Khalil Brantley (above) became the third member of La Salle's 2021 class. (Photo courtesy MaxPreps)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Khalil Brantley was just starting to hear from La Salle head coach Ashley Howard and staff as a junior at Boys & Girls High School (N.Y.), the first thing the young hooper did was look up the program history. That’s when he learned about Lionel Simmons, the South Philly standout known as ‘L-Train,’ who scored more than 3,200 points in a La Salle uniform (1986-90) and led the Explorers to three consecutive NCAA trips (1988-90).
“[I watched] a couple (highlights),” Brantley said. “The way he was getting buckets was crazy.”
Brantley would know. A high-scorer himself, the 6-foot-tall guard lit up the nights for Boys & Girls his junior year, averaging 34 points per game over the 14 games with statistics entered into the NYC Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) website.
COVID certainly threw off his hoops journey, making it impossible for college coaches to see him during the summer going into his senior season, and then forcing a high school switch midway through the school year. But Brantley found his way through and will have a chance to follow in Simmons’ footsteps, committing to La Salle at the end of June.
“They were communicating with me the most and I felt like they were what’s best for me,” Brantley told CoBL by phone earlier this week. “Even when I was getting the high-major schools, coach Rob [assistant coach Jamal Robinson] was calling me and saying, ‘I know you might not come to this school, but, even if you don’t, I’ll still have your best interests, you can call me for anything.’
“That’s one of the things that stuck with me, that they cared for me on another level other than basketball.”
A member of the high school class of 2021, Brantley will be La Salle’s third incoming freshman this fall, joining Archbishop Wood (Pa.) wing Daeshon Shepherd and Upper Room Christian (N.Y.) guard Andres Marrero. He comes in as an alum of Our Savior Lutheran (N.Y.), but that doesn’t tell the full story.
Born in New York, Brantley moved down to Charlotte, N.C., when he was six years old. The middle of five brothers — Rashawn (32), Tevin (30), Kamal (15) and David (13) — Khalil lived in the Tar Heel state until after his freshman year of high school at Rocky River (N.C.), when he moved up to the Big Apple to continue his high school career.
A product of both the Northeast and the South, Brantley still spends time in both states, including each of the last two summers in North Carolina.
“I have a lot of family in New York, so that was one of the real main reasons, one of the pros. And in New York they play with a shot clock, in North Carolina they don’t play with a shot clock, so teams can stall,” he said. “Charlotte is a little slower, a little more rural [...] get away from the big city and all that noise, somewhere where it’s kind of peace(ful) and quiet. I have a lot of friends down here, so that’s really the reason why I call both of them home.”
Brantley played his sophomore year at Nazareth (N.Y.), then went over to Boys & Girls to play for head coach Ruth Lovelace as a junior. His high-scoring abilities caught the attention of big-name schools: Georgetown, Seton Hall and Oklahoma State all offered after that junior year.
“He has a great personality. He’s very humble, very respectful,” said Lovelace, who’s coached her share of D-I prospects in her 25-plus years at the Brooklyn institution. “Not only does he want to do well, but he wants others to do well… he’s an unbelievable teammate, no one’s going to work harder than him. He really works hard.”
It looked like Brantley had finally found the right spot at B&G, but COVID had other plans. First, it cancelled the most important summer of his recruiting cycle, and then threatened his senior year. It was December 2020 that Lovelace told Brantley his best options would be to look elsewhere, or risk not playing entirely.
“I did kinda convince him to go play out his senior year, because the way things were going, there wasn’t going to be a basketball season,” Lovelace said. “He had an opportunity to play, and my thing is I would never hold any kid back, especially with the talent and ability that he has.
“So I did encourage him to… he didn’t really want to do it at first, and I was like, ‘Nah, it’s okay, go ahead.’”
Brantley joined Our Savior Lutheran, located in the Bronx, in January, getting to play “about 25 games” with them, he said, to finish out that senior year. Our Savior, an independent program, plays in the Grind Session series with several other prep-type programs, including Prolific Prep (Cali.), Compass Prep (Ariz.), Colorado Prep and others.
“It’s a very high-tempo type of situation. We weren’t really a half-court offense, we had half-court sets but we were more of a run-and-gun transition team, try to beat you with our speed and our defense,” he said. “And we’re from New York, so you know we’re a little rowdy.”
Throughout all of it, Howard and staff stayed in touch with Brantley, who took notice of their constant interest. He put off his decision until the summer, hoping that the recruiting world would return to normal in time for him to get a little more face-time in front of college coaches, but that didn’t pan out.
“In the beginning I wanted to go on campuses and see how I would feel living there, because I’ll be living there for the next couple of years,” he said. “But it ended up having to be like who’s talking to me the most and who I felt most comfortable around.”
At 20th and Olney, Brantley’s hoping to help provide some much-needed juice to a program that’s mostly treaded water since a 2013 run to the Sweet 16. Howard, who took over before the 2018-29 season, got his team from 10 wins his first season to a 15-15 record (6-12 A-10) the following year, but went 9-16 (6-11) during the pandemic-shortened season.
This offseason has seen a fair bit of turnover on the Explorers’ roster. Several seniors who could have stayed for another year departed, including David Beatty (North Carolina A&T) and Scott Spencer (Tulane); junior forward Jared Kimbrough (Hartford) also left. Returning are redshirt sophomore Jack Clark (9.9 ppg/5.2 rpg), sophomore and A-10 Sixth Man of the Year Sherif Kenney (9.6 ppg), freshman Jhamir Brickus (8.8 ppg/3.4 apg) and sophomore Christian Ray (7.5 ppg/6.0 rpg), among others, all of whom retain their eligibility from last season.
The Explorers haven’t finished above .500 in league play in eight years, but Brantley is staying optimistic as he gets ready to head to Philadelphia later this month for the beginning of La Salle’s summer workouts.
“This upcoming year, I really want La Salle to compete for an A-10 title,” Brantley said, “because we have a lot of returning players, and I feel like in order for us to be good, I have to push them as well as them pushing me.”