December 10, 2008

Hoops is a way out for Cheek

Come Friday, Dominic Cheek is going to make one Division I basketball coach a very happy man.

A 6-foot-5 senior wing out of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, Cheek will announce at a news conference at St. Anthony whether he will take his skills to Kansas or Villanova.

"Dom will make a decision this week," St. Anthony associate head coach Ben Gamble said.

Cheek, the No. 6 shooting guard in the 2009 class, has taken official visits to all five schools, but he wasn't ready to commit during the NCAA early signing period last month. By committing this week, he will get the process over with before St. Anthony begins defense of its New Jersey Tournament of Champions title on Dec. 19. He will not be able to sign a national letter of intent until the spring period, which begins in April.

"I guess a lot of people will be asking a lot of questions, but whenever is the right time it will happen," Cheek said recently.

A native of Jersey City, Cheek was recently the subject of a mini-documentary entitled "A Star Emerges From City Streets" made by two graduate students at the City University of New York (CUNY). Collin Orcutt and Michael Preston followed Cheek over a period of several months through workouts, practices and recruiting.

The piece depicts the rough inner-city neighborhood in which Cheek and many of his current and former St. Anthony teammates live.

"I'm from Jersey City, but I live on Lexington Avenue," Cheek said in the documentary. "It's probably one of the worst neighborhoods in Jersey City. People [are] dying like every week. That's the neighborhood I grew up in, too, so it's something I have to get used to, stay out the streets and everything."

St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley has won nine Tournament of Champions titles and 25 state championships and appears a certain bet to one day be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. A former Jersey City probation officer, he was also the subject of a book, "The Miracle of St. Anthony," by Adrian Wojnarowski. Hurley is as concerned with helping his players grow as people as he is with how to beat the next opponent.

"Here we kind of extend the Hurley family around the kids," Hurley said in the documentary. "My daughter, Melissa, and her husband, Gabe, are very close to [Cheek]. He's apt on a Saturday night, unlike a lot of city kids, to call them up and ask if he can come over and play video games with Gabe.

"He comes from a very, very rough neighborhood, so any night that he's not in the neighborhood, it's a night where there's less concern."

Cheek said his daily routine centers around school and basketball. He tries to avoid the streets as much as possible.

"Wake up in the morning, come to school," he said. "After school's over with, go to the gym. Talk to Coach Hurley [about] how my college recruiting is going. Go home and do homework and sleep. Either I'm in the house or playing basketball. That's everything I do right there." National Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer is impressed with Cheek's skills and thinks he'll have a long career in basketball.

"What stands out immediately about Cheeks' game is his length as a shooting guard and his shooting ability - which project at the NBA level," Meyer said. "He also is a good run-and-jump athlete, although he does have room to improve laterally as a defender. If he matures as expected physically and mentally, he is a definite NBA talent."

Six of Cheek's teammates from last year's undefeated team are now playing Division I basketball, and three of those are at schools he's considering: Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), Travon Woodall (Pittsburgh) and Mike Rosario (Rutgers).

Cheek has relied on advice from all three of those players during his official visits and throughout the recruiting process.

He also consults with Hurley, Gamble, his uncle - Omari Knight - and his grandmother, Izaphine "Ice" Howard.

Some speculate that Kansas and Villanova are the favorites to land Cheek.

He has visited the Villanova campus on several occasions and is close friends with incoming freshman Maalik Wayns, who teamed with Cheek on the USA U-18 National Team that traveled to Argentina this past summer.

"I'm just trying to get him to come, telling him how he'll fit in and trying to convince him every day to come over with me," Wayns said. "We talk every day, and most of the time it's not even about 'Nova because we're close friends. If he decides to come, that would be a great thing."

As for Kansas, the Jayhawks are the defending national champs and desperately need a wing player now that Xavier Henry of Oklahoma Putnam City has chosen Memphis over Kansas.

Cheek visited Kansas for "Late Night in the Phog," when the team raised its national championship banner.

"Oh, Kansas, that was a great experience," Cheek said. "The place was sold out. Defending national champions. They put the banner up. It was crazy out there."

Yet Cheek also has connections at the other schools. Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight played at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey and apparently made quite an impression during the home visit.

Memphis has an appealing style of play that allows four wing players and one big to play together. Henry continues to text Cheek and encourages him to commit there.

Rutgers is the local school and would allow Cheek's family and friends to watch him on a regular basis.

Wherever he ends up, that coach will have a happy Friday.

"I know I can come in and be a team player," Cheek said, "get everybody involved and everything."

And if there is a pro career beyond college, Cheek said he won't forget where he came from.

"I never expected any of this to be happening," he said. "I never expected for me to be here at St. Anthony. Hopefully, if I ever go to the NBA, I'll make sure I donate money to the school and I'll stay in touch with Coach Hurley and everybody."

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