Veasley-Johnson a big addition for Smyrna

SMYRNA — When Nalik Veasley-Johnson first arrived at Smyrna High, he quickly found out about the athletic programs.

“I heard football was about to threepeat and basketball won a championship last year,” he said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, they’re good at sports.’”

And liked what he heard.

After moving from North Carolina, Veasley-Johnson has been a welcomed addition to the Smyrna boys’ basketball team. He and the rest of the Eagles will take on Sanford tonight at 8 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark in the semifinals of the DIAA state tournament.

The junior forward was born in Delaware but moved to North Carolina when he was in middle school. This offseason though he returned to Delaware and joined the defending state champions.

It just so happened Smyrna was in need of some extra height.

Zubi Nwankwo, the 7-foot-1 center from last year’s title team, had transferred to a school in Ohio. While Veasley-Johnson might not be as tall as Nwankwo at 6-foot-6, he’s been just as effective for the Eagles (21-3).

“I fit right in,” Veasley-Johnson said. “I knew they had a seven-footer last year and while I’m not seven-feet, I thought I could fill his role and maybe do some things he can’t do. Since practice started, we’ve been building chemistry every day.”

Veasley-Johnson recorded a double-double in Smyrna’s quarterfinal victory over Woodbridge with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Smyrna coach Andrew Mears said Veasley-Johnson is averaging a double-double on the season.

“He works hard on the boards and does a good job for us defensively,” Mears said. “And then when the ball does get into his hands, he knows what to do with it and he shoots from the free-throw line really well.”

Veasley-Johnson played varsity basketball last season for Hopewell High in Huntersville, North Carolina last year, who plays in the 4A division, one of the toughest divisions in North Carolina.

He typically only played at forward for Hopewell. But realized he would see a lot of time at center when he showed up at Smyrna.

Smyrna’s Nalik Veasley-Johnson shoots against Woodbridge’s Troy Haynes in the second quarter at Smyrna on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“I knew I was the tallest kid in school,” he said. “Down in North Carolina, I didn’t play the five because people were taller than me. I played the four and three. But I’m just taking my role and trying to work well with the team.”

Veasley-Johnson has given the Eagles another dynamic post player, teaming well with fellow junior Jaymeir Garnett — reminiscent of last year’s duo of Nwankwo and Garnett.

Garnett also had a double-double in the quarterfinals with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“Nalik has given us good balance,” Mears said. “With the presence of Jaymeir, sometimes he doesn’t get all the touches he may deserve. But he’s an ego-less guy. All he cares about is his teammates and the win. It makes it easy for us with all the pieces we have.

 

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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