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Bryn Athyn has 'program-changer' in sophomore guard Jamal Cannady Jr.

01/13/2023, 2:15pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Sean Westerlund knew he needed some special talent to take the Bryn Athyn men’s basketball program to new heights.

A recruiting trip from Philadelphia to Baltimore four years ago secured him his “program-changer.”

“I had a couple scholarship schools but I was big on the relationships during the recruiting thing,” Lions sophomore Jamal Cannady Jr. said. “Coach Wes was the only one to actually come to my house from Philly. I come from Baltimore, so he took the two-and-a-half-hour ride down to my house, and it showed loyalty and I felt like I could trust him. Before me even visiting campus, I knew it was going to be home.”

As of Jan. 13, Cannady is sixth in Division III in scoring at 24.1 ppg. He’s also helped a Bryn Athyn program that’s never had a winning season out to a 8-6 (2-1 CSAC) start. 

Cannady Jr. re-evaluated his decision to come to Bryn Athyn after his first year on campus and entered the transfer portal, but a week later he gave Westerlund a call that he was coming back. For the past two seasons, he has been all-in on helping Westerlund’s visions come true.

Bryn Athyn sophomore Jamal Cannady Jr. and the Lions are poised to finish with the most wins in program history. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

“He’s been down ever since,” said Westerlund, in his third season at the helm of Bryn Athyn. “He’s had plenty of offers to go search for better waters, but he’s like, ‘No, I’m cool here.’ I appreciate that loyalty because as a first time head coach with a program this young to have a dude that talented that wants to stay and wants to be here and sees the value of Bryn Athyn basketball and Bryn Athyn College, it’s pretty amazing stuff.”

“He’s a program changer.”

Bryn Athyn College opened in 1877, but its men’s basketball program is only in its 10th year of competition. Westerlund became the second head coach in school history when he took over before the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.

The best mark in program history was a 10-14 record in the program's inaugural season, before joining the CSAC. They reached 10 wins again in 2016-17. Westerlund’s squad is currently on pace to become the winningest team in program history 

“We’re pretty young, so for us to be able to put our stamp on things is pretty cool,” Westerlund said. “That’s what we sell. We sell history. You can be a torch carrier or torch lighter. You can light the path and that’s what you have the chance to do here. That’s why we’ve been able to get a lot of real quality guys.”

Cannady was cut from his middle school basketball team in sixth and seventh grade. He became the starting point guard in eighth grade and then spent three seasons as a starter at Dunbar (Md.), where he helped his team to a state title as a freshman before finishing his career at New Era Academy.

The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 7.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game in first seasons at Bryn Athyn — a winless eight-game season in 2020-21 as the Lions played just three different teams.

He was handed the keys of the team last season, technically still his freshman campaign, and delivered, leading the CSAC’s top offense with 18.4 ppg, which ranked second in the league. He added 3.7 apg, 4.4 rpg and 1.6 spg and earned second team All-CSAC honors.

The Lions finished last season 7-18 with a 5-9 CSAC record, but they finished above .500 in their last 11 games, going 6-5. Cannady averaged 23.7 ppg on 47 percent shooting over the team’s final nine contests, scoring19-or-more points in all nine games and going off for 30-plus twice.

“Last year, it was OK for me. I felt like I could have been way better,” Cannady said. “It started out kind of rough because we were injured and we were a young team. Things didn’t go our way to start it off but toward the end I stepped it up more, became more of a leader, trusted my teammates more and my coach. We just played better, strung together a couple wins.”

The expectations for himself and his team heightened entering his sophomore campaign, his third season at Bryn Athyn.

“This year I want to be Player of the Year,” Cannady said. “I just know I gotta keep pushing everyday. I want to be the Conference Player of the Year. I want recognition nationwide. I just know I gotta keep pushing and trusting my coach.”

Bryn Athyn sophomore Jamal Cannady Jr. is sixth in the D-III in scoring in first in free throw attempts. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

That’s the kind of level he’s playing at this season. Cannady is not just sixth in the country in scoring (one spot behind Neumann’s Jalen Vaughns), he is doing it with incredible efficiency. He’s shooting 50.5 percent from the floor and 51.5 percent from 3-point range and also leads the country with 144 free throw attempts, knocking them down at a 76.4 percent clip. 

Cannady is also averaging 3.5 apg and has a positive assist to turnover ratio (49:42) for the second season in a row.

“It’s absolutely what I envisioned,” Westerlund said. “I think what stood out about Jamal is he had amazing feel. He played at a great basketball school in Baltimore, Dunbar, and he was a starter all four years. He was their starting point guard who led them to a state championship. We like bringing in winners. For him, too he just had a knack to get to the basket, get to his spot. 

“The toughest thing for him coming in was understanding what’s a good shot in college and how to get to his spots effectively. We butted heads a little bit initially but once he understood what we were trying to do, in my opinion he’s the best scoring guard in the country.”

Cannady has posted five 30-point outings this season, including a career-high 37 against Penn State-Berks and five more 20-point nights to go along with them. 

There have also been night’s like a two-point outing in a Dec. 8 loss to Penn State-Abington when he went 0-for-9 from the floor. He’s learning ways to still impact the game as team’s try to take the ball out of his hand.

“Coming into this year, I knew there was going to be a lot more attention,” Cannady said. “I knew over time, there was going to be games where I didn’t score as much so I just gotta do the little things like screen, pass, playing off two feet, cutting. I just knew the little things, they help us win when I’m not scoring a lot or when things aren’t going my way.”

Westerlund said Cannady's helped change the program already in his three years. In the offseason, he’s able to recruit other talented players to Bryn Athyn to keep the Lions’ progress moving forward.

Two other Maryland products, freshman guard Will Little (15.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior guard Derreck Orr Jr. (9.9 ppg), are second and fourth on the team in scoring this season after transferring from Millersville and Lebanon Valley College, respectively.

Senior forward Jaryn McCann (12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) came in with Cannady as a transfer from ASA Miami in Florida and has helped aide the progress made.

“From Day 1 this year coach told us, we are going to be the only team that stops us,” Cannady said. “As long as we play hard it’s nothing that can stop us and everybody was on board. Everybody wants to win here. We all trust each other and we know when to go.”

The Lions have a tough stretch of their schedule coming up with Keystone College on Saturday and Rosemont and Cairn next week. The three squads have a combined 8-1 mark in the CSAC, so it will give Bryn Athyn a good idea of where it stands in the conference.

“I don’t know how this year’s going to end, but I’m really trying to present and I’m really proud of what we’re doing,” Westerlund said. “We’ll see. We got a chance and that’s all you can ask for.”

With Cannady leading the charge, the Lions know they're headed in the right direction.

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