The way Brian Clifton tells it, five-star shooting guard Rawle Alkins brought Word of God basketball back to relevance.
The Holy Rams transfer came to North Carolina in the fall as New York’s No. 1 prospect of 2016 looking to develop into a Division I basketball player. On Monday, he committed to Arizona.
He considered other offers before narrowing his list and making a selection. So with college basketball in his future, Alkins said he decided about five weeks ago to leave the Holy Rams’ team.
“I’ve just been focusing on my grades,” Alkins said. “I’m looking at the bigger picture. Me and the team, we’re still really cool and stuff. I go to practice when I can, but I’m trying to focus on graduating. You play high school basketball to get a college scholarship.
“I’ve been focusing on college; that’s the bigger picture.”
Alkins added his time with the Holy Rams benefited him.
First-year Word of God coach Clifton said Alkins’ experience in the South may benefit the Brooklyn native in college.
“I think it was an eye-opening experience for him,” Clifton said. “If you look at the NBA, it’s littered with guys from North Carolina.”
If players were in a bigger media market like California or New York, Clifton said, “they probably would have been bigger sooner, and I don’t how much of that is a blessing or a curse. I think Rawle was able to see when he came here that there was an abundance of good players that he had never heard of because they weren’t nationally renowned guys. He’s more cognizant now of regardless of where you go, you have to prepare yourself.”
Alkins last summer announced he’d be transferring from New York’s Christ the King High School. He chose Word of God, the private Christian academy in Raleigh that produced Washington Wizards guard John Wall, to avoid the risk of being ineligible since he played varsity in the eighth-grade, according to the New York Daily News.
Clifton, who was Wall’s travel coach during the former No. 1 overall draft pick’s recruitment, said speculations of Alkins being “too old” to play in high school were hurtful.
“(That is) absurd because you have some kids going into their freshman year of college at 20 or 21,” Clifton said. “Rawle just turned 18 after the school year started. He’ll probably play his first college game when he turns 19. I think it’s terrible for him to have to move away from his family like that over a technicality. I don’t think they take any consideration of academic standing. It’s strictly for basketball competition. I hate that for him.”
But Alkins came out on top.
He was the third Arizona commit of his class, his pledge boosting the Wildcats to the No. 6 slot on ESPN’s recruiting class rankings. Alkins was also one of the top three shooting guards of 2016, according to SI.com.
On a live broadcast on ESPNU Monday night, he announced he’d be Pac-12-bound. Arizona was one of his final five choices, as he passed on N.C. State, St. John’s, UNC and UNLV.
On his USA Today High School Sports blog Wednesday, Alkins wrote about how Arizona made his decision simple.
“Winning is the only option there,” he wrote in the post. “I saw them lose to Oregon and it was literally like the end of the world there. I love that and I always want to be associated with winners. Coach (Sean) Miller told me with team success comes individual success and I agree with that 100 percent. A lot of players worry about who’s gonna be on the roster, but I only worry about winning.
“The rest will take care of itself.”
The standout combo guard certainly has the tools.
Clifton said Alkins’ athleticism and size for his position will continue to make him a tough matchup in college.
“He’s physically imposing but can get in position to shoot the ball,” Clifton said. “You can’t just put a big guy on him. If you guard him with a traditional-sized guard, he’s got the potential to take him to the post and have his way.”
The Holy Rams were 23-13 and preparing for their final regular-season tournament when Alkins announced his decision. They played a murderous national schedule that Clifton said will continue after Alkins’ departure.
Alkins, in just one season, was one of Word of God’s stepping stones back into the spotlight.
“He brought a lot of hype … in his own regard,” Clifton said. “It’s made us relevant again. That’s something that hasn’t been the case since John (Wall) and C.J. (Leslie) and those guys left. We’ve been good around here, but in terms of having a national footprint, we haven’t had one. With the addition of Rawle, we’re back in that conversation again.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan