By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One school’s loss is another school’s gain. In the time it took to put together a story on Bluefield senior Lykel Collier being ruled ineligible by the WVSSAC, the talented point guard has found a new school to call home.
Collier, who led Bluefield to two straight Class AA state championship games, and one state title, has transferred to New Hope Christian Academy in Thomasville, N.C.
Located around 15 minutes from Winston-Salem, New Hope was established in 2011.
New Hope head coach Mike Shaw is excited to add Collier to his team.
“What I see in him is he is a great player,” Shaw said. “He is somebody we are looking for, somebody who could run the team and he is just a seasoned guard. I needed another seasoned guard who knows how to win.”
Collier knows winning. Collier, who is expected to start classes in the next few days, led the Beavers to a 51-5 record over the last two seasons, including the Class AA state title in March.
“I have watched a lot of film on him,” Collier said. “He has won a lot of games. He is a good little player and a good kid too.”
A two-time All-Class AA performer, was expected to be one of five starters back for Bluefield this season, but Collier was ruled ineligible by the WVSSAC for his senior campaign after repeating the eighth grade.
Shaw learned of Collier’s situation and did some digging even before Collier went to North Carolina last Friday for a tryout.
“Before he even came down here I had watched some tape of him,” said Shaw, whose squad finished around 24-9 last season. “I had checked him out. I found a quite a few games online so I had already seen him on tape.
“He just solidified that when he showed up here. He is a good addition to our team, he really is.”
Collier, according his mother, Kelinda Gray, and local attorney, Brian Cochran, had other options to pursue, but all came with risks.
Instead, Collier was able to find a new home in Thomasville, putting on a patented Collier performance in the tryout for The Phoenix as a pass-first point guard.
“I have got one other guard and I like having two,” Shaw said. “I have a couple of young guards, but they don’t understand winning basketball yet.
“Lykel understands how to get the ball to the right place where his teammates need it to score, and he is an unselfish player.”
It’s not just athletics that attracted Shaw to Collier. A solid ‘A’ and ‘B’ student at Bluefield, Collier brings intelligence, the ability to perform in the classroom and a reputation that any parent would be proud of from their son.
“It isn’t that easy to find a guy with good grades and he is just a good kid and can play too,” Shaw said. “You don’t see that all the time, usually something is going on somewhere.
“Everybody I have talked to up there talks so highly of him, and they have been telling me I have got a great kid coming down here. Everybody there loves him.”
While Collier has faced the best players West Virginia has to offer on the hardwood, the competition will be amped up in North Carolina.
The first opponent on the slate on Nov. 2 is against Oak Hill Academy, and not the ‘red’ team. The slate is full of games like that, as The Phoenix travels much of the Southeast, including tournaments in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina, and individual games with such schools as Huntington Prep in West Virginia and Mountain Mission from Grundy, Va.
That will provide an ideal opportunity for Collier to test his skills against top-notch talent with Division I aspirations, which can only help with his desire to play at the college level.
“Most definitely, he is going to be seen,” said Shaw, who has already had college coaches and scouts attending practices which are currently underway at the school.
Add his natural talent — even though he is only 5-foot-8 — and his academic success, and Shaw figures he’ll have an opportunity to achieve is dream of playing college basketball.
“That is the good thing about Lykel,” said Shaw, whose athletic director at New Hope is former Wake Forest standout Delaney Rudd, who is the coach of the girls team for The Phoenix, who are ranked among the 10 teams in the nation in preseason polls. “He has good grades so that opens up a lot of good schools for him.
“There is the Ivy League and schools like that looking for kids that can play and qualify to go to their schools.”
New Hope has two teams, much like Oak Hill, which has the nationally-known ‘gold’ team that has produced such NBA standouts as Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Ron Mercer and Brandon Jennings — and a ‘red’ team that is a little below that level, but still full of talented athletes worthy of high-level competition.
“We have a lot of young guys on the other team, there are also juniors on there and two seniors, that is kind of how we made that team,” Shaw said. “We did it like that because with so many budget cuts, a lot of schools have cut out JV team. The only teams that team can play are varsity teams.”
Collier, who will play on the highest level team, will be surrounded by players from across the country and world, including Poland, Lithuania, Senegal, along with Nebraska and he will bring a connection to a new state.
“We have got a little bit of everybody,” Shaw said. “We have a kid from Poland, we had two kids from Lithuania that are really good, kids from Senegal, Nebraska and now West Virginia.
“We have our share of kids. It is funny sometimes to listen to them ask each other questions about their countries.”
While Shaw isn’t promising that Collier will start for The Phoenix when the season begins, he will definitely be seeing plenty of the basketball.
“He definitely has that ability, he is learning our system and what we do, but he stands out pretty good,” Shaw said. “He is going to see a lot of time.
“He is going to see a lot of playing time. Right now he has got to learn what we are doing, but he didn’t come in to play on that other team.”
Collier will be missed, not only by his mother and brother, Latrell, a standout performer at Bluefield Middle School, but the entire community that has supported the Beavers to so much success over the last two seasons.
No one knows that better than Shaw, who may have found a new recruiting ground for his program.
“I heard everybody hates to see him go,” Shaw said. “Hopefully he can keep that alive for you, he seems to be a really good kid too.
“If you have anymore like that, just let me know.”
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at email@example.com