‘Getting the right people on the bus’

Published 12:45 pm Saturday, August 11, 2018

When Longwood University hired Griff Aldrich to take over the men’s basketball program in March, the first-year head coach spoke about the importance of bringing in the right people to build the Lancer program.
In his words, it was about “getting the right people on the bus.”
With his coaching staff intact and his first recruiting cycle now complete, Aldrich’s bus doesn’t have many seats left.
Aldrich unveiled his inaugural recruiting class Tuesday, announcing an eight-member group that hails from three different countries and four states. The class includes a valedictorian, an aspiring engineer, two future doctors, an “Outstanding Human Award” recipient, a former Texas AAU player of Aldrich’s, and an Irish Men’s National Team star. Seven of the eight newcomers are eligible to play immediately, with three coming from the junior college circuit, four from the prep and high school circuit, and another transferring to Longwood from Duquesne.
Making up the class are 6-11, 215-pound forward Abraham Deng (Juba, South Sudan), 6-1, 155-pound combo guard Sean Flood (Dublin, Ireland), 6-8, 215-pound forward Nicholas Kratholm (Louisville, Kentucky), 6-6, 185-pound forward Joey Lipp (Sherman Oaks, California), 6-6, 220-pound forward Gus Okafor (Baltimore, Maryland), 6-0, 185-pound combo guard Lorenzo Phillips (Houston, Texas), 6-2, 180-pound shooting guard Michael Smith (Pleasanton, California), and 6-3, 180-pound shooting guard Jaylon Wilson (Moore, Oklahoma).
The class hails from around the globe, with Flood and Deng representing Ireland and South Sudan, and Kratholm, Lipp, Okafor, Phillips, Smith and Wilson coming from Kentucky, California, the metropolitan D.C., area, Texas, California and Oklahoma, respectively. The group will pursue five different majors ranging from biology and biophysics to business administration.

“We are pleased to announce our first recruiting class at Longwood,” Aldrich said. “As we begin our journey to establish a championship culture at Longwood, it was critical to ensure that we added the right incoming players to help us build. I am pleased with our staff’s efforts and the young men that we have attracted to our outstanding university – a diverse group that is not only extremely talented on the court, but full of impressive young men off the court. I am excited to have these young men join our existing group of players as we start this new era of Longwood basketball.”

The eight newcomers will join a Longwood roster coached by Aldrich and assistant coaches Marty McGillan, Maurice Williams, Brian Graves and Cody Anderson. They boost Longwood’s roster to 17 players, which includes three starters and nine letterwinners from last season’s squad.

Abraham Deng immediately becomes one of the biggest players in the Big South, standing at 6-11 and 215 pounds. The center was the keystone of back-to-back dominant seasons at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, under Head Coach Francis Bowe, leading the program to a 26-5 record in 2016-17 and a 25-6 mark in 2017-18. Valley Forge won the BAL regular season and PIAA District I title both of those years thanks to back-to-back double-double seasons from Deng. Deng comes to Longwood following a senior season in which he averaged 13.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game en route to setting Valley Forge’s single-season records in both rebounds and blocks. A team captain, he also averaged 10.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game as a junior.

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“Abe is a special young man with an incredible personality and sense of determination,” Aldrich said. “He is an active big who runs very well and has good hands. His desire and hunger to excel on and off the court are inspirational, and we have great expectations for this young man. Abe is a tremendous addition to our program and will be a great asset to our team and Longwood University throughout his time in Farmville.”

Born in Juba, South Sudan, Deng is the son of Chief Deng Yuol Ader and Nyanwut Malual Ajang and one of nine children. He aims to major in business administration at Longwood and play basketball professionally after college.

“I chose Longwood mainly because of the relationships I have built with the coaching staff,” Deng said. “I felt like the coaching staff and program truly wanted to help me become the best I could be. I knew right away they wanted to develop me not just as a basketball player, but into a man. Longwood is the ideal school size for me, and I believe we can do something special here.”

Sean Flood comes to Longwood with a wealth of international playing experience as a member of the Irish National Team, having played with the program since his U16 days and most recently as a member of the Men’s National Team this past summer. A native of Dublin, the 6-2, 170-pound point guard has spent the past two seasons playing for Head Coach Chris Mowrey at Sante Fe College where he put on a shooting display in 2017-18 by hitting 53.3 percent of his three-point attempts and averaged 7.7 points, 3.0 assists per game and a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. That production put him at the epicenter of a 20-win season for the Saints, who went 16-7 with Flood in the lineup and just 5-4 without him. Along with his on-court accolades, Flood also earned Academic All-America status at Santa Fe.

“Sean is a talented individual who excels at everything he puts his energy towards,” Aldrich said. “An outstanding student and leader, Sean is also a tremendous ball-handler and shooter. His experience, toughness and commitment to excellence fit our culture, and we are eager to welcome him to the Longwood basketball family.”

Flood’s breakout sophomore campaign followed an international career that has seen him compete for Ireland’s national amateur teams for the past five years. Beginning with his days on the Irish U16 team, Flood has captained multiple Irish National Teams and has contributed to the U16, U18, U20 and Men’s National Teams on the international stage. He also played for the Templeogue Basketball Club, helping that squad win three National Cup Championships – two U18 and one U20 – as well as a Superleague National Cup title.

Flood plans to major in business administration at Longwood and play and coach basketball professionally after college.

“Longwood was everything I was looking for,” Flood said. “It has a great mix of young, energetic coaches and more experienced, knowledgeable coaches on the coaching staff. Along with that, Farmville really seemed like a place that cares for and loves their basketball. Lancer basketball is on the rise, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Nicholas Kratholm is the latest addition to the signing class, coming to Longwood from Duquesne University where he played his freshman season in 2017-18. Prior to beginning his college career, the 6-8, 215-pound Kratholm was a standout at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, under Head Coach John Mahoney during the 2016-17 season. He averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds that season, shooting 46 percent from the field, 31 percent from three-point range and 73 percent from the free throw line to help IMG compile a 23-7 record. He finished second on the team in both scoring and rebounding behind only Maryland signee Bruno Fernando in both categories.

Prior to his freshman year at Duquesne and his postgraduate season at IMG, Kratholm starred at Waggener High School in Louisville, Kentucky, under Head Coach Bryan O’Neill. He was twice named to the region all-tournament team in 2014 and 2015, was a member of the Junior All-Star Team in 2015 and twice received Crusader Classic All-Tournament Team honors.

“We are thrilled to add Nicholas to our program,” Aldrich said. “As we evaluate what we want our program to be about, Nicholas embodies so many of those characteristics and values: high school valedictorian, a young man with exceptional character, and an extremely skilled player. We eagerly look forward to his development and his impact on our program and campus community.”

Waggener’s valedictorian in 2016, Kratholm received the school’s Outstanding Character Award in 2013 and 2015. He plans to major in biology with a concentration in biophysics and minor in neuroscience.

“After spending my postgrad year playing basketball at IMG Academy and my freshman year as a student-athlete at Duquesne University, I’ve had the opportunity to compare two types of basketball programs,” Kratholm said. “I’ve come to understand that a balanced focus of basketball and academics, paired with teammates of high character and a coaching staff that is honest and values players as individuals, is key to the success of a basketball program. I think I’ve found all of those things at Longwood University, and I’m excited to be a part of the accomplishments ahead.”

Joey Lipp is a 6-6, 190-pound forward from Woodland Hills, California, where he was a two-year team captain at Notre Dame High School. Lipp averaged double-digit scoring as a junior and senior and led Notre Dame to a 33-4 record, the CIF Southern Division 3A championship and the program’s first section title this past season. He averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists during his senior season while also earning honor roll and scholar-athlete honors for the fourth consecutive year.

“Joey Lipp will be another great addition to our program,” Aldrich said. “He is a wonderful all-around player with strong academic credentials. A long wing who shoots the ball very well, we are looking forward to his positive impact on our program and to Longwood University.”

Lipp, who also lettered one year in volleyball, plans to major in business administration and attend medical school.

“I chose Longwood after getting to know the coaching staff, which is made up of people of integrity,” Lipp said. “I also chose Longwood because of the beautiful architecture and the great reputation of the school.”

Gus Okafor hails from the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area where he played the 2017-18 season under Head Coach Chad Myers at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock. The 6-6, 220-pound forward helped the MMA squad win a program-record 32 games last season and earn a bid to the invitation-only National Prep Championship in Connecticut, solidifying the team’s status as one of the top prep schools in the nation.

“Gus is a tremendously versatile player who shoots well and is also physical,” Aldrich said. “He is a physical player who can be explosive and surprise with his athleticism. We are excited to add a player of Gus’ skillset to our roster and look for him to significantly develop and impact our program at Longwood.”

Okafor’s stint at Massanutten followed a successful prep career at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he helped Head Coach Brendan O’Connell and the Raiders win the Maryland 4A State Championship in 2016. He aims to major in biology or exercise science at Longwood.

“I am excited to be a part of this program and university,” Okafor said. “When I came on my visit to Longwood, I was welcomed with love and respect and fell in love with the coaches, campus and players. Coach Griff and the entire staff kept it real with me and really made me feel at home. I believe in their vision for this program and for me, and I am excited to be home here in Farmville.”

Lorenzo “Shabooty” Phillips makes the jump to Longwood from Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, where he played for Head Coach Guy Furr and averaged 9.0 points, 4.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in 2017-18. A 6-1, 185-pound point guard, he was one of only three players to appear in all 33 of Trinity Valley’s games, and he finished the season as the team leader with a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio and 56 made three-pointers. He shot .441 (56-of-127) from beyond the arc, .458 (97-of-212) from the field and .873 (48-of-55) from the free throw line that year while scoring in double figures 13 times, including in six of his final nine games.

“Shabooty is a special young man whom I have known for many years,” Aldrich said. “He is a product of two of the most successful high school and JUCO programs in Texas and has been groomed by playing against some of the best competition throughout the country. An elite-level shooter who can play both the point guard and shooting guard positions, he has a unique combination of being both fearless and bold while also fitting in well with many different types and styles of players. I look forward to Shabooty joining us and am excited to watch his growth and development during his time at Longwood.”

Phillips’ two-year stint at Trinity Valley followed a decorated prep career at Texas powerhouse Jack Yates High School under Head Coach Greg Wise, where his high school days culminated in a breakout senior season that saw him average 20.0 points, 11.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. He captained the team that year and led the Lions to the Texas State Championship tournament, setting a state tournament record by hitting nine three-pointers in a single playoff game. Phillips averaged double-digit points every year of high school, including 17.0 points and 7.0 assists as a junior.

Phillips will major in sociology and pursue a career in coaching after college.

“I am extremely excited to be a Lancer,” Phillips said. “I have known coach Aldrich since I was in seventh grade, and we have always shared a deep relationship. When he was named the head coach at Longwood, I immediately knew that this was a place where I wanted to be. I want to be a part of the special things that are happening here.”

Michael Smith is a 6-2, 190-pound guard from Pleasanton, California, who joins Deng, Lipp and Okafor as one of four freshmen in Aldrich’s 2018 class. He was a two-year team captain at Foothill High School where he was also a two-sport athlete, lettering twice in football and all four years in basketball under Head Coach Drew Hibbs. He twice earned Foothill’s Falcon Award, which goes to an exemplary athlete in the classroom and off the court.

“Michael is a hard-working and skilled guard who joins us from California,” Aldrich said. “A tough and fierce competitor, Michael also possesses a love for the game and toughness that will benefit our program and culture in a positive way.”

Smith was a four-year scholar-athlete in high school and received the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma. He has volunteered with the American Cancer Society and plans to major in engineering with a minor in physics, with the career goal of becoming an engineer after college.

“I chose Longwood because the feel for the campus and people were great,” Smith said. “I loved the goals and core values the coaches have for the program. I felt as if Longwood was an excellent fit and everything I hoped to find when choosing a college.”

Jaylon Wilson is a 6-3, 180-pound shooting guard from Moore, Oklahoma, who has played the past two seasons on the junior college circuit at Pratt Community College under Head Coach Sean Flynn. Wilson was a standout on the offensive end of the floor for the Beavers during that time, averaging 13.3 points in his 61 games while shooting .463 (285-of-615) from the floor, .371 (93-of-251) from three-point range and .859 (146-of-170) from the charity stripe. As a sophomore, he scored in double figures in 22 of his 31 games, including eight 20-point games and one 30-point outburst, and was the only player to start every game.

“Jaylon is an aggressive scoring guard who attacks off the dribble and shoots the ball well,” Aldrich said. “A guard who loves to play the game, Jaylon is also a tremendous fit as he is an outstanding young man with tremendous potential. He will quickly mesh with our existing players and add another key element to our program.”

Prior to his standout two seasons at Pratt, Wilson was a 1,000-point scorer during his high school career at Moore High School, averaging more than 20.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game in each of his final two seasons. Off the court, he was honored with the Pratt athletics department’s Outstanding Human Award. At Longwood, he plans to pursue pre-med studies.

“I chose Longwood University because I know I will have the opportunity to succeed on and off the court,” Wilson said. “Coach Griff and every coach on the staff made me feel right at home, and I believe in their vision for me and this program. After praying and talking it over with my family, there was no other place where I would want to continue my basketball and academic career than Longwood.”

Several members of the class took part in Longwood’s summer training camp this past June and July. The class as a whole will join the program this month with the start of the fall semester.