New York High School: New Heights

Seniors turn to AAU for one last shot

May, 16, 2012
Mairega Clarke is puzzled.

A talented forward for Holy Cross, he helped guide the Knights to the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Class AA title game this winter. He thought he had played well enough to earn a Division I scholarship.

Yet, the Division I offers he thought would roll in never came. Some schools were interested, but none pulled the trigger. Thus, with a rapidly closing window of opportunity to remedy the situation, Clarke turned to AAU.

"I want to play to show coaches that I deserve that offer from then," said Clarke, who plays for Raising Champions.

While most seniors skip AAU because they have scholarships, for unsigned seniors like Clarke, playing in the spring and the summer is a final chance to impress college coaches and potentially earn that coveted scholarship.

"I think it's a great opportunity for them," New Heights Athletic Director Kimani Young said. "It's a last look. Maybe a school missed out on these guys. These guys can improve over their senior years. I think it helps."

Young said there's an advantage in playing as an unsigned senior as college coaches will be seeing players just months before they would head to campus. Instead of guessing how a player will develop during his senior year in high school, coaches basically see the player in April that will arrive on campus in August.

Young also added that seniors play with a chip on their shoulder.

"I just know that a kid playing in April in his senior year, he's hungry for that scholarship," Young said. "Kids that are playing now feel like this is their last opportunity to have access to that college scholarship."

For Clarke, he still has not received that offer he wanted, although Florida Atlantic is interested in bringing him in after a year of prep school. Other New York City players have had a little more success, although they're still waiting for their dream offers.

St. Raymond senior Myron Hickman played at the Providence Jam Fest in April with the Jersey Jayhawks to see if he could get a Division I offer, as he only had Division II schools extending. A few schools were interested after seeing him, but wanted him for 2013. He has a visit set up with a Division II school and may try to walk on at Delaware State.

Cardinal Hayes and New Heights teammates Jalen Jenkins and Naasir Williams both saw a rise in interest, but they still don't have that slam-dunk offer. Williams also had schools interested in him for 2013, but schools want to see how he plays this summer.

Jenkins has mid-major offers but wants to grab a Big East scholarship. He has interest from Providence and Cincinnati, as the Bearcats were interested after seeing him in Las Vegas.

Jenkins and Williams had both been planning to attend prep school but have backed off on those plans because of the interest they garnered from AAU. Williams said it's still up in the air, while Jenkins is more committed to the idea of walking on at a school.

"I figure playing shows that I'm able to play at the point where schools that high-major schools will look at me," Jenkins said. "Instead of just playing for the low Division I and the mid-major schools to look at you."

Team SCAN Program Director Terrence "Munch" Williams likes the opportunity seniors have through AAU, but worries that some will get too caught up in trying to get that dream offer instead of focusing on more realistic options.

"It sometimes strings kids along. A kid might be more of a Division II or Division III player and they don't want to jump into that situation," Williams said. "They keep hoping they’ll get that dream team. Everyone thinks they are Division I until the last minute. Sometimes you wait too long and it doesn't come."

Pathway's Washington has tough choice

March, 30, 2012
Jordan Washington doesn’t know where he'll be in the fall.

The top-rated junior recruit in New York City could be back at Pathways Prep, looking for a third straight Public Schools Athletic League Class B boys basketball title. He could also be at a prep school, looking to better himself academically for his future Division I team.

It's a difficult decision the junior is not looking forward to.

"It's a tough situation," Washington said.

While the 6-7, 261-pound center is leaning toward staying at Pathways Prep for his senior year, the need to improve his grades to remain eligible for college basketball might take him away from his Queens school that has been home to him since sixth grade. Washington has offers from Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, St. John's and others.

"I don't want to leave," Washington said. "I've established a home there."

Washington, who averaged 21.7 points and 14 rebounds in league games this season according to the PSAL, admits his eligibility for college is a concern. This past season, the center flunked off the team and missed 10 of the team's 16 league games, although he did return later in the year. He's not sure if he would meet the NCAA Clearinghouse standards right now.

The junior stressed that this decision has nothing to do with trying to play for a bigger program. Pathways plays in the lowest level of basketball in New York City but Washington said he already has received plenty of looks and will continue to do so as he plays with his AAU team, New Heights.

The center mentioned New Heights as a possibility to help him academically. The program offers tutoring and SAT prep, as well as other academic supports for its athletes, according to athletic director Kimani Young. Young said they are working closely with Washington and Pathways Prep to help the junior.

Young believes it would be in Washington's best interest to stay at Pathways Prep, instead of heading to a prep school for one season, as it's more beneficial to transfer to a school as a younger student than as a senior.

"He's kind of missed the boat. If you were asking two years ago, that would have made sense," Young said. "He's so far down the line that he needs to just finish out there and graduate and then move on from that point."

Pathways Prep coach Harold Peaks, who said after the Class B title game that there is an "80-20" chance that Washington played his final game with the school, told his star player to make a pros and cons list to help with the decision and then gather input from a wide array of people to make an educated decision.

Peaks believes there are positives to both staying and leaving Pathways, saying that leaving could help Washington get prepared for the college life by assimilating into it earlier.

"I just think the decision is so difficult," Peaks said. "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. It's a very difficult situation. I think that he's thinking about the familiarity of the school and it's hard to leave something you're so accustomed to, compared to what are going to be the different structures and routines. It's a huge decision."

Washington's future might still be a few months away from being decided, but one thing is for certain. If he finds himself back in Queens in the fall, he'll be ready to to defend the title.

"We're trying to go for a three-peat if I come back," Washington said.