Nazareth hoops duo picks Manhattan College

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Samson Usilo’s college choice was made a lot easier by Nazareth teammate Samson Akilo.

Manhattan College was already on the top of Usilo’s list of suitors even before Akilo received a scholarship offer from the Bronx school after the Hoop Group Elite Camp. That made the choice clearer for the two close friends and fellow Nigerian immigrants, who had always hoped to go to college together.

Both rising seniors verbally committed to play basketball at Manhattan last week. They wanted to continue playing together and were impressed with Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello and his staff.

“When I heard they offered him and Manhattan was on the top of my list, I was like. ‘Ok. I don’t think we should wait.’” said Usilo, an athletic 6-foot-4 wing.

He picked the Jaspers over Hofstra and Quinnipiac, and Akilo, a 6-foot-8 forward, also had an offer from Long Island University. The two, who both play their travel ball with Riverside, didn’t think they would get to take the court together again after their senior season with Nazareth. Now their bond won’t have to be broken.

“Very close, not just close as a friend, but like a brother,” Usilo, 17, said. “Anytime any of us is down we always try to encourage each other.”

Usilo, a first team All-Brooklyn selection by the Courier, came to America a year earlier than Akilo. He initially enrolled in a school in North Carolina before coming to live with his aunt in Brooklyn and picking Nazareth. Usilo and Akilo had met just once at a Nigerian basketball camp has youngsters before being reunited in Brooklyn. Earning college scholarships was a dream come true for both.

“My parents are happy right now. I made them very proud,” Akilo said. “It really means a lot to me as a Nigerian.”

The duo has helped the Kingsmen reach new heights. They led Nazareth to the Catholic Class B city title as sophomores and this year the Kingsmen claimed the league’s Class A crown. By doing so it became the first school to win a consecutive catholic city championship after moving up a classification.

Usilo averaged 20 points per game last season to lead the team. He possesses tremendous leaping ability and has improved his ball handing and shooting each year. Akilo was a presence in the paint on both ends, averaging 11 rebounds per contest. Nazareth coach Todd Jamison believes the two Samson’s chose wisely with Manhattan and are in good hands with the staff.

“I think they will be fine,” he said. “It’s not too high it’s not too low. I expect them to play really well.”

Jamison couldn’t be happier to see two great kids and players get the situation they hoped for and continue their bond on and off the court.

“I don’t think they thought it was going to happen, but Akilo started playing really well over the last couple of weeks and it happened.” Jamison said. “It became real.”

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.

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