5 Rising High School Basketball Stars in Springfield
Springfield’s high school basketball scene is enjoying some much-deserved time in the limelight as several seniors head off to play Division I college basketball, including these five up and coming players.
By Ettie Berneking
Meet a Player
After 30 years of coaching high school basketball, Greenwood High School coach Darren Taylor has a new reason to celebrate. Last year was the first time one of his players was recruited by a Division I college team. That player was Aminu Mohammed, a 6’5” small forward, five-star recruit who went on to sign with Georgetown University. But Mohammed wasn’t the only senior in Springfield to be recruited by a DI school. Anton Brookshire and Trevon Brazile are headed to play at Mizzou, and Isaac Haney will join the Missouri State Bears. Overall, 2020 was an impressive year for Springfield’s high school basketball scene. Learn more about these Springfield stars before they make the leap to college ball.
High School: Greenwood High School | Position: Small forward | College: Georgetown University
At just 18, Aminu Mohammed has already seen his name appear in ESPN and The Washington Post, and on CBS and NBC. Starting in fall 2021, his name will be on the roster of the Georgetown Hoyas Division 1 basketball team. At 6'5" and averaging 34.2 points and 17.5 rebounds per game, Mohammed was named Gatorade's 2018–2019 Missouri Boys Basketball Player of the Year, was the No. 3-ranked shooting guard in his class and quickly became a five-star recruit on the college basketball scene—the highest rank possible.
Playing college ball has always been a dream for Mohammed, who grew up watching the Lakers back home in Lagos, Nigeria. His older brother, Missouri State forward Kabir Mohammed, was already deep into the game and started bringing Mohammed to the court when he was just a kid. After Kabir moved to the United States for school as a teenager, Mohammed decided to follow suit.
“As soon as the ball comes to my hands, I can see how a person is moving and try to make a pass,”— Aminu Mohammed
At 14 years old, Mohammed signed up for a basketball training program, and moved to the United States and in with Shawn Harmon, the man who became his guardian. Harmon, who has helped mentor several young men and players, had actually been Kabir's guardian as well, and he started training and coaching Mohammed soon after he arrived in the United States. “He’s an athletic player,” Harmon says of Mohammed. The transition to playing American basketball came pretty easily to the Nigerian player, who says: “American basketball is the ultimate. Any skills these players have will be second to none.”
With the ultimate goal of playing for the NBA, Mohammed joined an AAU team in Hampton, Virginia, and later joined the team at Greenwood after he and Harmon moved to Springfield. Passing comes naturally to Mohammed. “As soon as the ball comes to my hands, I can see how a person is moving and try to make a pass,” he says. “But I have a whole lot of weaknesses. Everything is in development, and you’re always trying to grow.”
As he racked up points on the court, the college coaches who often attend AAU tournaments started noticing Mohammed. Harmon says the senior received around 20 offers to play college ball. Mohammed eventually signed with Georgetown. He says he didn’t have a dream team, but he knew he wanted to play for a larger program that wouldn’t keep him on the bench. “I wanted a team that played a style that’s uptempo,” he says. “One that does it the way the NBA does. Coming from Nigeria, it’s a blessing to be able to play in college. It’s everything you’ve thought about, and you didn’t know if it would happen.”
High School: Greenwood High School | Position: Power forward | College: Naboya had not selected an offer by press time.
Much like Mohammed, Victory Naboya moved to the United States from Benin, Nigeria, when he was 14 years old. The first time he got his hands on a basketball was when his mom, who works at a port in Nigeria, brought one home with her. “A friend who was really tall and who plays basketball on the [Nigerian] national team came over and said he thought I was going to be tall and should learn to play,” Naboya says. After that, basketball became a kind of safe haven for Naboya. “Playing basketball takes me away from everything else I’m going through,” he says. “Basketball has been everything for me.”
After Naboya moved to the United States., he eventually moved in with Harmon and started playing ball with Mohammed. For a long time, basketball was just a pastime for Naboya, but in 2016 that changed.
“I don’t focus on things that are going to sway me from my goal of getting better each day,”— Victory Naboya
That was the year Villanova beat North Carolina to win the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Game, and Naboya watched every minute of it. “That was the day I learned about college basketball,” he says. “Seeing the excitement and joy of winning the championship; I knew I wanted to be in that situation one day.”
Over the last year, Harmon says Naboya has blossomed as a player. He began playing at Greenwood in 2020, which Naboya says helped him on the court. “There might not be a lot of media attention, but basketball in Springfield is competitive,” he says. To get more exposure and attention from college programs, Naboya, like many Springfield seniors who dream of playing at the collegiate level, joined an AAU team and began playing in tournaments. The annual Peach Jam held in Atlanta, Georgia, was the most intense tournament he experienced. “You go there and you see college coaches and NBA players everywhere,” he says. “One time, we were about to go watch a team play, and I was walking to the gym and Kevin Durant was walking out. We bumped shoulders, and I looked up and it was Kevin. It was a big shock. We had a handshake, and for five minutes, I couldn’t realize what had happened.”
As colleges started sending Naboya offers, he, like Mohammed, let Harmon field questions. “I don’t focus on things that are going to sway me from my goal of getting better each day,” he says. “For me, I just control what I can, and everything else will fall in place.” By January of 2021, Naboya received offers from Towson University, Bryant University and Stony Brook University, and his hopes of playing for the NBA one day now seem a little more within reach. For Harmon, who has helped coach and mentor the two Nigerian players, seeing both young men reach their goal of playing in college is what he sees as his reward. “It’s a blessing,” he says. “The decision that you make can be a career changer for you.”
High School: Kickapoo High School |Position: Guard | College: Missouri State University
Isaac Haney’s love of basketball runs deep. The Kickapoo senior jokes that he was born at a basketball game. Both of Haney’s older sisters played basketball, and Haney credits his confidence on the court to them. He says by the time he was 2 he could dribble, and he spent most of his youth shooting hoops with his sisters in the backyard. “They did a really good job showing me how the game is supposed to be played,” Haney says of his sisters. “They would come home from their games and talk about their struggles. I would listen and soak it all in.”
“Ultimately, it's your career, and it's going to be what you make of it.”— Isaac Haney
Early on, it was Haney’s sisters and father who helped shape his skills on the court. Eventually, he joined the AAU team Yanders Law coached by Robert Yanders. Summer play with an AAU team is where Haney says he’s able to really craft his skills on the court. When school starts back up again, that’s his time to relax and have fun. “When you’re playing for your high school team, it’s about school pride and trying to be entertainment to those around you,” he says. One reason players like Haney join AAU teams is to get time in the spotlight. “In the Midwest, you have to make yourself stand out,” he says. “It’s amazing. If we were closer to the East or West Coast, most of the kids around here would be blowing up.”
When it came time to start fielding college offers, Haney let Coach Yanders take the lead. He eventually signed with the Missouri State Bears. “It was a family atmosphere,” Haney says of the team Coach Dana Ford has built. “I felt really comfortable, and it would give me the best opportunity to have an impact as soon as possible and get better.” The recruitment period can be stressful for high school players even after they’ve accepted an offer. It’s why coaches and mentors like Yanders and Harmon step in to be players’ surrogates with college coaches and reps. It’s a way to let the students be students and keep them focused on their school work and their skills on the court. After Haney signed with the Bears, he got a text from Coach Ford that he still has saved on his phone. “He texted me this, ‘Ear plugs in and blindfolds on.’ It means don’t listen to anyone else. Ultimately, it’s your career, and it’s going to be what you make of it,” Haney says.
High School: Kickapoo High School | Position: Point guard | College: University of Missouri
For Anton Brookshire, basketball is a way to channel his competitive energy. The Kickapoo senior fell in love with the sport at age 8 and, from then on, was hooked. “I love the competitiveness,” he says. “Even in school, I like being the first one done with the work.”
In some ways, Brookshire was destined for basketball. His uncle is Robert Yanders, the coach of AAU team Yanders Law, and Brookshire has been playing with him his whole life. “I’m always learning from him, and he made it more fun,” Brookshire says. “He would tell me the stuff I needed to get better at and the stuff I didn’t always want to hear, but it’s the truth. He’s been a big part of my growth.”
“I wanted to go for the place that would fit me best. I just want to be the best person I can be.”— Anton Brookshire
Brookshire says he always knew he wanted to play college basketball. He was a big Duke fan, but now that he’s signed with Mizzou, he says his loyalty has moved to the Tigers. Growing up, Brookshire aspired to be like some of basketball’s legends including Michael Jordan—whose fadeaways still inspire him—and point guards Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving.
On the court, Brookshire says his goal is to bring leadership, and he says the Springfield basketball scene keeps getting more competitive. When his first college offer came in, he was in the car with his Uncle Rob. “I was so excited,” Brookshire says. “But I wanted to keep a straight head. I had lots of talks with my family to figure out which [school] was the best fit for me.” With several offers to choose from, Brookshire ended up signing with Mizzou. It wasn’t so much that he’d be able to start his freshman year that drew the senior to Columbia. “I wanted to go for the place that would fit me best,” he says. “I just want to be the best person I can be.”
High School: Kickapoo High School | Position: Small forward and power forward | College: University of Missouri
Brookshire isn’t alone in joining the Mizzou Tigers in 2021. His teammate Trevon Brazile will be joining him on the court. But unlike Brookshire, Haney, Naboya and Mohammed, Brazile’s first love wasn’t basketball. The Kickapoo senior actually started off playing football. He was a wide receiver and quarterback until his sophomore year when Coach Robert Yanders saw potential. It was Brazile’s height that Yanders was drawn to. At 6'8" the young forward towers over most other players.
“After I got that first offer, it was like a wow moment. I could actually do this. It’s an unreal feeling knowing you can make it.”— Trevon Brazile
But making the switch to basketball meant learning a whole new set of skills. Brazile found himself in the gym almost every day. “I kind of grew my own confidence being in the gym and working on stuff,” he says.” When he joined Yanders Law, Coach Robby sat him down. “He said if I wanted to take this seriously, he could help,” Brazile says. “It’s exciting more than anything.” Knowing college scouts were in the stands made each game more important for Brazile. “If you play hard, they’ll like you,” he says. But it isn’t his own career that he’s enjoyed watching. “It’s exciting because you get to see the people you’ve been working with succeed,” he says. “You see all of them shine."
When Brazile got his first college offer, he called up his sister in North Carolina. “She helped raise me, and I’ve always looked at her as a guardian,” he says. “After I got that first offer, it was like a wow moment. I could actually do this. It’s an unreal feeling knowing you can make it.”
Now Brazile is looking forward to wearing jersey No. 23 for the Mizzou Tigers. During the recruitment process, the senior slowly built a relationship with the team and its coaches. He says he liked the program and the family atmosphere he found there. And, for upcoming high school players, Brazile has some advice: “Take basketball seriously. If it’s something you love, put all the hard work into it.”
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