Prep Profile – Lee Academy
October 25th, 2011
New England Recruiting Report
Lee Academy is loaded with talent but Gunner Bjornson was a surprise star the day the NERR made our trip north.
The Lee Academy post-graduate basketball program operates in two very distinct worlds. First and foremost, they are a New England based prep school, with one of the more talent laden teams in the region. However, they are not a member of the NEPSAC.
That means that while Lee will annually lock up with many of the region’s best during the regular season, they aren’t governed by the same set of rules and aren’t eligible for the same post-season tournament.
Because they aren’t governed by the same set of rules, first year head coach Deshon Gaither had the option to begin practice, not just informal open gym, from day one this fall. It also means that while most prep schools won’t play their first game for almost a month, Lee is already off to a 3-0 record after making a trip to Canada last week.
For Gaither, his first head coaching stint comes after several years of tremendous experience, not just last season at Lee, but also in the college ranks where he learned under Max Good, the current Loyola Marymount head coach and one of the most successful prep coaches of all time during his stint at MCI.
Not surprisingly, Gaither’s no-nonsense style if reminiscent of Good’s approach in many ways. Most obviously, hard work is mandatory and running is frequent.
Those hard lessons of discipline are likely to pay lasting dividends for this group, not just in terms of the team’s collective success but also in regards to their individual development, as the team has numerous quality prospects in both the class of 2012 and 2013.
Two of the team’s international post-graduates are already committed. Jiri Kasper, a well built six-foot-six forward from the Czech Republic is headed to Loyola Marymount next year to play for Good, while Barry Webster, a skilled six-foot-ten face-up four-man from England is staying in Maine to play for the Black Bears.
Jean Yves Toupane and Rodell Wigginton both return for their second season in Lee and figure to be among the team’s primary contributors, as does big man Travion Leonard, a six-foot-eight wide bodied post-graduate from North Carolina.
Yunus Hopkinson is a post-graduate point guard from New York who also projects to be a consistent part of the rotation while fellow 2012 products Jerome Diggs and Baila Sow weren’t in action the day we made the trip to Lee. Bryan James is a hard-nosed local product getting his first taste of high level competition.
The class of 2013 may actually hold the team’s best long term prospects. Point guard Kiefer Douse is a Canadian native who won every pick-up game he played in the day we were in the gym while Mohamed Bah and Marcelo Deschamps are two other international products, from Mali and Brazil respectively, who both look poised to have their choice of division I suitors before their recruitment is all said and done. Arturas Makovskis, a skilled swingman from Lithuania, also returns for his second season.
While the team has no shortage of prospects, two of the most productive players we saw were post-graduates with local roots. Gunner Bjornson is one of the biggest benefactors from Gaither’s emphasis on conditioning, as the Rhode Island native appears to be in the best shape of his life with the quality of his on-court performance coming in direct correlation.
Connecticut native and Hillhouse graduate Drew Crudup has always been in tip top shape, but what’s so impressive about him is that his explosive athleticism doesn’t seem to be impacted at all by the long hours in the gym.
Put it all together and Lee Academy has what appears to be a successful recipe for the 2011-2012 season: a new head coach with a demanding approach; a talent base with depth and individual talent; and an early undefeated record to reinforce the value of their hard-work.