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By: Eric Van Dril | Dec. 8, 2016
The chip on Urban Prep-Englewood’s shoulder is large.
The Lions’ desire to step out of the shadows and onto the city’s grandest stage is just as big.
“We have something to prove,” junior forward Jayden Gasby said. “We’re not a Simeon. We’re not a Morgan Park. But we’re just as good as them if we play hard. I think we really have something to prove. We’ve been the underdogs since I’ve been here. People have been doubting us. I think we have a real big chip on our shoulder, and we’re going to prove (ourselves) this year.”
There is one way to do that.
Urban Prep-Englewood must win the White-South. Doing so will earn the Lions a place in the Red-South — a goal sophomore point guard Fred Cleveland II said the team has had ever since it began off-season conditioning.
“We want to be known as a great team. We’re trying to take a small school (and make it) a big school,” Cleveland said. The desire to move up to the Red-South “is about … getting exposure, and proving ourselves.”
It doesn’t take long to recognize that the Lions have a high level of talent when you watch them play. Urban Prep-Englewood’s personnel is a big part of why it has started its season with six-straight wins, including a 70-53 victory over Longwood on Thursday, Dec. 8.
Gasby, a do-it-all forward, particularly stands out.
He’s solidly built at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, and can do everything on the court. He scored 19 points against Longwood. He hit a pair of 3s, led the fast break, snared 12 rebounds, distributed the ball, attacked off of the dribble, defended well and played with a little bit of an edge.
Fred Cleveland Sr., Urban Prep-Englewood’s head coach, called Gasby “the face of the program.”
“Jayden is so underrated it’s unbelievable. (It’s) because we’re at Urban Prep,” Fred Cleveland Sr. said. “Jayden is just as good as the kids out here in his class (2018). He’s a smart kid getting it done in the classroom. He’s a triple-double waiting to happen for us.”
Fred Cleveland Sr. continued: “(Gasby) wants to get out and he wants to prove he’s just as good as these kids at these bigger schools. They’re not even a fraction (as important) as what he is to our program. They’re just at a big school. He’s averaging like 16 and 10. …I can put him at (point guard). I can put him all over the floor. His versatility is crazy.”
It seems Gasby, who plays with Team Rose on the AAU circuit, has the talent level to play at one of the city’s powers, but he chose to attend Urban Prep. He did so because he wanted to play against the city’s top players, he said, instead of with them.
“I wanted to be able to get this school where it needed to be,” Gasby said. “I trusted the coaching staff, and all (of my) teammates.”
Gasby is Urban Prep-Englewood’s leader.
Fred Cleveland II, who plays with the Mac Irvin Fire on the AAU circuit, is the Lions’ point guard. Senior captain Jehru Towels (11 points against Longwood) plays alongside Cleveland. They’re joined in the starting-five by 6-foot-7 big man Jace Lee, who finished with nine points and 10 rebounds on Dec. 8, and junior Eddie Anderson.
Seniors Judah Phillips and Tyriq White both played well off of the bench against Longwood.
Urban Prep-Englewood (6-0, 2-0) got off to a slow start against the Panthers (1-6, 0-2). The Lions trailed 22-14 at the end of the first quarter, but they amped up their man-to-man defense and used it to outscore Longwood 29-6 in the second quarter.
Their defense sped up the game. It led to turnovers and quick shots, which Urban Prep-Englewood gobbled up before taking off down the court.
“We have a really good defense,” Gasby said. “We have a lot of guys that play defense. … We get down and dirty. We do what needs to be done.”
The Lions can also be devastating in transition. That was evident in the second quarter against Longwood.
Urban Prep-Englewood was able to get into the paint regularly, which opened up opportunities both at the rim and beyond the arc.
Gasby scored 11 points in the second quarter, and five other Lions also scored at least once.
“We can shoot the ball. We can finish,” Fred Cleveland Sr. said, of Urban Prep-Englewood’s success in transition. “(The team is) guard dominant, so there are going to be some good decisions made. In the past, we’d steal a ball and we couldn’t do (anything) with it. This team here, they like to play with each other. I get after them every single day. We have two-and-a-half hour practices. An hour and 40 minutes is strictly defense. I love this group.”
Urban Prep-Englewood will play Julian, a top contender in the White-South, in its next conference game. The Lions are scheduled to play at Julian at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
A win against the Jaguars, who lost 45-44 to Carver on Thursday, would be an important step for Urban Prep-Englewood to take in its quest to join the Public League’s best teams on the city’s biggest stage.
Moving to the Red is important for the Lions to “experience new things, so everybody will be able to get looked at (by college coaches) and play the top teams,” Gasby said. “And show that we are one of the best in the city.”
Junior D’vonte Cole led Longwood in scoring with 19 points. Charles Campbell finished with 15. Guard Terrance Lacey added 12.