Willie Lightfoot is trading the unique atmosphere of playing before folks at Niagara Falls High School’s Wolvarena who treat him like a rock star for the opportunity to work out daily before college recruiters with and against other Division I prospects.
Lightfoot, who helped the Wolverines boys basketball team reach the state semifinals last season as a freshman, announced via Twitter that he is transferring from Falls to attend Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas.
“Better scheduling and it will help my grades to make it easier to qualify for (college through) SATs,” Lightfoot told The News on Sunday. “I’ve been planning on transferring.”
It’s a possibility he had been discussing with recently appointed Niagara Falls boys basketball coach Brent Gadacz over the past month. With Sunrise Christian Academy classes set to begin Thursday, Lightfoot needed to make a decision quickly.
Lightfoot averaged 17.9 points. 3.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists in helping Niagara Falls to the state semifinals in Class AA. The Wolverines lost by two to eventual state champion West Genesee. Lightfoot received first team All-Western New York honors, one of just two freshmen to earn that distinction (Lewiston-Porter’s Roddy Gayle is the other).
At Sunrise, Lightfoot will practice daily against fellow Division I prospects — hoping to make a name for himself outside of this region. Lightfoot currently has scholarship offers from the University at Buffalo, Canisius College, Siena, Youngstown State and Stony Brook.
Lightfoot said he’ll miss playing before the home crowd. “The people and the love you get here, it’s a different atmosphere,” he said.
But by transferring, he added, "It’s going to help my exposure a lot."
Lightfoot delivered dominant performances last year, his second season as starter — especially during the postseason. In one of the most memorable performances by a player in Section VI playoff history, Lightfoot scored 20 consecutive points, including the game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer during a 39-point effort in helping Falls overcome an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to earn an overtime win against Williamsville North in the Class AA final.
He dropped a game-high 32 points on McQuaid during Falls’ triumph in the Far West Regionals. Lightfoot scored 20 or more points six times, 30 or more three times and had 19 points and 12 assists in a regular-season win against Aquinas.
Gadacz, who just returned from a vacation Sunday and hadn’t talked to Lightfoot, acknowledged his transfer was a possibility based on previous conversations. He said he didn’t know Lightfoot made a decision.
“I think it’ll be a great fit for him,” Gadacz said. “We were preparing for it. Willie has to do what’s best for him. He’s going to face more top-level competition.”
Lightfoot's transfer from Niagara Falls follows the move of Jalen Bradberry to the Park School. Bradberry, a 6-3 forward, was a second-team All-WNY choice who averaged 19.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a sophomore.