King-Njhsanni Wilhite scored 23 points for Riordan in Wednesday’s night’s 67-54 win at Menlo-Atherton. Less than 24 hours later, he was leaving the San Francisco school to join the team at Red Rock Academy, a new program in Las Vegas.
“I’m making the best decision for me and my future,” Wilhite said. “I want to earn a scholarship so my parents can afford for me to go to college.”
The 6-foot point guard currently holds offers from San Jose State and Washington State, per Verbal Commits.
“This will give me an opportunity to play against better competition,” he said.
Riordan plays in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL), which is regularly ranked as one of the top leagues in all of Northern California. Red Rock Academy plays against other “national high school programs,” many of which boast high-end talent but don’t compete in state high school federations. Many of these schools lack accreditation.
Wilhite, who was averaging 21 points across the Crusaders’ first nine games, is joining a “national high school program” in its first season. Aside from a Twitter and Instagram page that posts scores and announcements, very little is known about Red Rock Academy, other than that its teams are called the Regulators.
That Instagram page was how Riordan head coach Joey Curtin first found out about Wilhite’s departure. After the senior missed Thursday’s practice, Curtin was sent multiple text messages informing him of the Instagram post.
Curtin’s retelling of events differs from those of Wilhite, who said, “I was very open with Coach Curtin as the situation developed.”
“I had talked with King and his father about his future and what his senior year would look like,” Curtin said, referring to meetings and conversations that took place before the season began.
Wilhite spent his freshman year at St. Ignatius, where he scored 27 points in a Central Coast Section (CCS) Division III Championship Game victory over rival Sacred Heart Cathedral. He transferred to Riordan before his sophomore year and scored 35 in an overtime loss to Mitty in the CCS Open Division Championship, then scored 29 in a rematch in another Open Division Championship as a junior, helping the Crusaders win their first Open title.
“Last year’s championship run was definitely my favorite moment at Riordan,” Wilhite said. “Going through those ups and downs and coming out on top was amazing.”
His sudden departure leaves Riordan, the top-ranked team in The Standard’s San Francisco high school basketball rankings, needing to replace a ball handler and major scorer. The Crusaders open WCAL play at rival St. Ignatius (6-4) on Jan. 4, which will mark the debut of 6-foot-3 New Zealander Kaia Berridge, who had to sit out after transferring into the school. Six-foot-seven freshman Alexandre Kuminga, brother of Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga and cousin of Riordan teammate Nathan Tshamala, is also expected to join the roster in time for that game. Kuminga was held up by visa issues in his return to the United States.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” said Curtin, who won his 100th career game on Wednesday. “It’s nice to have a natural hierarchy on the roster. You know who your No. 1 guy is, who options 2A and 2B are, and so on. That’s what good high school teams have, and that’s something we’re gonna have to work on.”
Riordan’s most grueling stretch of games comes two weeks after the SI rivalry. The Crusaders face Jesuit, led by Stanford commit Andrej Stojakovic, at the SBLive MLK Classic on Jan. 16 at De La Salle. Stojakovic’s father, Peja, starred for the Sacramento Kings from 1998 to 2006. The very next night, Riordan hosts WCAL favorite Mitty (7-2), led by Princeton commit Derek Sangster.
Transfers have frequently come and gone at Riordan in recent years. Quinton Bundage transferred to Liberty after his sophomore season and now starts for his local school in Brentwood. Christian Wise came from Brentwood, moving from Heritage to Riordan after his sophomore year, and now starts at forward for the Crusaders.
Cortevious Taylor and Quentin Kennedy both left for Lincoln early in the 2021-22 season, and Zion Sensley left for Prolific Prep, a Napa-based national program, in the summer of 2021 after his freshman year. Senegalese center Mor Seck, who now comes off the bench as a freshman for the University of Hawaii, also left for Prolific Prep after that season.
Moves to national prep programs are becoming more and more common, but the timing is certainly jarring. It’s not completely unprecedented, though. Earlier this week, superstar junior Jamari Phillips left Modesto Christian for AZ Compass Prep. Phillips, ranked as the No. 30 junior in the nation by 247Sports, committed to the University of Arizona earlier in the month.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]