Monday, April 17, 2017

Old Friends Kiss and Nwankwo Both Hotly Pursued Products

Several years ago, 6-foot-5 guard Peter Kiss and 6-foot-9 forward/center Jon Nwankwo were key one-year additions at Victory Rock Prep (FL).

Plucked from obscurity out of New York City, Kiss discovered hoops during the later stages of an athletic upbringing.

Having never before played organized basketball, Kiss altered his focus the summer leading into his sophomore year of high school.

 Emulating the dunks he witnessed on YouTube and showing flashes of wowing athleticism, the promise was there.

In developing a diversified scoring tool set, Kiss would eventually show Division-1 potential at Victory Rock.

During a statement 24-point performance against Kisky at a tournament hosted by Elev8 Prep Academy in Delray Beach, Fla., Kiss put his entire arsenal on full display.

It was an awakening for Kiss.

This particular game proved the then-junior can impact a game on both sides of the floor.

It showed his all-around talent, enabling many (including himself) to see his contributions with or without the rock in his hands.

Kiss attacked with a ferocity that afternoon, before a number of Division-1 coaches who never before had heard his name.

 He showcased a pull-up game. When wedged between 7-footers, it was Kiss who would snare a rebound and dive for a loose ball.

He connected from beyond the arc. The high-octane off guard was active all across 94 feet on defense. He jolted fans out of their seats with an electric two-handed dunk in traffic.

Soon enough, Kiss developed into a primary threat capable of piloting the offense at opportune times.

Nwankwo, at a sinewy 235 pounds, possessed a unique blend of length and upside.

 He played a supplementary role at Victory Rock Prep, where the shot-manipulating Nigerian import was a rebounding presence off the bench.

Kiss and Nwankwo were each relatively new to the advanced level of high-caliber prep basketball.

 The tandem developed an accurate feel for each other's game as teammates at Monsignor Scanlan High School.

The duo aspired to create an inside-outside punch.  Both players pushed each other's quick evolution --often putting in the extra, unrequired work hours in the gym.

 Initially investing more focus into soccer and baseball, Kiss finally made the call to flip his focus solely on basketball.

Nwankwo, then a neophyte adjusting to the integral components of the true Center role,  progressed significantly from his junior to senior year.

Flashing a feathery hook from both hands and suddenly finishing with authority, the soft-spoken big soon found his niche.

Cramming loud two-handed dunks with ease, the once-raw project drew the attention of Richard Pitino at Minnesota and a plethora of other high-major coaches.

Nurturing Nwankwo's development on a day-to-day basis was AAU coach Andy Borman.

 Borman cultivated an interior game in Nwankwo, in whom he saw a quick-learner who was coachable and expanding with a progressing back to the basket game.

 Kai Mitchell, a 6-foot-6 240-pound forward who guarded multiple positions and even played some point forward, helped Nwankwo with interior manpower during that summer on the AAU circuit.

Several years later, Kiss and Nwankwo are two major priorities on the high-major transfer market.

Typically when players transfer out of Quinnipiac, a floundering MAAC program formerly of the low-Division 1 NEC, a slew of high-majors are not waiting in the wings.

Rarely, if ever, has a QU transfer generated intrigue and offers as Kiss has these past weeks.

The known hockey school has struggled mightily in men's hoops recently. The past two seasons, the Bobcats registered  an abysmal 19-42 record.

Kiss, who credits mentor Derek Riullano for propelling his meteroic development, was one of few positive headlines.

While the Bobcats again fell below mediocrity, Kiss made a lasting impression  in averaging 13.8 points, 5.6 boards, and 2.8 assists.

It soon became apparent that Kiss, who originally chose Quinnipiac over Fairfield, Stony Brook, Fordham, High Point and other mid-majors, was a late bloomer.

The fact that he went undervalued on the recruiting market became more and more and more evident with his performances.

Eric Eaton, the former Quinnipiac assistant and tireless recruiter (Eaton was instrumental in penning one of the program's all-time greats in 6-foot-7 forward Justin Rutty) had discovered an unsung, fiercely competitive guard with a tremendous vertical and a motor.

Kiss panned out as a notable sleeper.

The Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) graduate scored 18 points, tore down 12 boards, and scored the game-winning runner with 1.9 seconds as the Bobcats pulled off a 73-71 victory over Fairfield.

During a dismal 95-76 trouncing at the hands of Monmouth, Kiss scored 22 points (on 9-for-18 FG), grabbed nine boards, and doled out three assists in 36 minutes.

During an eyeball to eyeball battle with Manhattan's Zavier Turner (23 points, six assists) Kiss submitted 20 points (8-for-13 FG), 10 boards, and four assists during an 81-72 win.

Mirroring Kiss' emergence as one of the country's prized freshmen was the quick-hit impact of Mikey Dixon.

A gifted scorer who also fell through the cracks recruiting-wise, fellow freshman Dixon averaged 16.5 points and generated buzz throughout the MAAC and beyond.

Dixon entertained the idea of playing on a bigger stage late in the season.

Following the firing of Tom Moore in March and briefly after Baker Dunleavy's recent   introduction as Quinnipiac's new head coach, the 6-foot-2, 162-pound Dixon transferred to St. John's.

 The MAAC Rookie of the Year pieced together 10 games of 20+ points this season.

 In fleeing the ailing program at Quinnipiac, Dixon was sold on a Big East program which wasn't exactly better in terms of recent history.

Dixon, who must pack muscle onto a spindly frame, clearly sees the direction of the Big East program.

 SJU is moving aggressively on the recruiting front in effort to revitalize a once prosperous, national brand name basketball school.

St. John's currently features decorated guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett.

Madison Square Garden is the massive, unrivaled proving ground. It is a monumental stage which every kid who went as under-recruited and under-appreciated as Dixon longs to play on.

Kiss absolutely loved playing alongside Dixon in the backcourt. The two fed off each other's energetic and hyperactive style.

 The lifestyle and athlete support at Quinnipiac is tough to say goodbye to, as Kiss indicated.

Witnessing the firing of Moore--a Jim Calhoun disciple eager to restore credibility with the troika of Kiss, Dixon, and bruising 6-foot-8 forward Chaise Daniels--was a difficult moment for Kiss.

The opportunity to weigh a more appealing, high-profile Division-1 market suddenly presented itself.

Kiss never envisioned high major basketball programs would be pursuing him. That was, until the predictable change of direction at Quinnipiac and unpredictable hiring of Dunleavy.

Kiss shied away from divulging his thoughts on the interviews and hiring process.

 Kiss did say, however, that had one candidate (Iona associate head coach Jared Grasso)  inherited the keys to the sparkling TD Bank. North kingdom, he would have stayed at Quinnipiac.

The incoming sophomore, who will have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules, is embracing the challenge of the new opportunity on an elevated stage.

Seton Hall, Auburn, Rutgers, and Rhode Island are the four programs most heavily involved with Kiss.

Cal, Fordham, UMass, and Oklahoma have also inquired.

Kiss said he had a "great visit" to Auburn this past weekend, where he was impressed with a young core featuring deftly skilled 6-foot-10 freshman forward Austin Wiley.

Wiley, the cousin of former NBA players Chuck Person (now an Auburn assistant) and Wesley Person, showed major promise  in 2016-17.

During a win over rival Alabama, Wiley erupted with 20 points and several pivotal second half buckets.

"Austin Wiley has big hands, big athleticism, he has a great skill-set, I would say he's a future pro," Kiss said.

"BP (head coach Bruce Pearl) is a great guy. The coaching staff really seemed like family and that intrigues me about that place."

Kiss is slated to visit Rutgers next. He is anticipating an important sit down with head coach Steve Pikiell and Scarlet Knights assistant Jay Young.

During his days in the talent-rich SIAA high school conference, Kiss played against the flashy and uber-talented Rutgers guard Corey Sanders. Kiss could have the opportunity for a prominent and immediate role at Rutgers, especially if Sanders bolts for the NBA this June or in 2018.

 Also high on Kiss' recently shortened list is Seton Hall.

The Pirates are in the running for electrifying IMG Academy guard and top-profile recruit Trevon Duval. Kiss could fill an immediate void following the departure of 6-foot-6 guard and Lincoln High product Desi Rodriguez.

Rhode Island is also a serious possibility.

"Rhode Island is appealing to me because it is a good program and they have a history of producing good guards," Kiss said.

While Kiss was visiting Auburn, Nwankwo was just a two-hour trek on Alabama's I-85 S over at UAB.

Nwankwo, a one-time Minnesota commit who had a brief stay at Virginia Commonwealth, averaged 9.8 points and 7.7 boards on the JUCO scene at Southern Idaho this season.

 Nwanko shot 13-for-17 during a pair of back to back performances as the featured piece in the post, scoring 16 points and then 12 respectively.

Kiss still keeps tabs on his friend's stats and peruses his highlights.

"Big Jon is definitely my favorite player to play with," Kiss said during a November 2015 interview.

"He's just so confident and physical out there. He just makes playing the game so much easier."

Kiss' career can best be described as well-traveled and unpredictable, with one stop after another.

After growing up in New York, he went on to play high school and AAU basketball in Sarasota, Fla.

After one season at Victory Rock Prep, Kiss transferred to Notre Dame Prep to play for head coach Ryan Hurd.

Under Hurd, who coached White Plains product Sean Kilpatrick and has groomed countless Division-1 players at the potent NEPSAC program, Kiss developed effective handle and became more adept at dishing.

After a year in Florida, a year in Massachusetts and of course the one-year stay in Hamden, Conn., Kiss will find yet another hardwood home.

 Despite rapidly changing locations, there has been one constant Kiss cites over the past several seasons.

That constant is the steady support and guidance of Riullano, a devout hoops junkie.

"He was the one to get me to play basketball seriously and put more focus into the game," said Kiss of Riullano.

"He helped me through all the ups and downs and helped me however he could. He's really someone I can talk to for anything."