Two years ago, Ardrey Kell High basketball star David Kasanganay was ready to leave.
After a strong year as a freshman on junior varsity, Kasanganay was moved up to varsity for Ardrey Kell’s run to the 2014 N.C. 4A state championship game. Coming back as a sophomore, many thought he would become the next star in a program that’s only been around since 2006 but has produced its share of strong players.
Only Kasanganay’s sophomore season didn’t go like he expected.
He averaged less than five points and was so frustrated that he considered a move to an area private school. He asked his parents to look into it. But after a postseason meeting with coach Mike Craft, Kasanganay decided to stay. And he used the pain of his sophomore season to push himself to becoming one of the best players in school history.
“I wanted to change things for myself,” said Kasanganay, a 6-foot-2 senior guard signed to Navy. “That sophomore year woke me up and let me know that I have to work on my craft a lot more and that I had to spend a lot more time in the gym. I didn’t know what it took and how much the other kids did. I was learning.”
Kasanganay became a gym rat, rarely taking a day off. He also became a star on his summer travel team, the Queen City Athletic Association (QCAA) and became a bona fide Division I recruit, using a blend of speed and shooting that both his summer and school coach say they’ve rarely seen.
As a junior, Kasanganay averaged 14.5 points and four rebounds. As a senior, he’s averaging 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 assists. Heading into Thursday’s regular-season finale against Concord Robinson, Kasanganay had led the Knights to an 18-5 record, which included wins in six of their last seven games.
“He’s done everything you need to do,” Ardrey Kell’s Craft said. “I just knew he was going to be special. David can really shoot the basketball and he can drive it, and his ‘in-between’ game (shooting shots other than 3-pointers and layups) is incredible. He can make a shot fake, take one dribble and shoot the jumper. Kids just can’t do that these days. He has a gift.”
Heading into Thursday’s game, Kasanganay had scored 872 points, which is third in school history. He also ranked in the top 10 in rebounds (263, eighth) and assists (143, eighth). And this season, he’s making 43 percent of his 3-point attempts. The school-record, for a season, is 42 percent.
Last season, Kasanganay set the school record for season free-throw percentage (88 percent).
“David just loves the game of basketball,” said Mike Praeger, Kasanganay’s summer coach. Praeger is CEO and founder of AvidXchange, a billing solutions company that employs more than 800 people locally and owns naming rights to the former N.C. Music Factory near uptown Charlotte. “He’s an extremely coachable, polite kid with great parents.”
Praeger – whose son Chase is a senior point guard at Hough – said he hasn’t coached many players who enjoyed practicing and skill work as much as Kasanganay.
“When you are a Division I athlete, it’s a huge commitment ... and almost like a second job ... other than going to school,” Praeger said. “And if you don’t enjoy it and don’t have a passion into putting the time and effort in to get better, you’re not going to be a great college player.
“That’s why I think he’s going to be great. David has fun doing the hard things that most people think is a chore. They have fun playing the games, but David enjoys it all.”
Kasanganay said that passion helped him through his tough times two years ago, and when Navy offered him a scholarship last summer, it fulfilled a dream he’d had since sixth grade.
“I didn’t know how I would get there,” he said, “but I always wanted to play in college. And the coaching staff at Navy has always been there for me, and they have big plans for me on the court and off the court. Academically, the academy prepares you for life. It sets you up ... for the next 40 years after college.
“So it was Navy all the way for me. I had some schools that showed interest late, but it was always Navy. They think I can be a successful player and they needed a scorer, and that’s why they recruited me.”
Like Praeger, Ardrey Kell coach Craft thinks Navy is getting a polished, special hard worker with a 3.5 grade-point average who will only get better.
“David is the epitome of the student-athlete,” Craft said. “He’s fun to coach. His teachers love him and he’s just been a good ambassador of our program. You can’t ask for much more.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Friday’s Key Games
No. 10 Providence Day (22-9, 8-1 CISAA) at Charlotte Country Day (18-12, 5-4), Fri, 7:30 p.m.: Providence Day will try to lock up at least a share of a sixth straight league title and win its eighth straight game. Country Day, enjoying its first winning season in 10 years, can guarantee the third seed with the upset. And the Bucs would love to deny Providence Day a chance at a title. Providence Day is tied with No. 13 Charlotte Christian (21-8, 8-1) heading into Friday’s regular-season finale. Christian hosts Covenant Day (3-22, 0-9)
Marvin Ridge (18-5, 12-1 SoMeck) at No. 4 Charlotte Catholic (19-3, 13-0), Fri, 7:30 p.m.: The Mavericks have won eight in a row since losing at home to Catholic on Jan. 5. The Mavericks can get a share of the league title in their regular-season finale. Catholic looks to follow its football team with an unbeaten run through its new conference and an outright league title. The Cougars have won 11 straight games.
Metrolina Athletic Conference championships: Hickory Grove will host the girls final at 6 and boys at 7:30.