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Three LI Lutheran boys basketball players sign with major college programs

From left, LuHi seniors Zed Key (Ohio State),

From left, LuHi seniors Zed Key (Ohio State), Andre Curbelo (Illinois), and Jalen Celestine (Cal-Berkeley), pose for a photo during a letter of intent signing event at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Credit: Barry Sloan

Another boys basketball season is about to dawn at Long Island Lutheran. The Crusaders have won eight New York Federation basketball championships and are eyeing a ninth. This one would be special because they are the defending Class AA champions. As senior point guard Andre Curbelo said, “We’re talking about back-to-back every single day.”

However on Wednesday there was some paperwork to do. Three of LuHi’s best — and Long Island’s best — signed national letters of intent with high-major programs. Curbelo, who was Newsday’s Long Island Player of the Year, inked with Illinois. Zed Key, a 6-8 forward and Newsday all-LI second teamer, is headed for Ohio State. And Jalen Celestine, a 6-6 forward, is bound for Cal.

Curbelo, who hails from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, last season averaged 16.1 points to go with seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. He opted for the Illini over Miami, Oregon, St. John’s, Indiana and Villanova after taking his campus visit in Champaign. He liked a lot of things — the campus, the academic profile and the players — but he loved the message he kept hearing.

“They kept telling me I was the missing piece in the puzzle,” he said. “I think I could be a big piece in what they’re going to be right away.”

In a post by the program’s official Twitter handle, Illini coach Brad Underwood said, “We feel that we have signed the best high school guard in the country in ball screen action. He is truly one of the best passing guards I have seen in recent years on the recruiting trail.”

Key, a Bay Shore product, averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds as a junior. He opted for the Buckeyes over finalists Florida, Marquette and Rutgers. He had planned other campus visits, but he shut the process down after seeing Ohio State in early September.

“They were my first official visit and when I went there I was ‘I can see myself playing here and developing as a person and a player,’” he said. “I love the [head coach Chris Holtmann] and the staff and the players. I could see myself committing so there was no reason to go on the other visits.”

Celestine, who is from Toronto, came off the bench to play starter’s minutes and averaged10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and two assists last season. He chose the Bears over George Mason and Hofstra. He said new coach Mark Fox envisions playing him at multiple positions to take advantage of his versatility “and I like the idea of doing a little bit of everything.”

“The school is far away but the academics are some of the best in the country,” Celestine said. “When the basketball stops bouncing or, God forbid I get hurt, I will have something I can count on.”

Key enjoys that both he and Curbelo will be competing in the Big Ten. “We’ll be seeing each other plenty, our teams going after each other,” he said. “What’s not to like about that?”

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