New Northwestern State basketball coach Corey Gipson has created a unique buzz around his first recruiting class.
There’s a blend of transfers from four-year schools and junior colleges, eight in all. One, Missouri transfer Jordan Wilmore, is 7-foot-3.
There are two prep school signees, a year removed from high school.
And there’s the most famous recruit in NSU athletic history.
The one-armed kid.
Hansel Enmanuel is not a name that resonates, but his story is incredibly compelling, and it’s not exaggeration to say that people around the WORLD have taken notice.
His left arm was amputated just below the shoulder when a cinder block wall fell on him at age 6 in his native Dominican Republic. It did not deter his joy of playing sports, although it ultimately redirected his focus from baseball to hoops. That may have happened anyway; his dad was a pro basketball player on the island.
He was an ESPY Award finalist for “Best Play.” He is the subject of a Gatorade commercial. He has four million followers on Twitter and Instagram, not counting the reach of that Gatorade advertisement that debuted on ABC during the NBA Finals and continues in rotation across networks and on the company’s social media a month later.
Monday, ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby show hosts told the audience they were bringing their show to NSU at some point this season to track the story.
Toss in the fact that 247Sports.com ranks him as a three-star recruit. Enmanuel posted averages of 25.9 points, 11 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 3.4 blocks as a senior at Life Christian Academy in Kissimmee, Fla.
But is he the product of high-caliber editing, a phenom who has a mind-blowing highlight reel, but due to obvious limitations, has shortcomings that cast doubt on his potential to play at the NCAA Division I level?
His stats say otherwise. And clearly, the Demons believe otherwise. So did the coaching staff at Bethune-Cookman, a SWAC program based in Daytona Beach., a 78-mile drive from Kissimmee. So did coaches at Tennessee State, and if you can accept it, coaches at Memphis, a national program said to be among his final four choices.
But those stats were compiled against lower-level Florida high school competition, along with a few intersectional games for the Lions of Life Christian.
He has amazed and impressed observers for two summers while on the summer ball circuit. He was invited to play in the pro-am Drew League in Los Angeles last weekend, which is where he announced his college decision, although it turns out he had signed his letter of intent with the Demons a month earlier.
Smart move to make the announcement on a big stage. It immediately splattered across the internet and social media on outlets like Sports Illustrated and Apple News, gaining millions of impressions.
Whether engineered by Enmanuel’s camp or Gipson, breaking the news then and there got the desired result.
This guard, whose size has been reported from 6-4 to 6-6, is a media sensation.
Will he be solid enough to play at Northwestern, in the Southland Conference? There apparently were not offers from nearby programs like Central Florida, South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M, North Florida, Stetson — all within easy driving distance of Kissimmee — let alone Florida, Miami or Florida State.
Who was right? It will be interesting to see as his days with the Demons unfold.
The mere fact that he’s gotten this far, and earned such widespread attention and respect, is mind-blowing. Enmanuel undeniably is worthy of all the praise he gets.
For Gipson and the Demons, there’s minimal risk, and already, great rewards. People will be keeping an eye on Northwestern State basketball this winter, and maybe if things go well, more Gatorade commercials will follow, along with wins.
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