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Montrose's Echefu Plays the Waiting Game

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2004;

While most top high school basketball players across the nation will put their signatures on National Letters-of-Intent this week and make binding college commitments, the Washington area's top player plans to wait to make his college choice.

Uche Echefu, a 6-foot-9 forward at Montrose Christian in Rockville, has whittled his list to five choices but said he feels no pressure to make a decision anytime soon.

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"There is no pressure," Echefu said before practice Thursday. "I just believe if you work hard you can achieve whatever you want to. I'll take my time and pick a school where I'm going to fit in."

Montrose Christian Coach Stu Vetter said Echefu has narrowed his choices down to Duke, Florida State, Kentucky, Michigan and Virginia Tech. The native of Nigeria who speaks five languages has visited Florida State and Michigan and might take other visits after the season. Vetter often encourages players to wait until the spring -- or later -- to make college choices, which allows his players a better chance to see if college coaches might move on and what a team's roster might look for the following season.

Montrose's Linas Kleiza and Churchill Odia followed such a path the past two seasons before choosing Missouri and Xavier, respectively.

"Colleges like to get it over with and concentrate on their season," said Vetter, who also encourages his players to sign scholarship papers that are binding only for the college instead of letters-of-intent that are binding on both parties. "If our players want to sign early, they're allowed to sign early. It's not a rule. But I simply try to educate our players so they can make the most informed decision."

So Echefu, who averaged 13.3 points per game last season, will keep his options open. He said he often thinks about his choices each night after practice, when he reads some of the mail he receives each day. Florida State has sent the most letters, he said, and also is the only school to go out of its way to give him a little home cooking.

When Echefu visited Tallahassee last month, Seminoles Coach Leonard Hamilton surprised Echefu by serving his favorite Nigerian dish, fufu, when the player visited the coach's house for dinner. It seems that Hamilton, who on several occasions had asked Echefu what food he liked the most, knew a woman who cooked African dishes and asked her to prepare the special meal.

"It was very good," Echefu said.

Prep School Signees

While Echefu waits to make his decision, a handful of prep school players with local ties finalized their plans. Forward Sam Young and guard Chris Howard, a pair of All-Mets last season at Friendly High in Fort Washington, signed their letters-of-intent yesterday. Young, who signed with Pittsburgh, was one of seven players from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., to ink their paperwork, Hargrave Coach Kevin Keatts said. Howard, who began this school year at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., and is transferring to Florida Prep in Lake Suzy, Fla., signed with South Florida.

Calvin Hampton, Friendly's starting center last season who is now at New Hampton (N.H.) Prep, signed with Oregon State.

Another local player now at Hargrave, forward Joe Alexander from Linganore High, signed with West Virginia, Keatts said.

Keatts said he has not spoken with former Eleanor Roosevelt center Jared Gaither about the possibility of Gaither joining the Hargrave basketball team once football season ends. Gaither is playing offensive tackle for the Hargrave football team and still hopes to enroll at Maryland -- where he has committed to play football -- for the spring semester if he is able to meet the NCAA's minimum academic standards for freshman eligibility, Eleanor Roosevelt basketball coach Glenn Farello said.

Among Hargrave's unsigned players, Keatts said Baltimore native Jerome Johnson, a forward, has an offer from Penn State and is interested in Illinois and Kentucky, while guard Bilal Benn has offers from Penn State, Villanova and La Salle.

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