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Battle of the Borders: Day 3 Notebook

07/25/2015, 12:30am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Keith Braxton (above) received his first Division I offer this week, from New Hampshire. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

BURLINGTON, N.J. -- The final week of the final live period of July is more than halfway over, with just two days left for high school student-athletes to play with their AAU teams this summer before the focus shifts to the upcoming 2015-16 season--and for many, a decision on where they’ll be attending college.

The Battle of the Borders had plenty of college prospects on the three courts at Life Center Academy for Friday’s championship bracket games, after pool play took place the day prior:

Here’s a notebook from the final day of the event:

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Keith Braxton (2016/G/NJ Cyclones)
When CoBL last caught up with Braxton, just two weeks ago at the Elevate Hoops showdown, he was hoping to get his first Division I offer from schools that included Loyola (Md.), Brown, Penn, Princeton, and American.

Instead, the call he was waiting for came from a school that wasn’t on his trail until the last 10 days.

After seeing Braxton during the second week of the live period, New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion called the 6-foot-3 guard earlier this week to deliver the good news.

“They were talking and watching our game, and they decided that they liked how I played so they just offered me,” he said. “It was a phone call, (Herrion) just said ‘we like the way you play, we’re really interested in you, we have a lot of young people,’ and he said I fit their system a lot and he’d just like to offer me.”

It was a validating moment for Braxton, who graduated from Delsea this year and elected to do a prep year at Lawrenceville (N.J.) to land that coveted D-I scholarship. He had Division II looks coming out of high school, with Le Moyne and New Haven looking like two likely landing spots if he chose that route, but instead he opted to take the extra year.

What’s made the biggest difference is that he’s been able to play on the ball all summer with the Cyclones, after playing the ‘3’ for Delsea for most of his high school career. Though he’s still a developing lead guard, he’s got very good size for the position and understanding of the game, and is willing to put in the work to become a better distributor and run an offense.

“I just identified my weaknesses, which are shooting and I could get tighter ball-handling,” he said. “And I’m still focusing on them, because I want to have an all-around game, because I know that’s what you need for the Division I level.”

An August visit to New Hampshire is in the works, so Braxton can see the school and really get a feel for what the America East school has to offer.

But even if he doesn’t hear from any other schools this fall, that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily going to commit before the season just to get it out of the way.

“I might wait until the spring, just see if anything else pops up,” he said. “As for now, this is just the only school that’s offered, so I’ve got to take that into consideration.”

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Kobi Nwandu (2016/SG/Team Supernatural)
While the AAU season is wearying for all of those involved--coaches, players, families and media alike--that doesn’t mean everybody is ready for it to end.

Count this 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard from Northeastern High School (Pa.), just outside of York, as one of those who’s sad to see this weekend bring the end of the summer season.

“I’ve still got some basketball left in me,” he said after Team Supernatural’s tournament ended with a loss to the NJ Cyclones in the quarterfinals. “I love AAU, man, it’s just so much competition and college coaches watching, you get a lot of exposure. It’s something I’m going to miss.”

Team Supernatural will play in one final tournament this weekend, Elevate Hoops’ Summer Final at Competitive Edge Sports, with three games remaining no matter how they do in any of them.

Though it’s not Nwandu’s final opportunity to obtain the Division I scholarship he’s dearly seeking, it’s certainly a chance to make a good impression on a number of coaches before they head back to their respective campuses on Monday and discuss about final offers to go out from the summer recruiting sessions.

A few Ivy/Patriot schools like Brown and Bucknell, as well as new Atlantic Sun member NJIT, have been tracking Nwandu; in addition, Division II schools like East Stroudsburg and Holy Family have been telling him that they want to be his backup plan if those offers don’t materialize.

The process of trying to earn that scholarship offer is both a carrot and a crutch.

“Some days, it’s motivating, for me to work harder and get better every day; some days it’s a little frustrating when you think you should be out there getting offers,” Nwandu said. “You see some of the guys you play against getting offers and you’re flying under the radar a little bit.

“It’s a bit frustrating but I’ll still keep working, getting better and sooner or later I’ll get my turn.”

At Northeastern, Nwandu will look to help the Bobcats to their first state tournament win in his time at the school. The four-year starter got a taste of PIAA action as a freshman and junior, but lost in the first round each time.

Coming off a 23-6 year in 2014-15, expectations are high for his senior year.

“We’re trying to pick it up and trying to get a little run in states, maybe even get a shot at the title,” he said. “Just keep working and getting better.”

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Reggie James (above) looks like he could be the next big thing at Trenton Catholic. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Reggie James (2018/SG/WeR1)
No matter who Trenton Catholic coach Fred Falchi starts in his backcourt this season, they’re not going to be able to replicate what Malachi Richardson, Myles Powell and Marcus Floyd brought to the table.

Richardson, a 6-6 shooting guard and top-20 prospect nationally, is off to Syracuse with talks of him being a potential one-and-done. Powell, a 6-foot sharpshooting rising senior with offers from numerous high-majors, is headed to South Kent (Conn.) to prep for college. And Floyd, a tough 5-9 point guard, is headed to a to-be-determined prep school after using up his high school eligibility.

But rest easy, Trenton Catholic basketball fans--if James is representative of the next crop of young guards for the Iron Mikes, the program is in good shape.

And far from shrinking from the spotlight of the top group of New Jersey hoops powerhouses, James is ready to embrace it.

“No pressure, knew this was going to happen,” he said. “I went to that school to do that, to come behind those players.”

An athletic, 6-foot-3 scoring guard, James already has a well-developed body considering he’s just a rising sophomore. He’s relentless in attacking the bucket and fighting for rebounds, which he showed in going for 19 points against Keystone Blazers in a semifinal win and then 11 against South Jersey Jazz in the 16U final.

It didn’t matter that his 15U WeR1 squad was playing up a level, James showed that he’s not afraid to play with anybody.

And from having to play with Richardson and Powell (and guard them in practice), he can defend at a high level, too, bothering opposing guards with his reach and his strength.

“When I played with them, I don’t worry about scoring, I worried about playing defense, because I know they were going to get their shots up,” he said.

While Division I schools haven’t really gotten the opportunity to see much of James due to his playing JV ball as a freshman and playing on the 15U circuit during the summer, he knows from his predecessors what it takes to get noticed and get those scholarships before long.

“They always go hard, everything hard,” he said. “Practices, games, all of that. Even shooting up before the game, it’s hard. I learned a lot from them.”

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Hill School (Pa.) senior Seth Stankiewicz (above) has Division I, II and III schools involved in his recruitment. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Seth Stankiewicz (2016/SG/NJ Cyclones)
It’s not uncommon for many rising seniors to be stuck between two levels of college recruiting.

What’s less common is to be split amongst three, like this 6-foot-2 guard from the Hill School (Pa.).

There are some Division I schools that have been checking Stankiewicz out for some time: New Hampshire, Albany, Holy Cross, Bucknell and American.

Then there are Division II schools, like Stone Hill and St. Anselm’s, though neither have offered; another Northeast-10 school, Bentley, was in the gym watching the Cyclones on Friday.

And there are the D-IIIs like Hamilton, Ursinus and Rochester, and Stankiewicz said going to that level is “definitely an option” due to the academics.

So if there’s anything clear about his recruitment situation, it’s not that nothing is really clear at all the moment.

“Hopefully I get a couple of D-IIs and I’ll still decide on whether I’d want to go to a good academic D-III,” he said, “but hopefully I get that Division I offer.”

Though he didn’t have a great game in the Cyclones’ semifinal loss to Vanier Prep (Canada), with just six points, he had been one of the standout players in the event up to that point. He had 20 or more points in each of the Cyclones’ prior two games, knocking down 3-pointers as easily as he hits layups.

What was more noticeable about his game was how much attacking he did with the ball in his hands, certainly much more than he does in the Hill’s more patient, probing offense.

“(I’m) shooting the ball well this spring, this summer,” he said. “Trying to get to the basket and then if the shot’s not falling, the big thing is having an effect on the game somehow; defensively, creating for others, and that was just my main focus this summer.”

After repeating his sophomore year at the Hill School following two years at Berks Catholic (Pa.), Stankiewicz is watching all of his old Berks classmates now graduate and head off to college this fall while he’s got one more year at Hill.

Soon enough, he’ll be able to join them in the college ranks--once he and a few coaching staffs figure some things out. What level is still up for the grabs, but at least it’s in the not-too-distant future for Stankiewicz.

“It’s good to finally be a senior,” he said.

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Ja'Zere Noel (above) has a silky smooth offensive game and can score from all three levels. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Quick Hits
--Impressive day for the South Jersey Jazz 16Us, who took home the championship with a dominant pair of wins: 61-30 over Baltimore Supreme in the semifinals and then 61-37 over WeR1’s 15s in the final, though they got a solid battle from a worn-out group a year younger. The team coached by former NBA sharpshooter Tim Legler lived up to his reputation, dumping in a dozen 3-pointers in the final, including 11 in the first half alone.

Myles Cale (36 points in the two wins) showed why he led the Under Armour Association 16s in scoring this summer, but there’s a sleeper on the team in Woodbury (N.J.) 2017 SG Ja’Zere Noel. The 6-4 shooting guard has an easy ability to score the basketball; if he gets his motor running at a high level and really puts out his best effort on every possession, his ceiling could really expand.

--Strong effort in the 17U championship by D.C. Blue Devils forward Ameka Akaya (2016/F/St. Maria Goretti, Md.), who had 11 points and probably as many rebounds in a dominant 64-44 win over Vanier Prep. A solid-bodied 6-5 forward, Akaya makes up for what he lacks in size with a never-ending motor, jumping after loose balls and doing a good job on second-and-third efforts on the glass.

Akaya said that Central Connecticut, St. Francis (Pa.), St. Francis (N.Y.) and Navy have all offered; DePaul’s old staff also had offered him this spring, but he hasn’t heard from new head coach Dave Leitao and staff. He said he’s planning on visiting all the schools that have offered him this fall, but wasn’t sure yet which would be getting official visits; Northeastern and Wofford have also shown interest.


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