Following a season in which Columbus Independence, a basketball powerhouse in the 1990s, underwent a 2-19 record, the talented but underachieving senior group had dealt with a great deal of adversity. Toward the end of the season, Independence was listed alongside Brookhaven High School as the two high schools the Columbus City School board had recommended to close at the end of the year. While Independence would eventually survive the recommended closing (Brookhaven was not so lucky), seniors Hassan Dawkins, Malik Breckenridge, and John Pope each made college commitments on Wednesday.
Dawkins (6'2 SG) and Pope (6'1 SG) each committed to Salem International University, a Division II program in West Virginia, while Breckenridge (6' PG) decided on Wilberforce University, a NAIA and HBCU program in southwest Ohio.
While Independence had considerable talent on the roster this past season, the Sixers were met with hardship early on as Dawkins suffered a seizure during the third game of the year in a loss at Eastmoor Academy. As the Sixers would skid for the next two weeks following Dawkins' injury, Independence would shock the city with an 81-77 win at home vs. rival Marion-Franklin on Jan. 8. The rest of the season would not go so smoothy for Independence, as the Sixers would lose 11 of its next 12 games to close out the season.
As the trio of seniors have worked extremely hard since the end of a turbulent season, Dawkins, Pope and Breckenridge get a fresh start at the college level. I had a chance to speak with Dawkins and Breckenridge earlier Wednesday to get a closer look into the recruiting process and how each guard seems themselves fitting in with their new programs.
Interview with Hassan Dawkins
Question: When did Salem International start recruiting you and what made you feel like that was the place for you to be?
Dawkins: Salem started recruiting me about two months ago. I was already sitting on a Division I NAIA offer from Lindenwood, but when Salem offered me, the coaches told me about the other recruits coming in and how they feel my game can fit in their system. Also, the university is not too far from home. I didn't want to go too far so it just fell into place for me.
Question: When did SIU start recruiting John (Pope) and how will it feel to be able to share the college experience with a close friend and high school teammate?
Dawkins: They started recruiting Pope some weeks ago. I think sharing that college experience with a close friend and high school teammate will be interesting and I'm looking forward to it. I have somebody to grind with and keep working with, and also reminding me what we came here for.
Question: This past season was obviously difficult for not only you, but for Independence as a whole with the recommended closure coming toward the end of the season, what did you learn about yourself during that whole process?
Dawkins: I learned that I'm hard on myself and that when I'm not focused, nothing will go right for me. I blame a lot of our adversity on me and my injuries, but it was a lesson learned. I'm just glad I get another chance to play ball and on a scholarship at that. That's all I wanted out of my four years in high school.
Question: What types of qualities will you bring to Salem International's program?
Dawkins: I'm coachable, I play hard and I always play to win. I'm a good teammate, I always want to see my teammates do good. I'm a good scorer, and I feel like that's the best part of my game and what Salem likes about me.
Question: How did it feel to see your fellow classmates and I-High alumni come together to fight hard to keep the school open?
Dawkins: It was very humbling. Me myself, I'm not an Independence guy, but I didn't want to see the school close, and I admired them for all of the hard work they did to keep the school open. Nobody in the class of 2014 wanted to have the experience of not having a high school to go back to after graduation.
While Dawkins and Pope will move on to the Division II level at Salem International, Breckenridge has chosen a different path at Wilberforce. Let's see what the senior point guard had to say about his decision, his senior year at Independence, and what he expects going forward.
Interview with Malik Breckenridge
Question: You made your decision alongside Hassan and John today, how does it feel to be committed to a college?
Breckenridge: It feels good, a true blessing to have the opportunity to continue doing what i love while getting a free education. Can't beat that!
Question: I feel like you've flown under the radar in Columbus these last few years. What are you looking to prove at the next level?
Breckenridge: I want to prove that I can play at the highest level. That it doesn't matter where you start, but where you finish! I think it's easy to have the motivation because I wasn't recruited heavily and I still want to make it to the top college level.
Question: What are the greatest strengths to your game. and how will you fit in with the Wilberforce's system?
Breckenridge: I think my greatest strength is that I can do a little bit of everything. I love to get my teammates involved offensively, and I can knock down shots from anywhere. My favorite part of the game though, is to force steals, that's what always gets me fired up. Wilberforce is looking for a true point guard that can knock down shots and defend, and I feel that sums up my game perfectly.
Question: After a turbulent senior season that included the school district announcing a recommended closure of I-High, how did it feel to see your classmates and fellow alumni come together to keep the school open?
Breckenridge: It was a powerful movement, man. It was the greatest feeling when we got the good news back that we had won the fight and kept the school open. I felt like I made a difference, especially being the senior class president. It's like there is a part of me, that is greater than any basketball play I've made, left there at I-High. I'll tell my kids and grandkids about that story for sure!
Hughes commits to Wittenberg, Finch and Cornish decide on Central State
First Team All-Columbus City League point guard Jahmal Hughes (5'9/Eastmoor Academy) committed to Wittenberg University (Division III) to play both basketball and football on Tuesday. Hughes, a three-sport athlete, is also a member of Eastmoor's National Honor Society, which made a major difference in the 5-foot-9 guard racking up academic scholarships to cover his tuition at Wittenberg. One of the City League's clutch shooters, Hughes looks to make an early impact at Wittenberg both on the gridiron and on the hardwood. Hughes is coming off a successful senior season in which he helped lead Eastmoor to a 20-7 record and a Division II district title.
Walnut Ridge point guard Dymiere Finch and Africentric shooting guard Akil Cornish both committed to Division II Central State last Thursday. Finch and Cornish, both at 6-foot-2, are bigger guards, that will add versatile strengths to the Marauder program. While Finch is a flashy playmaker in transition, Cornish is one of the state's top three-point shooters, a dead-eye perimeter assassin that impressed greatly at the Triple Double Prospects Unsigned Senior Showcase on March 30. Expected to join Finch and Cornish at Central State is Northland shooting guard Ty Hairston, who is finishing up his senior year in Raleigh, North Carolina. Finch and Cornish were integral parts to teams that won City League South division titles, Finch in 2012 and 2014, and Cornish in 2013.
Hummer commits to Air Force
Just over a month after helping lead Upper Arlington to a state runner-up finish, Golden Bears point guard Danny Hummer committed to Air Force last Thursday. As Hummer has overcome a nagging hip injury that set the 6-foot-1 guard back heading into his senior year, the Air Force commit looks to be back at the level he was prior to getting injured.
One of Ohio's elite point guards heading into high school, Hummer would be plagued with the hip injury for a great deal of his career, which not only affected his on-court play, but his recruiting as well. As Hummer and senior teammate Kevin Vannatta helped lead the Golden Bears to a surprising state final finish, Hummer's recruiting began to really heat up at the beginning of spring.
While many felt Hummer was a great fit for Division II Ashland, the confident guard never lost sight of his goal to play Division I basketball, and with last Thursday's commitment, Hummer is one step closer to having his dreams come true.