Geno Cantell (@GenoCantell)
No greater reward could have came to John Herndon as he signed his national letter of intent to play basketball at Mansfield University on Wednesday.
He reflected on his four-year journey of highs and lows and the rigorous maturing processing that was leading him out of West Philadelphia to the college of his choice. Herndon, a 5-foot-8 guard, smiled wide for the first time during the meeting as he penned his name on the letter, surrounded by family, teammates, friends and teachers in the West Catholic Prep library. They applauded and cheered for the future Division II guard.
“It took a lot of hard work to get to this point,” Herndon told CoBL before his signing. “I spent a lot of hours in the gym, and I feel like it finally paid off this year.”
Herndon played for three different teams over his four years in high school. He made the freshman team in his first year at Boys’ Latin. He transferred to Parkway West for his sophomore year and had a breakout season, scoring 26 points or more in seven contests and being named to the Public League Division ‘E’ First Team.
After his sophomore year, Herndon transferred to West Catholic so that he could play in the Catholic League and get more experience. He sat out his junior year because of ineligibility due to transferring, but was granted eligibility for his senior season, under the guidance of then-coach Jazz Williams.
As a senior, he averaged 17.1 ppg, fifth-best in the Catholic League, though the Burrs struggled to a 7-15 record (4-9 PCL).
At Mansfield, he’ll be joining a program led by head coach Pat Zipfel that went 6-21 last year, including a 4-18 mark in the PSAC. Zipfel replaced former head coach Rich Miller, who resigned before the start of the 2015-16 season after being in charge of the team for ten years.
Herndon’s major is undecided, but he has time to figure that out in the future. The road that led Herndon to three different high schools has ultimately earned him a spot on the roster of a Division II school in his home state of Pennsylvania, thanks to his patience and resilience.
Herndon could have transferred to a school where he was eligible to play his junior year, but he didn’t transfer for athletic benefits alone.
“I know most people think it’s because of basketball,” Herndon said, “but education comes first. I’m not only here (at West Catholic) for basketball, but for education as well. When I transferred here, my grades were great and I was learning, so I figured why transfer and start all over again when I was doing well here. I thought this was the best decision education-wise.”
Herndon worked on all facets of his game during his junior year despite not playing with the team, and that work paid off as a senior.
Despite the overall woes of the Burrs last year, Herndon proved his ability to score the ball against high-level defenders while also improving other areas of his game, including sharing the ball and his playing amongst his teammates as well.
“His first two years, it was really all about John,” said Williams, who was relieved of his coaching duties following this past season. “He was concentrated on scoring the ball and that was all. Once he got to the Catholic League, he soon realized it’s a lot more about playing the game the right way than it is trying to score. I noticed his maturity and leadership (develop) during this season and I saw him want to win more.”
It was never an idea in Herndon’s mind to transfer out of West Catholic or play in another league. He was at a school where he felt he was getting the best he could educationally, as well as what he was learning on the court.
“It means (to sign this letter) that all of that hard work has paid off,” said Herndon. “Now I get to go to the school that I want to go to because of that. I get to move away from the city, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s all because of the effort.”
Herndon’s mother, Valencia Herndon, was elated at her son’s signing.
“It has been a struggle for him with the transfer,” she said, “and I thank Coach Williams and (West Catholic athletic director) Brian Fluck for being with him through that. And I just thank God for this opportunity and this moment for him.”
“I think he’s being rewarded here today,” Williams continued, “by signing a national letter of intent to go to a Division II school, where he’ll most likely play right away.”
Herndon ended by addressing his teammates and friends saying, “Just remember, it’s grades first, then hard work.”