NF's Lightfoot leaving for prep school

Adrian Kraus/contributorIn this March 15 file photo, Niagara Falls' Willie Lightfoot, right, is defended by West Genesee's Christian Rossi during a Class AA semifinal at the NYSPHSAA Boys Basketball Championships in Binghamton.

Willie Lightfoot is stepping up his efforts to land a high-level college basketball opportunity.

Lightfoot will be transferring to the Sunrise Christian Academy, he announced on Facebook late Saturday, just weeks before he was set to start his sophomore year at Niagara Falls High School.

SCA is an elite prep school in Bel Aire, Kansas, just north of Wichita. In 2017-18, it rose as high as No. 2 in the USA Today Sports Super 25 national rankings. It has sent 45 players to college teams over the past four years. Its most famous alumnus is Buddy Hield, who went on to star collegiately at Oklahoma and now in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings.

"I always knew it was a possibility," said new NF coach Brent Gadacz. "It's been discussed since (last) season ended."

"I'm really excited for the opportunity for him," Gadacz added. "He's going to have a chance to compete against high-level competition."

Lightfoot had a phenomenal freshman season for Niagara Falls, earning Niagara Gazette Co-Player of the Year and first team All-Western New York honors. He led the Wolverines to their first appearance in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament in 10 years, averaging 30.7 points over a three-game stretch in the playoffs.

He scored 21 points in a tight victory over Orchard Park in the Section VI Class AA semifinals. He followed that 39 points — including 20 straight in the second half and a game-tying 3-pointer — in the VI title game against Williamsville North. Lightfoot then scored 32 against McQuaid in the Far West Regional to send NF into the state final four.

Lightfoot already holds offers from Buffalo, Siena, Youngstown State, Stony Brook and Canisius.

The hope is that transferring to SCA will push those offers higher up the major college spectrum.

Lightfoot will be competing against Division I talent daily, in practice or games. The Buffaloes, who use a logo based off the Sabres' black-and-white "goat head," boast a few highly-touted prospects, including 7-footer N'Faly Dante and 6-foot-9 Kendall Brown, who already have high-major offers.

Lightfoot said he hopes the increased level of competition will raise his game. It will certainly raise his profile. College coaches stopping out to check out any of SCA's players will surely catch a glimpse of the Falls' quick-twitch southpaw.

"When you have the talent and the ability like a Willie Lightfoot, you're probably going to get good offers or great offers no matter where you play," Gadacz said. "But ... there, you might get a higher-level offer."

Lightfoot also said he chose the prep route in order to help him prepare for the SATs and qualify academically.

Elite-level prep schools often have specialized schedules for their student-athletes, gearing their curricula more toward test preparation and meeting NCAA qualifying standards than general education.

Lightfoot is the third high-profile player to transfer out of Niagara Falls in the past two seasons, joined by Roddy Gayle (Lewiston-Porter) and Jalen Bradberry (The Park School). He leaves for Kansas on Tuesday.

Gadacz said while his Wolverines will obviously miss their star, expectations will remain high this winter.

"You don't replace a Willie Lightfoot, Gadacz said, "but I still expect us to compete for a sectional title, and then anything after that is one game at a time." 

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