From a selfish, Eastern Maine basketball observer perspective, the recent decision by Nokomis of Newport basketball star Chris Braley to complete his high school career at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire prompts a modicum of disappointment.
That’s only because fans won’t get the chance to watch the highly touted Division I prospect put on more postseason shows like he did this February, when the junior guard scored 43 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the Eastern Maine Class B quarterfinals after a 31-point, 15-rebound performance in the preliminary round.
No doubt there’s a touch of bittersweetness at Nokomis. The Warriors were set to return their entire team next season after emerging from a string of eight straight sub-.500 years this winter behind Braley — who certainly would have been a frontrunner to become the state’s 2012 Mr. Basketball.
But who can really argue with his decision?
He’s already established himself as one of the best players in the state through high school play and in AAU circles.
And while the high-scoring Braley aspires to play at a significant level of Division I college basketball one day, he also aspires to compete at a high academic level — coaches from Ivy League schools Brown, Columbia and Yale already have made trips to Newport to watch individual workouts and enhance their recruiting relationships with him.
Competing in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference — one of the top prep school leagues in the nation — will provide Braley the chance to face better basketball competition. Phillips Exeter similarly will challenge him on the academic front.
And prep school financial aid packages often are generous for sought-after student-athletes, meaning the family likely won’t have to empty the wallet to subsidize his Phillips Exeter experience.
So beyond the investment of an additional year of time before he heads off to college — Braley will enter Phillips Exeter via “reclassifying,” in which some students repeat a year of academia before embarking on their senior year in order to become better prepared for college life — his biggest sacrifice will be foregoing the chance to spend his senior year with his lifelong classmates.
It’s a considerable sacrifice, to be sure, but one Braley, his family and others in similar situations around the country have chosen to make with a bigger picture in mind.
Such early departures from the Maine high school athletic scene are relatively rare. Andy Bedard played his senior year on the postgraduate team at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield after scoring 53 points to lead Mountain Valley of Rumford past Camden-Rockport in the 1994 Class B state final. Bedard went on to play at Boston College before transferring to the University of Maine.
More recently, Cam Shorey opted to reclassify to Phillips Exeter last spring after his junior year at Calais High School. Shorey played on the prep school’s basketball team this winter and will be one of Braley’s teammates next season. In addition, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Shorey also is drawing attention from Division I football programs and likely will return to that sport at Phillips Exeter next fall after a two-year hiatus.
Where any teenager’s future will lead is hard to predict, so all anyone can do is put him or herself in the best position to succeed be it in the classroom or the athletic arena.
For that Eastern Maine schoolboy basketball fans should continue to root for the likes of Cam Shorey and Chris Braley.