As a freshman, LaQuan Drago tried out for the Kensington High varsity basketball team.

He was cut.

He also tried out for the Tigers’ junior varsity squad.

Same result.

“I got cut from both,” Drago said. “Most people, they get down on themselves, get depressed. But I used it as motivation.”

Now a senior leader, Drago has helped turn Kensington into a team to watch in the Philadelphia Public League.

The 6-foot-2 center was a difference-maker in the Tigers’ 69-61 victory over George Washington in the Eagles’ gym on Monday afternoon. He generated 12 points with eight rebounds and scored five in a row to blunt the home team’s hopes for a comeback midway in the fourth quarter.

For the season, Drago is averaging 14.6 points for Kensington, which has a 4-4 record.

Kensington's LaQuan Drago grabs a rebound with teammate Niheem Huskey in front of George Washington's Kyier Moore during Monday's Public League game at George Washington.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Kensington's LaQuan Drago grabs a rebound with teammate Niheem Huskey in front of George Washington's Kyier Moore during Monday's Public League game at George Washington.

“He rebounds, he plays good D, he listens,” Kensington coach Jason Skovronski said of Drago. “He has a great basketball IQ. He communicates to the team. He’s a leader.”

Drago said he knew why he didn’t make the Tigers’ varsity or junior varsity squads as a freshman. He had some height. He had some skills. He had some feel for the game.

But he also was 248 pounds.

“I challenged him,” Skovronski said. “He was overweight. He knew it. I told him to get in the weight room, to diet.

“He lost 60 pounds between his freshman and sophomore year.”

Drago, who now weighs 207, said he was determined after his freshman year to change his body and his life.

“When I was younger, I always got bullied because of my weight,” Drago said. “I used that anger that was inside of me, I used it toward something positive.

“I was going to the gym every day and when I couldn’t get to the gym I got a basketball and just played in my basement, dribbling.

“I watched a lot of videos, anything I could to get my basketball IQ up and my skills up.”

Drago said he also changed his diet, cutting out fast food.

“Low-carb foods, meats, fruits, vegetables,” Drago said his diet. “Just healthy stuff, that’s all I try to eat now.”

Drago is a top student with a 3.7 grade point average. He had all A’s in his last marking period, except for a B in English.

He has been accepted to Kutztown University, where he plans to double major in marketing and graphic design. He hasn’t decided if he will try to play college basketball.

“Each and every one of us on this team has the potential to play college ball,” Drago said. “I see greatness in this team.”

Drago, who lives around 8th and Diamond near the Temple University campus, has been a regular at the Columbia North YMCA on Broad Street.

“I played at the YMCA with people who played overseas, All-Pub players,” Drago said. “Some at the YMCA were doubting me when I was first starting to get in shape. But I used that as motivation.”

Drago’s defense, rebounding, and passing are key factors for the Tigers. The steady senior does a lot of the dirty work for a team with three talented junior guards in Niheem Huskey, Chris Smalls, and Aaron Rosario.

Drago also can score. When George Washington, which entered play with an 8-1 record and a five-game winning streak, rallied from 15 down to within 51-47, Drago led the counter charge with a traditional three-point play and a layup to push the lead to 56-47.

“It’s not just me, it’s all of us,” Drago said. “We all put our two cents in for this team.”