Conwell-Egan's Nwaniemeka picks Rider

Posted: March 30, 2012

NOT TOO LONG ago, Jamal Nwaniemeka figured he'd be playing his college basketball at the Division II level.

He would not have gone there kicking and screaming. Would have even been fine with that. But the identity of his ultimate destination brings more of a smile to his face.

It's Rider, and that school can be found in D-I.

"It was looking like I was going to go to East Stroudsburg," said Nwaniemeka, a 6-2, 180-pound wing guard at Conwell-Egan. "I was shocked when things changed up and D-I attention started coming my way. I didn't think I was capable of being a D-I player, but people kept telling me I was."

Although Nwaniemeka also received an offer from Robert Morris, Rider was the first D-I school to express an interest. Assistant Kevin Baggett contacted coach Rick Sabol in mid-February and watched C-E vs. Cardinal O'Hara in a first-round Catholic League playoff.

The Eagles lost, 45-44, on a last-second shot despite strong contributions (20 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, two blocks) from Nwaniemeka. (At the time, the devastation level was high, because it appeared the school's basketball days were over. C-E, like West Catholic, Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast and St. Hubert, has since received permission from the Archdiocese to remain open.) Baggett remained intrigued, and Nwaniemeka made his official visit last weekend.

"I got a real good feeling there," Jamal said. "It's the right fit. I didn't want to go far from home."

Rider's 2011-12 squad included six players with Public/Catholic roots: seniors Novar Gadson (Bartram), Brandon Penn (Robeson) and Jeff Jones (Bonner); soph Danny Stewart (Neumann-Goretti); and freshmen Eddie Mitchell (La Salle) and Fortunat "Junior" Kangudi (Roman).

Don't jump to conclusions. Nwaniemeka said that he was hosted by a player, Anthony Myles, from Delaware and that another Bronc, Jonathon Thompson, from Florida, provided the best insight about the squad and the college experience.

The bouncy, aggressive Nwaniemeka, a second-team Daily News All-City honoree, scored 502 points in 23 games (21.8). His career total of 1,009 includes 139 at now-defunct Cardinal Dougherty in the 2009-10 season.

Jamal lives near Saint Joseph's University and rides to C-E each day with his mom, Erika, who works nearby. He plans to major in business management and might room with N-G senior Derrick Stewart, Danny's brother and a fellow recruit.

"We're really excited about this," Sabol said. "All of Jamal's hard work has paid off!"

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