Hemphill, All-WNY talents find their ways into local college programs

Paul Battson/ContributorIn this Jan. 22, 2019, file photo, Cardinal O'Hara's Justin Hemphill defends Lewiston-Porter's Trent Scott in a 70-63 win at Lewiston-Porter High School. Hemphill became one of Daemen College's next Western New York commits, as he joins the Wildcats' 2020 recruiting class.

Justin Hemphill made the All-Western New York basketball team after leading Cardinal O’Hara to a state championship in 2019. Now the hard-nosed, 6-foot-5-inch forward will join another local all-star squad in Daemen College’s recruiting class.

Hemphill — O'Hara's all-time leader in points (1,676) and rebounds (1,138), who also made the Class B all-state team as a senior — signed his scholarship papers with Daemen this week, joining an incoming class that already includes point guard Juston Johnson, a 2018 first team All-WNY selection for West Seneca West, and Tyler Hind. Hind was a second team All-WNY pick and Class C state player of the year who became the area’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals (400) and eighth leading scorer (2,224 points) this past season.

They will join two returning players who were second-team selections in 2018, Niagara County native Ryan Bradley and North Tonawanda’s Trevor Book, giving Daemen the potential for a five-man All-WNY lineup in the coming years. Additionally, returning guards Kyle Harris (Park), DaShawn Hines (Amherst) and Justin Poumpey (St. Francis) were All-WNY honorable mentions.

“It’s pretty cool how we are getting a bunch of people from around Buffalo and I feel like we could do something really special with a bunch of local guys,” said Hemphill, who played AAU basketball with Johnson and Hind.

In terms of local recruiting, this is Daemen’s most decorated class in years. The last time the Wildcats signed a first team All-WNY selection was 2010 (Williamsville South’s Marc Coppola) and this is the first time the Wildcats have recruited two first-teamers in the same class since 2006 (Sweet Home’s Quintin Hudson and Devon Dawson from St. Joe’s).

“It speaks to where we are going as a program,” said Daemen coach Mike MacDonald, who has amassed a 129-51 record over six seasons, led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division II tournament and a top 10 national ranking in each of the past two seasons. “It’s a really high level of basketball here at Daemen and we’ve shown that local players can have a good experience here.”

Niagara Falls native Breon Harris, a fourth-team All-WNY selection in 2016, was a second team All-East Coast Conference selection this year after making the third team the two seasons prior. Harris became the 27th Daemen player to surpass 1,000 career points and the Wildcats went 65-15 with him in the starting lineup over the past three seasons.

Hemphill noted Daemen’s recent success was a deciding factor when evaluating his other options to play at the D-II level.

“They’ve been blowing up and getting better every year,” Hemphill said.

While Hemphill received some interest from D-I schools while playing for O’Hara, the Daemen coaching staff kept in contact with him during his prep year at St. Thomas More, where MacDonald’s son, Nick, played the previous year before signing with Niagara University.

“Coach MacDonald has always been pretty open about wanting me to come to Daemen but he helped me with taking the prep school route too,” Hemphill said. “When it came down to it, I loved that he stuck with me through the whole process.”

MacDonald expects Hemphill’s rugged game to fit in well on a Daemen squad that graduated four starters but returns All-American center Andrew Sischo.

“I’ve always liked him because I thought he’s a very unselfish player who passes the ball well and fits the way we play,” MacDonald said. “He has a good nose for the ball and he is good at rebounding and coming up with loose balls. He’s just been a winner. You look at O’Hara, they didn’t win a lot before he started playing there and he helped build them up into a winner.”

Two of Hemphill’s high school teammates will be playing for WNY colleges as well. Niagara Falls native Avion Harris, a second-team All-WNY pick last season, is joining Niagara County Community College, and Jermaine Haynes Jr., a second-team selection in 2019, will transfer to Hilbert College after playing football and basketball last season at Alfred University.

“I’m excited to be able to see these guys playing locally,” O’Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti said.

“For Justin, I think it’s a great situation for him to play locally on a team that has been nationally ranked at the Division II level. He’s a player that probably could’ve made a Division I roster. But he’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever had, so he’s not content to just be on the team. He started all four years for us at O’Hara and he’s used to playing. And there will be a lot of familiarity for him at Daemen. I think it’s a great marriage.”

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