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Thursday, April 22, 2010
Top programs finally noticing Loyd

By Christopher Lawlor
ESPN.com

Johnathan Loyd is too prideful to ask, so here goes: What took so long?

He's the 5-foot-9, two-sport bundle of energy chiseled into a sinewy frame that helped Las Vegas Bishop Gorman win 102 games in four seasons, including 60 in the last two. He was also a first-team all-state performer on the gridiron. (Loyd played defensive back and returned kicks.)

Johnathan Loyd
PG Johnathan Loyd is down to Northwestern, George Washington, Washington State, UCLA, Oklahoma and SMU.

But make no mistake, Loyd is all point guard and finally zeroing in on a college -- at a level he feels he deserves -- after months of snubs from mid- to high-major programs.

"For the longest time he had a three or four schools looking at him; he was frustrated," Gorman coach Grant Rice, who played at UNLV. "Once colleges finished up in March they were looking for a point guard because they wanted to make a change, players were leaving for the NBA or they were transferring."

When the season began, his suitors included low majors such as Oakland, Northern Arizona, Cal Poly, Cal Riverside, Eastern Washington and Cal Northridge expressed interest to the four-year varsity starter and former Nevada Class 4A state tournament MVP.

Recruiting has intensified at the completion of his senior season. Suddenly the list includes Northwestern, George Washington, Washington State, UCLA, Oklahoma and Southern Methodist. At least 20 others have offered or are interested.

Loyd appears ready to make a decision soon. Last weekend he visited George Washington, an Atlantic-10 school that returns a core of regulars. Ditto for Northwestern, which qualified for the NIT and posted one of the top finishes in school history.

"No matter where he goes; Johnathan will help a team," Rice said. "He wants a program that is ready for the [NCAA] tournament."

Academics also count heavily. Loyd maintains a 3.3 grade-point average (on a scale of 4) at a rigorous college prep school.

Loyd burst onto the national scene in December when he earned MVP honors at the 29th Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Loyd contributed 17 points and 4 steals as the Gaels topped Columbia (Decatur, Ga.), 54-52, in the final. His ballhandling skills evoked memories of Marques Haynes of the Harlem Globetrotters; his fearless approach reminded onlookers of a kick returner who loathes fair catches. (Loyd had six returns for touchdowns in 2009, earning him 4A first team all-state kudos as a special-teams player).

On the court, he averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 assists receiving Las Vegas' 4A player of the year.

That BBC performance also caught the eye of Northwestern-bound Jershon Cobb's father, who called Wildcats coaches. Cobb, named most outstanding player at the BBC, is a senior at Columbia and signed with Northwestern in November.

"Northwestern, out of all the majors, have been on him the longest," Rice said.

Loyd isn't the only Division I player for the Gaels, who finished 30-2. Anson Winder signed with Brigham Young, while Tim Carter could be off to junior college or Cal State Bakersfield.

Despite graduation of four seniors, Gorman's long-term prognosis is very favorable. The classes of 2012 and 2013 ooze talent who will be coming soon to summer circuit event near you. The most decorated is Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-7 sophomore swingman, joined Loyd on the first-team all-state squad. Muhammad, an ESPNU Terrific 25 player, averaged 19.5 points and 10 boards per game.

Sweet Kentucky home

He is the lone non-senior to reach the summit in Kentucky. Chane Behanan of Bowling Green High is now on target to achieve the unthinkable honor following the 2010-11 season.

Behanan, a 6-7, 225-pound junior, is just adjusting to his status as first-team all-state, but on the horizon, well, there's more. Try leading candidate for the Kentucky's 2011 Mr. Basketball -- awarded annually to the top senior -- and a high-stakes game of recruiting tug-of-war.

As for the latter, the suitors are already lining up for the Cincinnati, Ohio, native who moved with his family to the western Kentucky last spring and since decommitted from the University of Cincinnati.

"I'm comfortable here; the people welcomed with open arms," Behanan said. "At first it was tough coming from a large city to small one, but it's peaceful. I've met nice people here."

Since his arrival Behanan has also honed his game under the watchful eye of coach D.G. Sherrill. At first he didn't buy into Sherrill's emphasis on defense, but by midseason he was averaging more than four blocked shots per game. Behanan also heard defense wins games.

"That's what coaches Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins told me; they believe in defense, and it's an important part of their teams," Behanan said.

There are several schools in the mix. This week Oklahoma State visited Monday and Purdue was at the open gym on Tuesday.

West Virginia, Louisville, Western Kentucky, Mississippi State, Cincinnati and Florida are also interested.

"Chane is a still wide open on college," Sherrill said. "He'll have plenty of choices."

Behanan, who previously attended Aiken High in Cincinnati, already does. That's because when coaches see him play, they gawk at his imposing size. Then coaches realize he's a thoroughbred running the court and a hulk on the boards. Sherrill said his prized player recorded 20-plus rebounds nine times and scored 30 or more points four times.

Behanan says his game resembles that of former Kentucky All-American Jamal Mashburn, meaning he can knock down the 3 and rebound ferociously.

This season he averaged a double-double -- 21.2 points and 12.3 rebounds -- as the Bowling Green Purples advanced to the region final, one step away from the Sweet 16 of the state tournament.

That would suit Sherrill and the Bowling Green supporters just fine.

"That's another great thing about Kentucky, they love their basketball," Behanan said. "I really feed off their energy; it energizes me."

Sherrill is convinced Behanan will be the preseason favorite for Kentucky's Mr. Basketball next season.

"He has a good chance; Chane should be atop the list," he said.

If Behanan is the preseason player of year favorite, look no further than teammates Robbie Stenzel and Vinny Zollo (Winchester, Ky./George Rogers Clark) to challenge him for the mantle.

Zollo, a physical player, averaged 17 points and 13.5 rebounds as a junior. He previously was a Kentucky recruit, but when coach Billy Gillespie was let go after the 2008-09 season, Zollo opted to reopen his recruitment and has several high majors interested, notably Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Colorado, Western Kentucky and South Florida, with the entire Mid-American Conference drooling.

"Vinny has a tremendous work ethic," Humphrey said. "He plays inside but can step outside to hit the 3 at a high percentage. He's one of the state's top rebounders and is an emotional leader."

Stenzel has developed into a deadeye shooter after he was tabbed as a starter in the eighth grade. He went for 13.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game but is known for a sweet shot.

"He gives a tremendous effort on the offensive end. It doesn't matter if he's shooting a 2, 3 or free throw, Robbie shoots at a high percentage," Humphrey said.

This summer he'll tour with the Derek Smith All-Stars on the travel circuit. The Ohio Valley and Mid-American conference schools, along with Western Kentucky, are likely landing spots.

"It's rare to have two juniors from the same school make all-state, but both are rare players," Humphrey said.

Coming and going

Two of New Jersey's powerhouse programs are making news.

Paterson Catholic announced Wednesday evening it will close in June. Rumors of the school's closing come as no shock. The Diocese of Paterson, which is cash-strapped, pulled the plug after years of threatening to close the school.

"I've haven't had a chance to digest the whole thing," PC coach Damon Wright said. "I haven't sat down with the players and parents. We'll do that soon."

Several coaches in northern New Jersey will gladly take in the plethora of talented underclassmen, namely 6-7 sophomore Kyle Anderson, 6-8 junior Derrick Randall (No. 28 power forward) and 5-10 junior Myles Mack (No. 25 point guard) are the program's most coveted players.

No word where they will end up but expect some student-athletes to wind up at Paterson public high schools Eastside and Kennedy. DePaul Catholic in Wayne, N.J., could be another local destination.

There was some good news, though, as St. Benedict's (Newark) hired a new coach Wednesday when Roshown McLeod was hired to replace Dan Hurley at St. Benedict's. Two weeks ago, Hurley was hired at Wagner College for its head coaching vacancy. McLeod played for Hurley's father, Bob, at St. Anthony (Jersey City) and later attended St. John's before transferring to Duke, where he was a first-team All-ACC power forward. In 1998, he was the first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, but his pro career was curtailed by injury.

McLeod, 34, most recently coached at Indiana but was let go earlier this year.

"It's time to come back home," McLeod said. "I've been around the world and gotten so much out of basketball. It's now my turn to give back what I've learned through the years.

"The fact that St. Benedict's wasn't just looking for a coach is what really impressed me. They were looking for someone to teach children to become young men. I want to be able to share my experiences with them and be able to show them what their options are and guide them into the future. It was a spiritual calling," he added.

Off to prep school

One of Kentucky's top seniors said this week he'll be attending prep school next fall. Guard Ge'Lawn Guyn of Scott County (Georgetown), unsatisfied with his college recruitment, will enroll at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H.

The 6-2 Guyn decommitted from Charlotte last year and fielded offers from schools such as Chattanooga, Baylor and Virginia Tech this spring, but he wants to improve his skill set. He will also work on his fitness, strengthening an injured knee.

Guyn averaged 12 points and four assists as Scott County advanced to the state semifinals in March.

Brewster, which won the NEPSAC Class A championship last month, is a basketball powerhouse. The Bobcats featured Division I players Will Barton (headed to Memphis), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Austin Carroll (Rutgers), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) and junior Naadir Tharpe (Providence).

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today.