NEWPORT — As Chris Braley worked out for Columbia University men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith on Monday, there wasn’t quite the sense of urgency there might have been a month ago.
Back then, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard had just completed his junior season at Nokomis Regional High School, leading the Warriors to their first tournament berth after a seven-year absence and earning first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine accolades for himself.
But instead of weighing a multitude of college scholarship offers with decision time perhaps as little as a few months away, Braley is now in less of a hurry these days after deciding to spend the next two academic years at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Braley will enter Phillips Exeter this fall as a high school junior under a practice commonly used by New England prep schools known as “reclassifying,” in which transferring students repeat a year of high school before embarking on their senior year in order to become better prepared for college life.
He’ll now graduate from high school in June 2013.
“The big thing about going to a place like that is preparation,” Braley said. “It’s big preparation for both going on to school and playing at a higher level. For example, talking with people about Ivy League schools, coaches have told me that a lot of kids coming right out of high school get there and are overwhelmed and basically lose their freshman year [basketball-wise] because of the classes. The extra year gives you another year to prepare for that.”
Braley’s road to prep school mirrors that of former Calais High School standout Cam Shorey, who reclassified to Phillips Exeter as a junior last fall and played on the school’s basketball team this winter.
The two now will be teammates next winter, and Shorey already has been helpful in providing Braley his perspective on the Phillips Exeter experience.
“Cam told me about the academic side and the athletic side of being there, the experiences he had and how coach (Jay) Tilton is with him and the other players,” Braley said.
Braley is coming off a junior season at Nokomis where he averaged 25.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while leading Carl Parker’s club to a 12-8 record and an Eastern Maine Class B tournament berth — and he made the most of that tourney spotlight by scoring 43 points and 17 rebounds in an overtime quarterfinal loss to Ellsworth after a 32-point, 15-rebound effort in a preliminary-round victory over Mount Desert Island.
He was a first-team All-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B choice, as well as a member of the Eastern B all-tournament team.
The Warriors’ success this winter and the fact Braley and the entire Nokomis team was due back together next year made his decision to move on to prep school more difficult.
“The tough part was telling the people here that I care most about and who have supported me in everything I’m doing,” said Braley, the son of Scott and Monique Braley. “I know in talking with some people in the community and the other players and my coach there were some gold-ball aspirations next year because we had everyone back. We went in eighth-seeded this year and had a good run against Ellsworth, and with the returning team back we were ready for a good run.
“But most everyone knows now. They’ve said congratulations and understand I’m doing what was best for me. And they’ll still be good next year.”
Phillips Exeter competes as a member of the New England Prep School Athletic Conference, with its basketball alumni often moving on to high-level academic and athletic universities such as found in the Ivy League or similarly minded conferences.
That coincides with Braley’s basketball goals.
“What I want to do is develop and then maybe go to an Ivy League-level school and be a main guy, or go to a higher-level basketball school that still has strong academics and be a contributor there,” he said.
Braley is about to embark on a new training regimen that involves one strength-training session on most days each week as well as two basketball workouts a day. He’s also playing an AAU basketball schedule that will have him traveling most weekends through mid-summer.
“What’s been the knock is the defense,” said Braley. “I need to work on my lateral ability and quickness but there’s only so much you can do about that. I’ve just got to learn to guard top-level athletes, knowing all the angles and those types of things. Coaches have said that if I can do that I can play at a high level.”
Veteran Vikings eye EM repeat
The Caribou High School girls tennis team won its third Eastern Maine Class B championship in seven years last spring, going undefeated until Falmouth defeated the Vikings in the state title match.
And coach John Habeeb’s club — with six of its top eight players back — figure to be right back in the postseason mix this year.
The Vikings are led by senior Jenna Selander, who reached the state singles quarterfinals last spring after being the only player statewide to win a set against Falmouth in team competition when she nearly knocked off top-seeded Analise Kump before dropping a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) match that lasted more than three hours.
“Jenna should be one of the top seeds in the state this year,” said Habeeb.
Classmate Laura Collins and junior Carlee Pinette also return at second and third singles, with Collins advancing to the state singles Round of 16 last spring.
Sophomore Ashley Richards and junior Katie Keaton move up from second doubles to first doubles this spring, with sophomore Alexa Massey and senior Aly Michaud — a starter two years ago — to play second doubles.
“We’re a year older, the girls have that experience, and they’re playing pretty hard,” Habeeb said. “I’m optimistic.”
Caribou is scheduled to host John Bapst of Bangor in its season opener Saturday, but whether the Vikings will be able to host the meet at its new six-court, on-campus facility remains to be seen in the aftermath of late-melting snow as well as additional snowfall predicted for the area Wednesday.
Caribou has held some outdoor practices on the city-owned courts where it played its home matches during previous years, but is lagging behind its more southern counterparts in preseason court time.
“Hopefully the late start doesn’t hurt us,” said Habeeb. “We want to be playing our best at the end of the season, and we’re set up for that because the girls are eager.”
Caribou expects to be challenged by the likes of Camden Hills of Rockport and Mount Desert Island for top Eastern B honors again this spring.
“I’m not sure they lost a whole lot, either,” Habeeb said. “This year is probably going to be like last year.”