Washington Adventist men’s basketball Coach Patrick Crarey told Gwynn Park senior Ackhel Bazil he could take his time considering the scholarship offer. But the 6-foot-6 forward felt he’d already waited long enough, so he committed on the spot during a March 26 campus visit.
While still at the Takoma Park school that afternoon, Bazil dialed his mother, Gloria, on the phone back in the Carribean nation of St. Thomas with news that their shared dream had come true.
“She started screaming,” Bazil said by phone this week. “She started laughing. She started crying. She said she was really happy, excited. She couldn’t believe it.”
Long ago, Bazil locked in on basketball as has his ticket to a better life. While still living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the youngster got his first glimpses of this country through a series of annual trips to Florida with an all-star team of local players.
In early 2011, Gloria Bazil, a nurse in her homeland, took a leap of faith in sending her son to live with a family friend, Sheniko Frett, in Brandywine with the hope he’d earn a free college education through the sport.
Thanks to two strong seasons at Gwynn Park under Coach Mike Glick, the athletic forward with impressive rebounding skills and a raw offensive game has found a home with the Shock, who currently play at the Division II level but will move to the NAIA in 2014.
Bazil, who also had interest from West Virginia State and Baltimore City Community College, will have tuition and full room and board paid for at the school where he plans to major in criminal justice to possibly pursue a career in drug enforcement.
“Defensively, the kid’s a mid to high major [recruit],” said Glick, a former Washington Adventist assistant. “He’s the best shot blocker I’ve had in my seven years at Gwynn Park. … He’s really made a humungous step this season. He was our team MVP.”
Bazil arrived at Gwynn Park too late in his sophomore year to suit up for the Yellow Jackets, but Glick quickly got him in the gym and working out with his team.
At first, progress was slow as the forward adjusted to a different style of play and his new surroundings. Glick saw a player with little confidence who often struggled just to pass and catch on the offensive end because he was trying to move too quickly.
“Everything changed,” Bazil said.
Since then, Bazil has blossomed on and off the court. In his senior season, he averaged 8.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game for the Yellow Jackets, who finished 13-11.
Bazil said he became aware of Washington Adventist’s interest after posting 23 points and 18 rebounds in a 61-40 loss to eventual Maryland 4A state runner-up Magruder on Dec. 27. From then on, Crarey and his staff kept contact with Bazil, and the senior began to more clearly see his path to a scholarship.
“It made me want to play harder and show off, so he would keep the interest in me,” Bazil said. “I didn’t want him to want me for this week and then forget about me.”
The sport has opened up opportunities that Bazil never thought possible, including the chance to play with the U.S. Virgin Islands national team at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship in Brazil last summer.
Bazil started in the post for the U.S. Virgin Islands team, which went 2-3 during the competition. That included a 105-42 loss to the United States team that eventually won the title.
At the tournament, Bazil averaged 4.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but he took his lumps against the Americans. He went scoreless and fouled out in 14 minutes, playing most of that time matched up against Julius Randle, the Kentucky-bound power forward who is considered among the top recruits in the Class of 2013.
Bazil said the experience showed him how much room he has left for improvement, while providing an unforgettable taste of what it might be like to play the sport at the highest level.
“I can’t even tell you how many autographs I signed,” Bazil said. “I signed hundreds and hundreds. They treat you like Kobe or LeBron. It’s amazing, and I owe it all to basketball.”