-38 lead with a furious 7-0 run, capped off by a Jayden Hodgson 3-pointer in the third quarter.

Hodgson, out of Australia, hit several loud shots.

The underrated Class of 2016 combo guard will prolong his career at Bradley alongside Bar.

West Oaks, buoyed by one of the best backcourt tandems in the country, clawed back with crafty baseline drives from 6-foot-2 guard Andres Feliz.

A South Florida-commit, Feliz was the star of last year's state championship game.

This time around, Bar was on the other side of the floor trying to fend off his fearless slashing.

Wiseman coached at West Oaks, grooming a torrent of talent.

 He took the ACD job in July, taking Bar and since-departed 7-foot-3 Center Chol Mariel with him.

Mariel, a freakish freshman, is currently at Cheshire Academy.

The general belief was Maitre would transfer to ACD as well, but he opted to stay and play under Kenny Gillion.

The frenetic-paced game capped an emotional weekend for Arlington Country Day.

Legendary head coach Rex Morgan, who helped build ACD into a national and perennially potent program, died on Jan.15 following a valiant battle with throat cancer.

Morgan, who played for the Boston Celtics, helped make basketball a cherished pastime in Jacksonville.

One of the reasons Wiseman left Orlando and West Oaks for ACD was to keep Morgan's unparalleled legacy intact.

While the intriguing subplot was Wiseman and Bar v.s. their former team, it was the sizzling matchup between Maitre and Dortz that emerged as the headliner..

"They are cousins, but when they come to the floor they both want to win. You saw a good challenge against cousins. They're both tough. They both play so hard."

The teams are only scheduled to play this one time, albeit the plot twists (Wiseman leaving, taking Bar and Mariel with him) add juice to an ensuing chapter of this fierce Florida Prep rivalry.

"Oh yeah, this is going to be a big rivalry against them," Bar said.

"We played against Potter House in their court and lost on a buzzer beater. We were down by a lot and came back. But this game was just on a different level."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Colby Has STARR power with multi-faceted guard

Colby Community College's Brian Starr took the hard route to success.

Nothing has ever been gift-wrapped or handed to the well-built, deft-passing point guard. 

The quarterback and very much the pioneer of a souped-up offense, Starr's game evolved without a four or five-star recruit rating, without the fame and fanfare, without constant headlines, and without a highly-competitive city-to-city AAU schedule.

Starr did not have the same exposure as other multi-tooled point guards of his fabric, rarely playing before jam-packed crowds. Had Starr's game blossomed smack in the middle of a hoops hotbed such as New York, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, L.A., or Indiana, his path would have been entirely different.

 He didn't have a wealthy street agent or AAU team owner/power broker promoting his game or carting him around for campus visits. 

Starr didn't have a high-profile personal trainer running him through arduous workouts and advocating for him through social media.

What he did have, however, was endless film on Allen Iverson and Chris Paul and a thirst for point guard knowledge.

 Analyzing, dissecting, and ultimately emulating Iverson's crafty handle and manipulative one-on-one moves, Starr took meticulous mental notes. 

Observing Paul's basketball IQ and know-how and natural ability for finding kick out shooters and bigs, the 19-year-old Starr developed a purity of vision.

 Iona, New Mexico, Drake, Mercer, Northern Colorado, and a variety of mid-major programs have expressed interest in the 6-foot-3 playmaker, the no.2 ranked point guard in Missouri as a senior at Fort Osage.

"He sees the plays before they happen, he's got a unique ability to understand the play before it unfolds," said Colby assistant Kevin Jolley.

"Brian has grown as a point guard. Knowing where guys are and knowing where guys are scoring the ball has helped. So, putting them in a good position helps his game grow. Being able to get into the lane and finish with contact helps. It's hard for a guard to guard him."

That much was evident during Starr's performance in a dizzying 85-81 loss to Coffeyville. The game's intriguing subplot was Starr v.s. Coffeyville's Darrion Strong, an Oklahoma commit.

The game lived up to its heavy billing and hype. Starr scored 37 points, doled out seven assists, and ripped seven boards in 30 minutes.  Starr shot 11-for-20 from the floor, solidifying his status as one of the nation's top unsigned JUCO guards. Strong scored 29 points, including 13-for-15 from the free throw line.

Starr's numbers have increased from his freshman year, with his assists shooting up from 5.1 per game to 8.9 (fourth in the country). He's averaging 14.9 points, taking scoring responsibilities into his own hands with 24-point performances against Northwest Kansas Tech and Butler.

 In Starr, head coach Rusty Grafel found a low-maintenance and unassuming kid who always plays as if he's got something to prove and some doubter to hush up. It is rare you see a kid of Starr's game and convincing numbers go overlooked.

In a way, however, flying under the radar has worked in Starr's favor. The lack of hype, high expectations, and headlines has ramped up his already insatiable desire for competition. Being unsung and underrated keeps him motivated, hell-bent on exploding into the spotlight with a mammoth-slaying performance.

"Every time he steps on the floor, he wants to prove himself and make his teammates better," Jolley said.

 He also wants to prove Kansas City area basketball is no laughing matter.

 "Kansas City is kind of a basketball town, but I still feel as if basketball in Kansas City is underrated," Starr explained.

"A lot of the ball players from back home were overlooked. So, we always play as if we have something to prove. That's how I got the chip on my shoulder. That's why I play with my emotions a lot. I use that as motivation. That's how a lot of guys are back home. A lot of us are just hungry to prove ourselves."

 Due to his surges to the rim, strong finishes through traffic, and creative playmaking in the open floor and run-and-gun situations, Iona seems like a logical destination for Starr.

Given the Gaels fast-paced, lungs burning running game, Starr could potentially engineer the offense.

 Jolley knows a thing or two about unheralded guards making a big splash at a smaller school. During Jolley's time as a bullish 6-foot-4 forward at  Quinnipiac he played alongside a 5-foot-10 sniper in Rob Monroe.

Monroe, who knew Jolley from D.C.'s basketball landscape and elped sell him on the program, emerged into one of the nation's top scoring leaders and a top-5 leader in assist-to-turnover ratio in 2004-05.

Coaching both young men was then-assistant Jared Grasso, now Iona's associate head coach and a strong local recruiting presence.

Since recently becoming NCAA eligible, more and more schools have chimed in and inquired about Starr.

The true draw of Starr, at the next level, is his knack for wearing multiple jerseys and assimilating to different roles. A Big East-bodied guard known for rugged wall-to-wall defense, the Trojans need its seasoned sophomore to relish the jack of all trades role.

“One of the biggest challenges for me is being ready for everything night in and night out,” Starr said.

“In (the Jayahawk Conference), you know it’s always going to be a good game, you know eavh game could go down to the wire. I don’t really play for stats. Some nights my team need me to score more, some nights my team may need me to focus more on rebounding or play tight defense or just find guys and get them open. I just always have to be ready to play hard no matter what’s asked of me.”

Starr’s confidence and accountability has become contagious for Colby.

Jolley sees Starr’s desire to prove himself at all times and his competitive nature sets him apart from other guards as of his caliber.

“He plays with a chip on his shoulder for sure,” said Jolley. “I believe he’s one of the best (JUCO) point guards in the country.”