Iakeem Alston left Baltimore last summer for a two-year stint in Wyoming, where he encountered cowboys, “two feet of snow” and the perfect situation for his basketball career.
At Sheridan (Wyo.) College, the former Dunbar star played a major role as a freshman, starred at several junior-college showcases, and earned a handful of Division I scholarship offers. On Monday, Alston committed to St. Bonaventure, fulfilling his longstanding goal to play DI basketball somewhere on the East Coast.
“I’m very excited,” said Alston, who picked St. Bonaventure over offers from Detroit, Loyola Marymount, North Texas, Seton Hall and Towson, among others. “I’ve got a lot of supporters, a lot of people who have just been with me since Day 1. They’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Alston, who was also recruited by Iowa, Nebraska and Pittsburgh, averaged 8.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 51 percent from the field during the 2012-13 season. His standpoint play for the Generals ensured that he would be a DI prospect and one of the most heavily recruited JUCO players in the country. But ending up somewhere like St. Bonaventure was far from a given when Alston was coming out of Dunbar in 2011.
A 6-foot-2, 175-pound point guard, Alston started his high school career at Douglass but transferred to Dunbar to play for coach Cyrus “Diego” Jones and compete for state titles. The Poets won two Class 1A state championships during Alston’s time on the varsity, and he drew some recruiting interest. But he fell short of NCAA qualifying standards and his “game wasn’t mature.”
“I was still in that one-on-one thing, instead of just being more of a point guard, making everybody happy but still getting mine,” Alston said. “I had to learn how to do it. It definitely helped me get a lot tougher. Douglass, I could do whatever I wanted. Having somebody tell me, ‘No, you can’t do this, no I can’t do that’ made me better. … Coach Diego has been sticking with me through the good and bad.”
After Dunbar, Alston had a short-lived stint at a prep school in Florida that ended when he realized that money was tight and he wasn’t in a better position to qualify. So Alston went to a showcase in New York, drew lots of junior-college interest and eventually landed at Sheridan. The adjustment wasn’t easy.
“It’s a culture shock,” Alston said. “There [were] days I was feeling down, nobody would talk to me. I would just have to deal with it. … [There’s] nothing to do here. It’s boring. The best thing to do here is focus on grades and basketball. You’re either in the library or the gym. This is definitely the perfect situation for me.”
Over the summer, Alston began hearing from college coaches, including several at high-major schools. The coaching staff at St. Bonaventure – an Atlantic-10 program in Western New York – was more persistent than any other suitor. Alston said Mark Schmidt, the head coach, visited him in Wyoming. Alston and his father visited St. Bonaventure last month, liked what they saw of the campus and liked what they heard from the Bonnies’ staff when it came to talks about role and fit.
“It was definitely a good experience for both of us. I enjoyed my stay, he enjoyed his stay. I got a chance to bond with my future teammates. They were good guys,” said Alston, who cited St. Bonaventure’s graduation rate as a major selling point. “The plan is I come in and play 30 minutes, definitely start and make a huge impact on the program and try to make some noise.”
Alston said he’s looking forward to being back on the East Coast for his last two years of college, just five-and-half hours away from home. The past couple years haven’t always been easy, but Alston appreciates how hard he’s had to work to achieve his “dream to go to Division I.”
“Just because you can’t go Division I right away, the JUCO route is the best way sometimes,” he said. “I was thinking, maybe I could set a good example and pave the way for Baltimore guys after me, that could come to this school and just get away from Baltimore. … I’m a positive person, and me coming to Sheridan, it changed me to a better person. I’m glad I made that decision.”