The crowds at the ProScholars Athletic tournament can get a little spoiled.
Sandwiched between dozens of college basketball coaches and star-hunting fans, high-level high school basketball players tend to overwhelm the audience with plays typically seen on courts occupied by players earning scholarships -- or contracts. By the fourth game, windmill dunks, alley-oops, crossovers, and high-flying blocks become the norm. The loud shouts from the fans' side turn into a low murmur.
But even a crowd sneakily checking the Eagles-Cowboys score started buzzing when Westtown forward Noah Collier flushed his first putback dunk. And then it came alive with the question about Westtown big man Franck Kepnang:
“He’s a sophomore?”
“He’s 16 going on 20,” one photographer said a few minutes after dodging a blocked shot courtesy of the Cameroon native during Westtown’s 87-50 win over Mercersburg Academy.
Kepnang is a 6-foot-10, 225-pound big man who took up basketball just four years ago. He’s a four-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, ranked No. 16 in his class. He’s begun reeling in offers from Division I programs, including UConn, La Salle, and Vanderbilt.
His play and demeanor sometimes require superlatives. Biggest player on the court. Most energy. Loudest player on the bench when his younger teammates score while closing out a lopsided game.
“He plays hard, 10 out of 10 all the time,” Westtown coach Seth Berger said. “I’ve not had to tell Franck at any point in time, ‘Play hard.’ ... He does a great job of listening, learning, and applying it to the game. ... If he wants to, he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time."
“I want to step on the court and play every game like it’s the last game,” Kepnang said.
Kepnang models his game after NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, similar to Sixers' star Joel Embiid, a fellow Cameroon native.
He likes Embiid’s game, but not enough to root for him when he goes against Westtown grad and Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba.
“Embiid is a good player, I look up to him,” Kepnang said. “But I root for Mo', I kind of have mixed feelings a little bit, I want them both to win, but Embiid is a beast.”
Kepnang was just one of the three Westtown players getting major Division I offers on the floor on Sunday. Collier has a handful of offers (including Temple, St. Joseph’s, Penn State, and UConn) while senior guard Jalen Gaffney has committed to UConn.
Collier has shown steady improvement since his freshman season, when he started seven of 32 games and averaging over 5 points per game.
Collier, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound power forward, says he tries to emulate his playing style after Draymond Green, Kyle Kuzma, and Justin Jackson. He admires Green’s all-around skill set, and Kuzma’s offensive package.
Practicing against former Westtown stars like Bamba, the No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft, Arizona sophomore Brandon Randolph, and Duke freshman wing Cam Reddish, the last few seasons has helped shape his game.
“It’s helped me mature quicker, I’ve gotten stronger, and my IQ has gone up,” Collier said. “The physical stuff is obvious, but it’s definitely the mental edge. How to be aggressive, stuff like that.”
Rivals has Collier as a four-star recruit, ranked No. 95, while ESPN has him No. 46.
He’s helped lead Westtown to an 8-3 start to the season despite missing three key players, including four-star guard John Camden. Collier provides a versatile inside-out game on offense and is making strides on the defensive end, according to coach Seth Berger, who ranks Collier’s offensive skill set as a junior among the best he’s seen.
“Brandon Randolph as a junior, Cam Reddish a junior, Noah Collier is right there as one of the most talented juniors offensively we’ve ever had,” Berger said. “He’s incredibly versatile, he can beat bigger guys with speed and smaller guys with size.”
Collier’s goal is to meet up with Bamba and Reddish again, in the NBA.
“I know I can get there, too,” he said. “I’m expecting the kids to be looking at me the way I was looking at them.”
Gaffney, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound point guard, keeps Westtown’s offense afloat with shot creation for both himself and his teammates. He showed both an ability to shoot from three-point range and also to get to the basket with crossovers and creative finishes.
UConn coach Dan Hurley was in attendance, and saw much of what he’s used to seeing from his three-star pledge.
“We have high expectations for him,” Hurley said. “He’s got great positional size for a point guard, tremendous playmaking and passing ability, he can really shoot the ball. ... He’s really going to be college-ready when we get him.”
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