Before Brandon Randolph left the Masters School last summer, he held two scholarship offers: Manhattan and VCU. They were even linked to the same coach, Rasheen Davis, an assistant at Manhattan who left for VCU when the school hired a new staff upon Shaka Smart’s departure for Texas.
Those offers were nothing to scoff at for a kid with Division I dreams, although Randolph — a Yonkers native who was young for his grade — had built a profile he thought would attract more widespread attention. He had reclassified after leaving Stepinac for Masters as a freshman and then sprouted from 5-foot-1 to a full 6-5 while retaining guard skills.
And yet Randolph’s recruitment didn’t really take off until he ended up in a different Westchester — West Chester, Pennsylvania. The swingman is now a junior at the Westtown School, filing through interest from the likes of Kansas, Notre Dame and Villanova. He is also one of many elite players in recent years who have left the area for prep schools.
The prep programs, which have slowly mined talent at city schools for years, have begun to have the same impact in the suburbs. The Randolph example underscores why.
“It has always been his dream since he was a young boy to play Division I basketball,” said Randolph’s mother, Robin. “Him going to Westtown validated his hard work. He’s always been a hard worker, but now I’m seeing him get the recognition and the notice. As a mother, I always knew he was great, but I wanted him to have the opportunity for others to see it, too.”
Striving for that increased exposure isn’t for everyone — or at least it shouldn’t be. A player who isn’t big enough, athletic enough or talented enough will only find more frustration and more dead ends by leaving home for a prep program. However, it is undeniable that the decision to bolt has been a boon for the best of the best.
Two years ago, Dobbs Ferry’s Eric Paschall was named the player of the year at the highest level of the NEPSAC, New England’s top prep school league and one of the best in the country. He departed Dobbs after winning Section 1’s Mr. Basketball as a junior, a feat that had only been accomplished previously by Mount Vernon’s Ben Gordon and Jabarie Hinds and Peekskill’s Elton Brand. But Paschall sought a challenge at St. Thomas More, a small school in Oakdale, Connecticut, with a rich basketball tradition.
The move was a success. Although he kept a previous commitment to Fordham, Paschall won the Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Year last season. After Tom Pecora was fired, Paschall transferred to Villanova and could be an impact player on a Top 25 team starting in November.
One of Paschall’s former competitors in the NEPSAC was Elmsford’s Donovan Mitchell, an explosive guard who played for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. According to Rivals, Mitchell was the 31st-ranked player in the Class of 2015. He averaged 7.4 points in 19.1 minutes per game this season for Louisville, which finished 23-8 and was fourth in the ACC.
Two more prep school departures prior to this season probably cost Kennedy a chance for one of the best teams in program history. The Gaels still finished 24-3 and a perfect 16-0 in the CHSAA’s ”A” division, but only did so after the transfer of Elijah Hughes (South Kent) and Dominick Cristiano (Greens Farms). As juniors, Hughes was the league MVP and Cristiano an all-league player.
Hughes, the No. 10-ranked senior in the state, believes the decision benefited him two-fold.
“Academically, I put my foot on the gas pedal,” said Hughes, an East Carolina commit. “That was huge for me. On the basketball side, I got so much better. I was playing with all-Americans. It was a lot of fun.”
The ability to gain exposure playing alongside or against other top prospects has long been an appeal of prep school. This season alone, Randolph competed in national showcases and tournaments in Delaware, Florida, and Massachusetts and had two games televised on ESPN3.
He probably needed the limelight after suffering a broken leg last April 10 — in the first game of his first session playing with the PSA Cardinals on Nike’s AAU circuit. Had Randolph stayed at Masters, making up for that lost time might’ve been an impossibility. Now, he holds offers from Louisville, Xavier, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Florida State, among others.
“Honestly, in my heart of hearts, I’m 99 percent sure this wouldn’t have happened for him if he had stayed at Masters,” Robin Randolph said.
“A kid can be great, but if nobody sees them it doesn’t matter.”
More and more, some of the best talent in the suburbs has arrived at the same conclusion.