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High School sports

Edmondson grad Kani Coles commits to Central Florida

Kani Coles knew he was headed to junior college. So did Kevin Norris. But that realization never stopped "Coach Stink" – a Lake Clifton graduate and then-Southern Cal assistant – from keeping tabs on Coles as he approached graduation last year from Edmondson.

"I knew that he wouldn't forget about me," Coles said. "I waited and I continued to develop on the court and off the court. He came back like he said he would."

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Norris, now an assistant under Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida, came back to Coles after the former Red Storm star's freshman season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College. Coles rewarded that loyalty by committing to the Knights on Tuesday.

"I'm still excited," Coles said Thursday. "I'm happy about the position I put myself in. I think it's a great choice."

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A 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward, Coles is the second Baltimore native to commit to UCF this month, joining former Friends small forward Myles Douglas.

Coles, who helped Edmondson to the 2013-14 Class 1A state championship as a junior, had established himself as a clear Division I talent by the time he was a high school senior. But without an NCAA qualifying score, he became a coveted JUCO prospect instead. According to Pensacola coach Pete Pena, Norris was the one who tipped him off to Coles.

"We were very fortunate enough to land him," Pena said. "First of all, he's a heck of a competitor. He's going to play for his team to win. It doesn't matter about what his numbers are. I don't know how you could not be attracted to that kind of attitude."

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Coles said he was sold on Pensacola after Pena pitched him on getting his academics in order as much as developing his game. On the court this past year, Coles averaged 10.4 points and 7.5 rebounds, playing in one of the most competitive JUCO conferences in the country. In the classroom, Coles put himself in the right academic position to commit early – not a given for many junior college players.

The UCF coaches were clearly impressed with both aspects of Coles' development. Coles said Norris "put in the word" with Dawkins, and player and coach struck up a solid relationship over the phone. Dawkins, a former Duke star, NBA player and Stanford coach, sold Coles on being part of something new and being a mismatch offensively in UCF's system.

"I just wanted to go into the season knowing what was ahead of me, not expecting something bigger or something smaller," Coles said of his decision to commit early. "I thought it would be better to have that in mind instead of trying to get into a [specific] school. I thought I'd play better knowing what I'm doing with my life after the season. I decided to make my decision."

Coles said he's looking forward to living in Orlando, connecting with a fellow Baltimore native in Norris, and learning from a former pro in Dawkins. Pena, meanwhile, thinks it's a good fit for both parties.

"He's absolutely explosive. Kani has a 40-inch vertical, which is amazing," Pena said. "He's a very strong rebounder. He rebounds with two hands; when it's in his hands, it's his. It's not coming out. He's a very good defender, a very good ballhandler and creates well for his teammates. At his position, he's a matchup problem. He's going to take a big out on the perimeter. He handles the ball very, very well. His shot is becoming better every day. I think his best days are ahead of him. I'm really, really proud of how much he has grown up."

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mbracken@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattbracken


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