Ryan Coyle (@ryancoyle35)
James Ashford IV and Dominic Vazquez have been competing on the basketball court with and against one another since they were ten years old, when Ashford’s Torresdale team was playing against Vazquez’s Calvary squad. Now, the duo will be teaming up to play at Division III Arcadia University this fall in the MAC Freedom conference.
Dom Vazquez (above) picked Arcadia over several other Division II and Division III programs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Despite having known each other and being close friends for years, neither knew the Knights were an option for each other to continue their academic and basketball careers throughout their recruiting processes.
“We didn’t know actually that we were both looking there,” said Ashford who’s about to graduate from Bensalem High School. “Back when I posted my commitment in March on my Instagram, he called me up right away and told me that he was looking at Arcadia too.”
After Vazquez — who just wrapped up his career at Archbishop Ryan — saw that his old buddy was headed to Glenside, Pa., for the next few years, he wasted no time to reach out over the phone.
“As soon as I saw he committed there, I called him right away,” Vazquez said. “He was all excited and was telling me ‘you better be going there, too.’”
Ashford and Vazquez will be continuing their basketball career at the collegiate level together, but their relationship stems back almost a decade from their rec league days in Northeast Philadelphia.
“We would trade buckets, going back and forth on each other,” Ashford said. “We would guard each other and it was just always a battle.”
Besides their battles on the hardwood, the duo bound for Arcadia in the fall actually were teammates on the baseball field as well, playing for the Bensalem Ramblers in their youth.
After their head-to-head battles in the rec league, Ashford and Vazquez’s fathers began talking to each other, and decided to put the two talented youngsters in the same uniform.
Both fathers decided to pair their sons up in sixth grade on the AAU team Philly Heat, and eventually formed their own team, Philly Storm, as they were in their freshman year of high school.
From their sixth grade year all throughout high school, the slashing scoring guard in Ashford and the basketball-savvy sharpshooting guard in Vazquez shared the backcourt together for the Philly Heat and Philly Storm, competing in tournaments along the East Coast.
In that time playing at the AAU level, the two developed great chemistry on and off the floor, building a close relationship.
“During the season for AAU we would hang out and see each other before and after our games,” Vazquez said. “Whenever I am going to play basketball, he is always one of the first people I’ll ask.”
Throughout their time as teammates with the Philly Heat, Ashford and Vazquez continuously pushed each other, just like they did when they were competitors back in their rec league days, even getting a little chippy at times, trying to get any kind of advantage.
“At practice we would always go head-to-head against each other really hard because we were so competitive,” Ashford said. “At the end of the day it was all love because we know we are good players, but we always wanted to battle it out.”
The longtime friends were actually considering teaming up together in high school for Archbishop Ryan in the Philadelphia Catholic League before Ashford went the public school route, staying at Suburban One league member Bensalem to help make a name for the school.
James Ashford IV (above) helped lead Bensalem to the District 1 6A semifinals in 2020. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
During his junior year, Ashford helped lead Bensalem to the Liacouras Center to play in the PIAA District One semifinals, where they eventually lost to Cheltenham. During his senior season, he averaged 20.4 points per game, totaling 327 points in only 16 games and earning First Team All-Patriot League Division for the SOL.
Vazquez had a memorable high school career himself, where he helped lead Archbishop Ryan to the PCL semifinals at the Palestra during his junior year. His senior year, the team made it all the way to the PIAA 5A state championship game before they fell to Cathedral Prep in a season where Vazquez averaged 10.7 points and 4.5 assists per game.
Now, the childhood friends are teaming back up at Arcadia University to play for head coach Adam Van Zelst. Ashford considered other Division III schools like Delaware Valley and Gwynedd Mercy, while Vazquez was in talks with D-II Bloomfield and D-III Gwynedd Mercy as well.
Van Zelst’s level of attention and desire to obtain both of their services is what really stood out to the dynamic duo in the recruiting process.
After seeing Ashford commit to the Knights, it made the idea of Vazquez attending Arcadia a little sweeter to him. They will also be joining up with Nahseer Johnson, another product from Northeast Philly, who scored over 1,000 points for Father Judge as part of the 2021 recruiting class. Also in that group are a pair of Boyertown forwards, David Leh and Trey Diguglielmo.
Ashford and Vazquez will be stepping into a lineup for the Knights that brings back Justin Money (11.2 ppg) and DJ Gardner (8.5 ppg) in the backcourt and the possible return of Da’Kquan Davis (23.0 ppg), the all-time leading scorer in program history, if he decides to return to the program and use the extra year of eligibility through the NCAA-granted COVID waiver. This past year, the Knights went 7-4, but are just two years removed from a 23-win season in 2018-19 that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament under former head coach Justin Scott, now an assistant at St. Joe’s.
When the two get their chance to play, though, their chemistry and familiarity with each other will allow them to play at a high level just like previous times.
“I think we will be able to complement each other extremely well in the backcourt,” Vazquez added. “We have that chemistry already established.”
“He has a great basketball IQ and can see the floor very well,” Ashford said of Vazquez. “He knows what spots I like to work from on the court.”
After Vazquez followed up his good friend's commitment to Arcadia with his own, it was a surreal moment for Ashford and a realization of what is to come over the next few seasons.
“I was really happy after I committed and he reached out to me letting me know he was strongly considering Arcadia as well,” Ashford said. “I was like, ‘Wow, the same kid that I have known since elementary school and grew up playing with, we are going to share the backcourt together playing college basketball with me’.’”
Now that the duo from Northeast Philly is ready to hit the college ranks, they are ready to show off that competitive nature they have been showcasing since those Torresdale and Calvary days of the early 2010’s that they still talk about to this day.
“I feel like me and James can do some extremely great things at Arcadia,” Vazquez said. “These next few years are going to be very exciting and I am prepared to win a couple of championships in our time there and hopefully go to the NCAA Tournament and do some damage there as well.”