Incoming frosh to bring more guard depth to guard-heavy roster
The Northern Kentucky University’s men’s basketball team has announced the signing of three high school senior basketball recruits to its 2023-24 roster. While these players signed with the program months ago, the announcement of these signees in this publication was tabled until the details of all the team’s graduates and outgoing portal transfers were announced, collected and reported on here formally.
New to next season’s NKU roster will be the following:
- Jeramiah Israel, 6’3” guard – Lloyd Memorial High School (Erlanger, KY)
- Randall Pettus II, 6’3” guard – Bessemer City High School (Bessemer City, NC)
- Bryce Darbyshire, 6’4” wing/guard – Sycamore High School (Cincinnati, OH)
These three new faces will officially join incoming Australian guard Fiston Ipassou – a product of the famed Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE) – who committed to the team earlier this past winter.
As the transfer portal continues to pop off in grand fashion with nearly 1,500 seasoned college players still looking for new homes, the Norse have now added four new additions to the 2023-24 roster. These four incoming freshmen will be counted on to help fill gaps left behind by three graduating seniors and six players who left the program recently via the transfer portal. Of the nine players leaving the program over the past month, six of them were guards who contributed minimal minutes to the team’s Horizon League-championship season.
The local product from nearby Lloyd Memorial HS played his AAU ball for Hoop Dreams and was ranked #15 overall as a player in the state of Kentucky by PrepHoops.com. His junior year he led the Juggernauts to the KY Region 9 Semifinal game for the first time in more than a decade, knocking off local power (and reigning state champion) Highlands High School. That same season, he averaged 16.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg for Lloyd Memorial (22-8), shooting 55.1% from the field and 77.6% from the charity stripe. His junior season resume earned him a spot on the Northern Kentucky Boys Basketball Coaches Association All-Division II team.
As a senior, Israel led his team to a 19-10 record, a 34th District Championship and made another nice postseason run before succumbing to Newport High School in the state’s 9th Region semifinals. To close out his high school career, Israel averaged 21.6 ppg (45th in the state) and shot 85.1% from the free throw line (8th in the state) while playing lock-down defense for the state’s 38th-ranked defense (54.2 ppg). His output on the season garnered him spots on the 34th District All-Tournament Team, the 9th Region Team and the NKBBCA D-II All Conference Team.
In addition to NKU, Israel also held firm offers from Manhatten (D-I / MAAC), Kentucky State (D-II / SIAC) and Campbellsville University (NAIA / Mid-South Conference).
RANDALL PETTUS II
Pettus II – ranked the state of North Carolina’s 47th best prospect overall by PrepHoops.com – joins the Norse from Bessemer City HS, where he starred in both basketball and football. As a junior, he led the Yellowjackets to a 23-5 record and was named Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Boys Player of the Year after averaging 25+ ppg, 5 rpg and 5 apg. Pettus II played his AAU ball with the Charlotte Aces.
While being assessed during a Fall 2022 AAU tournament, scouts with Phenom Hoops eyed Pettus II all weekend and were quoted as observing: “Many might have not heard about Pettus but he is helping lead Bessemer City to a very strong record (17-3 overall), as he is really putting up consistent numbers on both ends of the floor. He excels in getting inside and scoring, more than his presence outside, but he also impacts the floor in all sorts of ways. On the year (at Bessemer HS), he is averaging 25.8 ppg, 6.9 apg, 6.6 rpg and 6.6 spg for his team.”
They went on to say: “2023 Randall Pettus (Charlotte Aces) has been one of the most impressive players I’ve seen today. The Bessemer City prospect is a confident scorer. Finds his spots on the floor and is comfortable hitting shots with a higher degree of difficulty.” While Pettus has the shooting range and offensive savvy of a shooting guard, his assists and steals volume are going to be hard to ignore and may buy him time in the point guard spot for the Norse.
In addition to NKU, Pettus also held firm offers from Fort Valley State (D-II / SIAC) and Livingston (D-II / CIAA).
Darbyshire – younger brother of University of Kentucky walk-on Grant Darbyshire – is the other local product of this trio, hailing from the Blue Ash neighborhood of Cincinnati, just 25 minutes North of NKU’s campus.
The 6’4” wing/guard from Sycamore HS was recently rated by PrepHoops.com as the 74th best overall prospect in the state of Ohio and the 9th best guard of his class in the state. He played his travel ball for local Midwest Basketball Club in the Adidas hoops circuit.
According to Darbyshire, while he has been starting on the varsity squad since his freshman season, his heavier recruiting attention didn’t really hit full gear until this past Spring due to some past injuries he suffered earlier in high school. COVID-19 stalled much of one season and then he suffered from a serious foot injury his junior season and then a bout of appendicitis his senior year.
Despite his untimely health issues, Darbyshire started getting serious offers from programs ranging from JUCO to D-I during and after his last AAU season, which then gave him options to consider between giving a year of prep school a chance to boost his stock, or go all-in with one of his current offers on the table.
He chose NKU over his other options because he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to earn a well-respected degree at a good school close to the community in which he was raised. This was key, along with connecting with the transparency of coach Darrin Horn and his staff, as well as how their conversations seemed to always focus on the culture of the program and the importance of playing for championships year in and year out. Additionally, he states he felt like he belonged in Truist Arena right from the start when he met the current players and staff and attended a practice where everyone engaged with him as if he were already on the roster.
Even though his injuries caused limited visibility and seemingly affected his recruitment early on in his high school career, Darbyshire’s rangy size, grittiness and overall game were still evidently enough to garner him attention and designations as a “Top Player to Watch” at the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic and D-I Southwest Ohio District Honorable Mention honors as a senior.
On the surface, his senior season statistics may not appear “eye-popping” – 10.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, FG 50% FT 73.6%, behind the arc 33.3% – but what must be taken into account is his playing through pain, playing with multiple players who will be playing college basketball next year and leading the Aviators to a 17-7 record in a very tough Greater Miami Conference.
Coach Everett Hibbard of the Midwest Basketball Club had high praise for Darbyshire, and feels his attitude, size and overall makeup will match up well in the D-I Horizon League.
“Bryce was asked to play multiple positions for us, had to play the 3 small forward and also guard the other team’s post player. Bryce was a leader, obviously with the caliber of team we had there were multiple talented guys at every spot which usually brings a lot of personality and Bryce was a major factor on how we were able to gel as a team,” Hibbard said.
“Bryce probably saved his best for last at the end of the year when we traveled to California for the Adidas 3Stripe nationals. He was a walking double/double against the best competition we faced. He has a very high basketball IQ and sees the floor better than most and is a talented passer. He also has a knack for getting those tough rebounds (ranked 4th in the GMC in rebounding). He will continue to shoot the ball and become an elite shooter. His motor sets him apart from others. But that said, he mostly leads by example and has a personality that is fun for everyone to be around.”
In addition to NKU, Darbyshire also held firm offers from College of Charleston (D-I / CAA) as well as many D-II, D-III and NAIA schools. Despite having four quality incoming freshmen signed for next season, Horn will need to continue scouring the transfer portal hard and fast in order to fill out the remaining voids on the returning HL Champion’s roster – as of now, the Norse likely still need 3-4 more seasoned players to complement the team’s current youth movement.