West, Blount pitstop at IMG Academy
on way to Division-I Coastal Carolina
NBA Draft announcers complimented potential draftees for having excess “want-to” in their game.
Translation: they’re passionate about basketball. They want to get better. They want to play the game.
For Bethlehem’s Kaylin West, that want-to moment came during high school. She’d developed into a good player by doing as much as her peers had done and slightly more. But she didn’t compare to older brother Jarrod, whose game and athleticism commanded a football scholarship to Syracuse University to play wide receiver.
Outside of football season, he’d work out with the basketball players, who asked him to walk-on and suit up for the Orange, which he declined.
His sister Kaylin watched Jarrod’s progression and made a personal and family decision. She asked Jarrod to work with her in the summer on the courts at Old Orchard Park in Palmer Township.
“You have to fully commit and do whatever I say,” Jarrod cautioned.
Basketball bootcamp began. For two hours every day, the siblings worked on ball-handling, shooting, Eurosteps, floaters, all parts of Jarrod’s game that Kaylin wanted to master.
The girl whose childhood aspirations had been to become a Penn State cheerleader now possessed the toughness of a Nittany Lion linebacker.
“She worked hard,” said Jarrod, now earning a master’s degree at Syracuse. “She brought it every day.”
At Liberty High, she earned enough attention to receive a scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University, a Division I school in New Jersey. And Kaylin committed.
But then her father, former Hurricanes great Warren West, got a phone call. IMG Academy coaches had watched tape of her in action and offered her a deal too great to pass up—to train as a post-graduate at the school that began as a hotbed for developing professional tennis players like the Williams sister but had evolved into a haven for football and basketball stars.
The girls’ basketball team featured three high-school-aged teams compared to 15 for the boys side, but the top team would travel to play community colleges and junior colleges. And Kaylin would play guard, pressing full-court and enhancing her offensive skill set playing for Coach Jenna Sipielli, a former coach at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
West would need to draw on her built-up want-to to meet the demands of the basketball-intensive schedule:
6 a.m. – treatment and taping and shooting
7 a.m. – breakfast
8-10 – practice on the court
10-11 – weightlifting or nutrition
11-12:30 – lunch with food made to enhance athletic performance
1-3 p.m. – Gym practice time
3-4 p.m. – Treatment and/or massage
By 5 p.m. athletes needed to rest their bodies. West mostly caught up on Netflix shows and recovered on the couch.
“It’s like being a professional athlete,” she said. “They’re very hands-on. And there is a hyperbolic chamber that you can rest in which opens up your lungs for you.”
Since West had graduated from high school, she did not need to take academic classes, but she could. She partook of the visual classes and the nutrition sessions with her teammates (International students must take classes to be considered exchange students).
Players lived in quad-style apartments like you would find at most universities.
Competition comes naturally at IMG. West said athletes from 53 countries are there, all “with the same goal--to get to the next level.”
Those who watched the NBA draft might take a closer look at a few of the prospects who apprenticed at IMG.
Portland drafted Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick of the first round. Point guard Trevon Duval, who played his freshman year at Duke, was projected in the top 40 picks but was not selected.
Both IMG graduates trained at the 450-acre facility. IMG football players graduate to places like Ohio State, Clemson, etc. And a gentleman named Cam Newton holds camps on the campus each year.
West became the girls basketball team’s shut-down defender. With her increased conditioning and weight-lifting—“I never lifted a weight in high school”—she started bench pressing 130 pounds, squatting 190, and deadlifting 255. Not bad for a 5-7, 140-pound guard.
She filled up a stat sheet during games with averages of 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals per game. Since her squad had just 10 players, and some became injured, she earned plenty of minutes in shot-clock-fast games.
Said her brother Jarrod, “The next time I saw her play I didn’t even recognize her. She was doing Eurosteps, floaters, all the stuff I used to do and stuff girls her age weren’t doing.”
Jarrod had dabbled in the National Football League, playing wide receiver for the Jets, Steelers and Titans, mostly on practice squads, which still paid $8,000 per week. In four preseason games, he caught four passes for 64 yards.
More than his own accomplishments, he took pride in Kaylin’s.
As Kaylin improved, other college coaches took notice. IMG coach Sipielli took a call from a friend of hers from Coastal Carolina, who quickly offered West a scholarship to the school near Myrtle Beach. Seeing the picturesque campus along with the sports broadcasting major sold West.
IMG teammate Mery Visone from Italy also committed to the Chanticleers.
And that’s where the process began anew for another Lehigh Valley girl.
Aja Blount starred at Northampton High, totaling 1767 points and earning area player of the year honors after her senior season. The 6-foot, 220-pound post player talked with West about IMG and soon decided the extra year to prepare for college would benefit her, too.
Blount became a dominant force, averaging 25 points and 17 rebounds to earn team most valuable player honors. When Coastal Carolina coaches had scouted her a year prior, they barely noticed her.
After Blount spent a year in IMG’s rigorous program, they needed five minutes to offer her a scholarship, too, to match her with West.
Sipielli provided the personal touch Blount needed. After their customary workouts, the pair would run another 30 minutes to boost Blount’s conditioning and trim her body to handle the upbeat pace of Division I basketball.
“There’s a lot of positive peer pressure here,” said Sipielli. “Everybody’s trying to get to the next level.”
Blount and West, Lehigh Valley friends, will team up in South Carolina this upcoming season. Graduation leaves a starting spot at guard that West hopes to fill during his sophomore season.
Blount will battle for space down low.
The old mantra to find riches advised, “Go west, young man” in hopes of striking gold.
For Lehigh Valley girls’ basketball, it might become, “Go south, young ladies” for a post-graduate year in hopes of becoming a Division I-ready player.
Said West, “Maybe this all started a trend.”