For Durant star Andre Nation, road to Division I goes through Faith Baptist

Andre Nation scrambles for the ball in the Class 5A regional semifinal in February. Playing in national tourneys for Faith Baptist helped him garner national notice.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Andre Nation scrambles for the ball in the Class 5A regional semifinal in February. Playing in national tourneys for Faith Baptist helped him garner national notice.

BRANDON — If at first you don't achieve, explore other options.

Last season, Andre Nation tore up Hillsborough County and led Durant to the region finals. The 6-foot-4 slasher possesses the physical tools, gaudy statistics and an all-state pedigree, but no Division 1 schools came knocking.

"I got just one small (Division) 2 offer," he said. "And that was it."

But rather than settle, Nation chose a different path — play for fledgling prep program Faith Baptist. And on Wednesday, Nation signed to play next year for Division 1 James Madison.

"It couldn't have worked out any better," Nation said.

Faith Baptist brought in Ryan Pannone to coach both a high school varsity and post-graduate prep program. Neither is affiliated with the Florida High School Athletic Association, meaning they can play a national schedule. "What it does is gives these kids a chance to be seen by more coaches because they are playing in national tournaments against top-flight competition," Pannone said.

Nation felt he didn't get sufficient national exposure while competing locally at the high school level.

"It's not an area like Miami or Orlando," he said. "Hillsborough just isn't looked at the same way."

Pannone, in his first season at Faith Baptist following a successful five-year stint at Oldsmar Christian, echoed Nation's sentiments.

"This county just isn't that well known for being a great basketball area," he said. "Playing in these national tournaments provides kids much more opportunity for exposure."

Nation led the Cougars the past three years in scoring, going for 22.8 points per game as a senior. In his final year as a Cougar, Nation also paced Durant in blocked shots (62), rebounds (6.7 per game) and steals (1.9 per game).

"Andre is long, athletic and wiry," Pannone said. "He's a hard worker and has a great upside."

Nation is just one success story at Faith Baptist. Between the varsity team and the post-graduate program nine players inked letters of intent Wednesday, including former Wharton star A.J. Astroth (Vanderbilt), Shawn Smith (Missouri), Mike Chandler (Central Florida), Dylan Poston (Mercer), Brian Pegg (Stetson), Jakari Bush (Florida A&M), Rasham Suarez (Georgia Southern), Chris Daniels (Georgia Southern) and Nation (James Madison).

Nation called James Madison, a school that has appeared in the NCAA Tournament four times, "a perfect fit."

"Everyone there was just so nice and I really like the area," Nation said of the campus nestled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. "It felt like a second home, instantly."

In addition to James Madison, Nation also sifted through offers from Hofstra, Tennessee State, Sam Houston State and Long Island. When asked why he thought James Madison didn't offer him straight out of Durant, Nation just chuckled.

"They said they have no idea how I flew under the radar," Nation said. "But in the end, this is definitely the perfect situation for me."

For Durant star Andre Nation, road to Division I goes through Faith Baptist 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 3:42pm]

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