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Big seasons by recruits boost hoop prospects for UB, Bona

It looks like the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team has re-loaded for another serious run at the Mid-American Conference title next season.

Each of UB’s three recruits from the fall signing period had huge seasons.

Point guard Jayvon Graves earned the high school player of the year award and was an Ohio player of the year for his school classification. Shooting guard James Reese was player of the year in South Carolina for his classification. And 6-foot-7 wing Jeremy Harris was one of the top junior college recruits in Florida.

UB has earned a top-three seed in the Mid-American Conference four straight years and should be a contender to make it five straight.

Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure’s two fall recruits look like immediate impact players for a Bona team that figures to be a top contender in the Atlantic 10 Conference next season.

The spring signing period for college basketball began Wednesday. Canisius officially signed 6-5 wing Takal Molson, the former St. Mary’s of Lancaster star who gave the Griffs his oral commitment last month. The final one or two roster spots for many mid-major teams often aren’t finalized until summer.

Here’s an update on the Big 4 additions:

UB: The Bulls graduated four seniors, including star Blake Hamilton and shooting wing Willie Conner. Harris looks like a player who can step into the big wing role that the 6-6 Hamilton filled when UB won the MAC in 2016. Harris was rated the No. 8 player in North Carolina coming out of high school. He spent the past two years at Gulf Coast (Fla.) State College and was pursued in the fall by Texas Tech, in addition to UB. He averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in games he started this season and shot 36 percent from three-point range.

“We knew one of our big needs for next year was to replace Blake and we saw Jeremy as that guy,” UB coach Nate Oats said when Harris signed.

“He’s strictly a perimeter guy,” said Gulf Coast coach Jay Powell. “He can guard the 4 some, the power forward spot, but that’s not what he does offensively. Any time you get a guy taller and longer than the norm for the position, you’re at an advantage. And that’s what he is. He’s 2 to 3 inches taller and longer than most guys at the 2 and even most at the 3. He has a good first step off the bounce and gets places off the dribble. That gives him a big advantage, too. When people try to get tight on him and honor his shot, that provides the spacing he needs to play off the bounce. His range is good.”

Harris figures to step in as the small-forward starter. UB could go with sophomore Quate McKinzie and junior Nick Perkins at the 4-5 spots if it wants to go small and athletic. It could put Perkins at the 4 and Ikenna Smart or Brock Bertram at the 5 if it wants to play bigger.

The 6-3 Graves averaged 21.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in leading Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary to the state championship. The school is LeBron James’ alma mater. Graves picked UB over Toledo and Fordham. He’s similar to UB off-guard C.J. Massinburg in that he’s athletic and can get to the rim, but he’s more of a point guard.

“He’s been playing kind of the 2-guard for us because we don’t have a whole lot of size, but when he gets to Buffalo he’s going to be able to play the point,” coach Dru Joyce said. “He’s going to be a scoring point guard. When I say that, he’s not going to be a selfish scoring point guard. He’s also a very good passer. He understands how to get guys open for shots.”

The 6-4 Reese averaged 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 steals for A.C. Flora High in being named his region’s player of the year by The State Newspaper in Columbia, S.C. Among others that made an offer to Reese was two-time Big South champion Winthrop.

“He’s an athletic slasher with an unbelievable pull-up game,” said A.C. Flora coach Josh Staley. “His mid-range game is great. He shoots the three-ball really well. I think he can defend the ball from the 1 through the 3 spot. He’s going to thrive in UB’s system because he’s big and athletic and can get up and down the floor and he can finish.”

With the three newcomers joining Massinburg and James Jones, UB hopes to turn outside shooting from an inconsistency to a strength. UB's roster is full.

St. Bona: The Bonnies needed to add more size with the graduation of forward Denzel Gregg. They added 6-10 center Ndene Gueye from Senegal by way of Kilgore College in Texas and 6-6 wing Tshiefu Ngalakulondi, a native of the Congo who was raised in New Hampshire.

Gueye, whose name is pronounced Denn-ay Gay, averaged 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for his junior college. He had six games of 20-plus points. He could start on the low post with Josh Ayeni if Bona wants to play big. Along with sophomore-to-be Amadi Ikpeze, Bona will have considerably more size. Like ex-Bonnie Youssou Ndoye (also from Senegal), Gueye is high-energy.

“He’s going to do most of his offensive work around the basket,” said coach Brian Hoberecht. “He can step out and shoot it a little bit. He plays with great pace. He really doesn’t get sped up. He knows how to create angles to the basket so he can score. He’s probably more mature than most junior college post players from a basketball IQ standpoint. Defensively he’s athletic enough to alter shots and grab rebounds.”

The other addition, whose name is pronounced ch-ef Ga-la-koo-lon-dee, is the kind of long-armed, athletic wing coach Mark Schmidt covets in competing in the A-10.

“He's an attacker,” Schmidt said when he signed. “Denzel Gregg is a good player to compare him to.”

Ngalakulondi averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in helping Proctor Academy of Manchester, N.H., to an 18-7 record. He was third-team All-New England among private schools in Class AA. He picked Bona over Duquesne and had offers from LaSalle, George Mason and Iona, among others.

“He’s a terrific young man,” said coach Gregory Makechnie. “He’s sort of between a 3 and a 4. Very athletic, a capable perimeter shooter, also capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim.”

If point guard Jaylen Adams does not turn pro (he has declared for the NBA Draft), Bona returns an all-league backcourt with Adams and Matt Mobley. Idris Taqqee is back as a starting wing. The combination of Courtney Stockard (back from injury), Ngalakulondi and Gueye, should give Bona more size and scoring than it got from graduating Gregg and David Andoh.

Bona currently has one scholarship available, pending roster changes.

Canisius: The Griffs added an athletic wing with the addition of Molson, who signed his letter of intent at Health Sciences Charter School. Molson averaged 26 points and 7 rebounds a game for St. Mary’s of Lancaster two seasons ago before being expelled late in the season. He played this season for the TAAG Academy, a prep school in Tampa, Fla. Canisius has one open scholarship, pending roster moves.

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