For the first time, The Knox School has produced a Division I basketball player.
Omar El-Sheikh signed his national letter of intent Wednesday, officially committing to play basketball for Fairfield University. He had given a verbal pledge in late March.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” said El-Sheikh, who arrived at the St. James private school from Egypt in December 2015. “Finally I see my dreams coming true, signing my letter of intent to Fairfield University. I worked hard for all of that. All the people here in the school helped me, from the head of school to the teachers, the faculty, the students. I’m really grateful to have this opportunity.”
Knox coach Walter Townes said Fairfield and Canisius, both of which compete in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, pursued the 6-8 point forward the most aggressively and consistently. Townes said more schools expressed interest late in Knox’s season, but El-Sheikh felt most comfortable with the staff at Fairfield.
Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson, who Townes unsuccessfully recruited while an assistant coach at Dartmouth, played El-Sheikh’s position at Princeton. Fairfield assistants Tom Parrotta and Mitch Buonaguro have Division I head coaching experience.
The Stags lose two of their top three scorers as transfers but return All-MAAC first teamer Tyler Nelson from a team that went 16-15 last season.
“The whole staff is consisted of three head coaches, so they have a lot of experience,” El-Sheikh said. “The head coach plays the same position as me, which is very rare, a 6-8 guy who plays like a point guard. It helped me to make my decision because there’s someone there who understands my position a lot.”
Townes coached in college for two-plus decades, and said three or four scouts he knew told him about El-Sheikh after watching him at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2015. They said he would be a good fit for Knox’s prep team.
And they were right. El-Sheikh was a playmaker for Knox (18-10) this past season.
“He’s a streak shooter, but he can do everything,” Townes said. “He can pass. He can dribble. He can defend. He can guard anybody on the floor.”
Head of school Kristen Tillona-Baker introduced El-Sheikh as Knox’s first Division I basketball player during Wednesday’s signing ceremony. She later added he likely will not be the only one to sign this spring.
Townes said 6-8 forward Wassef Methnani has drawn serious interest from Fairfield, Maine, Manhattan and Iona. Representatives from Weber State, the Utah school that produced NBA All-Star Damian Lillard, will fly in next week to see Methnani, Townes said.
“It’s a justification of our program,” Townes said. “It lets everybody know that our program is making strides.”
For Knox, El-Sheikh’s commitment validates the school’s decision to create a national prep basketball program in addition to its PSAA varsity team. Townes and Tillona-Baker created the plan in the spring of 2015, hoping to attract high-level athletes who also could excel in the classroom.
The prep program held its inaugural season in 2016-17.
“We had a vision to expand what people thought about The Knox School, not just academically but also athletically,” Tillona-Baker said. “It’s really fantastic to see the vision come to fruition.”
Two Lutheran players sign
Long Island Lutheran had a pair of seniors sign national letters of intent on Wednesday. Forward Chris Coalmon signed with Robert Morris, a Division I program that plays in the Northeast Conference. Guard Brandon Jacobs inked with Division II Pace.