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Bishop Kearney basketball stars attracting big-time college coaches
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Oct. 4, 2011
Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright hasn't flown to Rochester twice in the past few weeks just because he had a hankering for chicken wings or a garbage plate.
A University of Rochester assistant from 1984-86, Wright was at Bishop Kearney High School for "open gym" workouts to get a taste of what 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward Chinonso Obokoh can do. While the Nigeria native already has scholarship offers from 'Nova and a few other colleges, the junior isn't the only player top college coaches are coming to see.
Wright, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim and assistant Mike Hopkins, West Virginia's Bob Huggins and a Boston College assistant all spent about two hours at Sunday night's workout at Kearney, where 6-foot-7 freshman Thomas Bryant is also turning heads.
"When I first walk in it makes me nervous," Bryant, a JV player last year at Kearney, said Monday about seeing well-known coaches. "But then I get into the groove of playing and calm down and start doing everything right instead of trying so hard to impress college coaches."
They're impressed, all right. University of Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon plans to visit soon. While the coaches can watch the workouts, they cannot speak with the players or comment about recruits.
Monday's mail for eighth-year Kearney coach Jon Boon included recruiting letters from the University of Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia, Washington and Virginia Commonwealth. Bryant also has received a letter from the University of North Carolina and Obokoh also has scholarship offers from Miami (Fla.), Dayton, James Madison and the University at Buffalo.
While SU and West Virginia haven't formally offered to Obokoh, "they've said they really want him," Boon said. SU hasn't had a starter from the Rochester area since Pittsford Sutherland's Ryan Blackwell (1998-2000).
Obokoh averaged 16.6 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks last winter, his first season for the Section V Class A1 champion Kings after moving to Rochester. He seems unfazed by it all, adding that he's not planning on making a non-binding verbal commitment early to a school, a trend in recent years.
"I know it's going to happen because (a scholarship) is something I want," the soft-spoken Obokoh said. "But I don't think about (impressing recruiters)."
Yet his size, ability to run the floor and raw talent does. Obokoh, 17, has consistently shown good instincts on defense and timing, especially blocking shots. Offense is where college coaches tell Boon they're excited about his continued improvement.
"He's always had good footwork. He could shoot it OK. But as soon as we got into a game situation he'd go right in the paint because that was his comfort zone," Boon said.
"As the year went on he got a little more comfortable on the perimeter and now he's very comfortable out there. He has no problem facing up and making 15-foot jump shots. He needs to work on it, but he's more comfortable."
Obokoh and Bryant, who averaged about 16 points on Kearney's junior varsity last year, played for Mickey Walker's Upstate Basketball AAU program last summer.
Bryant's notoriety started after his 12 points and seven rebounds in last year's sectional championship, just his third varsity game. He has grown about two inches since then. Boon thinks Big East Conference recruiters got hot on Bryant's trail after his play at a team camp over the summer in Reading, Pa.
Kearney won three of its five games. Bryant drilled four 3-pointers in the second half of one.
"He can handle it. He can shoot the 3. His biggest thing is just developing physically," Boon said of the 14-year-old city resident who weighs just 140 pounds.
The Kings should have another solid season. In addition to Obokoh and Bryant, junior point guard Antoine Anderson is drawing strong interest from Niagara and Canisius. Alvin English, a 6-3 junior forward who was one of Wilson's top players, has transferred to Kearney.
English's father, two uncles and his sister all attended the private school in Irondequoit. Kearney opens its season Dec. 10 at perennial state power Niagara Falls, plays two games in New York City and in a tournament in West Virginia.
Kearney, which isn't in a league, plays only six times against Section V foes.
"We're starting to get approached by programs that haven't called us before. It's similar to what happened with McQuaid," he said, referring to the Knights' 2003 squad that won a state title.